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Life Arts    H4'ed 6/20/18

Who Will Read Troels Engberg-Pedersen's New Book About the Gospel of John? (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) June 20, 2018: The New Testament scholar Troels Engberg-Pedersen (born in 1948) of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark draws on the resources of ancient Stoic thought to offer a fresh way to interpret Paul the Apostle's thought in his book Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Spirit (Oxford [UK] and New York [USA]: Oxford University Press, 2010) and in his earlier book Paul and the Stoics (Louisville, Kentucky [USA]: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000).

Now, Engberg-Pedersen and I are similar in a certain way: He likes to use ancient Stoic philosophy as a heuristic to explore New Testament texts, and I like to use the thought of the American Jesuit polymath Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955) as a heuristic to explore cultural and religious history. In his mature publications from the early 1950s onward. Ong himself uses his own well-developed thought as a heuristic to explore cultural and religious history.

I discussed Engberg-Pedersen's 2010 book in my OEN piece titled "Is 'Material Spirit' a Contradiction in Terms? No!" (dated November 19, 2010):

Briefly, I argued that even people who hold a materialist philosophical position (also known as atheists and as secularists) have a psycho-spiritual life. Disclosure: I am a theistic humanist, not an atheistic humanist (also known as a secular humanist).

More recently, I discussed Ong's insights about agonistic tendencies in connection with the American philosophy professor Stephen T. Asma's discussion of the imperative and the indicative cognitive pathways in the human brain in his new book Why We Need Religion (New York [USA]: Oxford University Press, 2018, pages 31-33, 96, 108-109, 121, 166, 173, 207, and 219, note 8).

See my OEN piece titled "Agnostic Stephen T. Asma's Darwinian Defense of Religion" (dated June 13, 2018):

Asma wrote his defense of religion to counter secular critics of religion.

But will secularist critics of Christianity read Engberg-Pedersen's new book John and Philosophy: A New Reading of the Fourth Gospel (Oxford [UK] and New York [USA]: Oxford University Press, 2017)? In it Engberg-Pedersen argues in favor of using a Stoic lens, as he puts it, to construct a philosophical narrative approach to interpreting what he refers to as the narrative argument in the Gospel According to John. Engberg-Pedersen interprets the Gospel of John as a philosophical narrative compared to the more concrete imagistic narrative in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke -- and in the two accounts of creation in Genesis.

Arguably Engberg-Pedersen's way of proceeding to use ancient Stoic philosophy as a heuristic to explore the narrative argument in the Gospel of John has the merit of drawing on an ancient body of conceptual cognitive thought. However, we should note here that Aristotle in his famous treatise on civic rhetoric identifies three appeals used by civic orators to persuade people in the audience: (1) logos, (2) pathos, and (3) ethos. I assume that Aristotle would also say that these three appeals are also involved in philosophical discourse.

But my point is that Engberg-Pedersen accentuates conceptual cognitive thought (Aristotle's logos-appeal), without explicitly adverting to the affective dimension of the Gospel of John (both Aristotle's pathos-appeal and ethos-appeal). But the Gospel of John accentuates what Aristotle refers to as the pathos-appeal in its good-guys v. bad-guys structure involving anti-Semitism, a topic I will discuss below. Because the anonymous author of the Gospel of John evidently taught orally, he (or she) undoubtedly deployed the evocative ethos-appeal of his (or her) own voice to establish his (or her) credibility, another topic I will also discuss below.

For an informed scholarly discussion of Aristotle's ethos-appeal, see the American Jesuit classicist William M. A. Grimaldi's "The Auditors' Role in Aristotelian Rhetoric" in the book Oral and Written Communication: Historical Approaches, edited by Richard Leo Enos (Newbury Park, California [USA] and London [UK]: Sage Publications, 1990, pages 65-81).

As far as I know, Ong does not explicitly discuss Aristotle's ethos-appeal in any of his 400 or so publications. However, if Grimaldi's exegesis of Aristotle's ethos-appeal is correct, as I think it is, then the equivalent to Aristotle's ethos-appeal in Ong's thought can be found in his essay "Voice as Summons for Belief: Literature, Faith, and the Divided Self" in the now-defunct Jesuit-sponsored journal Thought: A Review of Culture and Idea (Fordham University), volume 33 (Spring 1958): pages 43-61; reprinted in Ong's book The Barbarian Within: And Other Fugitive Essays and Studies (New York [USA]: Macmillan, 1962, pages 49-67); reprinted in An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry (Cresskill, New Jersey [USA]: Hampton Press, 2002, pages 259-275).

Ong's 400 or so publications are listed in Thomas M. Walsh's "Walter J. Ong, S.J.: A Bibliography 1929-2006" in the book Language, Culture, and Identity: The Legacy of Walter J. Ong, S.J., edited by Sara van den Berg and Walsh (New York [USA]: Hampton Press, 2011, pages 185-245).

Now, the classic study of the shift from concrete imagistic thought and expression in the Homeric epics to the more philosophical thought and expression in Plato's dialogues is the classicist Eric A. Havelock's book Preface to Plato (Cambridge, Massachusetts [USA]: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963). Now, Plato represents a non-materialist philosophical position -- a tradition of thought carried forward by Platonizing interpretations in Christianity. By contrast, the Stoic tradition represents a materialist philosophical position -- a tradition of thought popular today with atheistic humanists (also known as secular humanists).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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