More Information
ISBN: 9781839732409
Imprint: Langham Monographs
Format: Paperback
Dimensions (mm): 229 x 152 x 16
Publication Date: 30/11/2021
Pages: 296
Language: English

Reading Johannine Dramatic Irony through Ancient Dramatic Devices


When studying irony in the Gospel of John, scholars have largely relied on modern literary theories and anachronistic interpretive tools. In this book, Dr. Tat Yan Lee pushes beyond contemporary interpretations to examine the literary context of the Gospel’s original audience. Utilizing Aristotle’s Poetics and drawing parallels between John’s Gospel and ancient Greek tragedy, Dr. Lee offers a fresh perspective on the role of dramatic irony within the text. His exploration of Aristotelian theory highlights the significance of emotion as an intended by-product of ancient drama and provides a critical method for establishing plausible early readings of the Gospel and its dramatic devices.

Offering present-day readers a chance to encounter John’s Gospel through ancient eyes, this book holds valuable insight for Johannine scholars, classicists, students of literary theory, and all those desiring greater insight into the gospel and its impact.

Author Bios

Tat Yan Lee

TAT YAN LEE has a PhD in Divinity from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. A seasoned lecturer in New Testament studies, he is president of the Bible College of Malaysia where he has worked since 2010. He previously served as associate pastor and Christian education pastor for the First Assembly of God Church, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


This book is the first to examine the topic of dramatic irony in the Gospel of John using literary criteria current at the time of the book’s composition. While dramatic irony is usually discussed based on modern definitions of the term, this new approach goes beyond modern theories back to Aristotle’s Poetics, and derives concepts of dramatic irony that would have been recognizable to authors and readers in the first century. These are then applied to passages from the Gospel of John. This approach demonstrates how the Gospel evokes tragic emotions in the readers by means of dramatic irony and thus the readers are drawn into the drama of the narrative.

Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer, PhD
Honorary Senior Lecturer, New Testament,
University of Aberdeen, UK

Veering away from modern theories on irony and focussing instead on Aristotle’s Poetics, Tat Yan Lee offers the reader a creative rereading of the topic in the Fourth Gospel. Any attempt at interpreting this document in the light of the norms and practices of its time is surely to be welcomed, especially when it is competently executed. Even if some readers are not convinced by Tat Yan’s results, it is certain they will still gain fresh perspectives on this enigmatic Gospel.

Kim Huat Tan, PhD
Chen Su Lan Professor of New Testament
Trinity Theological College, Singapore

Tat Yan Lee proposes that John’s “dramatic irony” is best interpreted in light of a range of plot devices attested in ancient Greek literature. This wide-ranging and illuminating study argues that the fourth evangelist understands dramatic irony not so much as a literary technique but as a strategy of employment that is to be sustained throughout the narrative. This is a most welcome addition to recent scholarship on the character and function of literary – and especially dramatic – elements in the Gospel of John.

Catrin H. Williams, PhD
Reader in New Testament Studies,
University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Lampeter, UK

Table of Contents

  1. Acknowledgments
  2. Abstract
  3. List of Abbreviations
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction
    1. Justification and Aims of This Thesis
    2. Survey of Scholarship
      1. Survey of Prominent Ironologists
      2. Survey of Johannine Studies
    3. Conclusion
  5. Chapter 2 Methodology
    1. Introduction
    2. Understanding the Ancient Audience
    3. Aristotle’s Poetics
    4. Dramatic Concepts and the Gospel of John
    5. Ancient Dramatic Ironic Criticism
      1. Περιπέτεια
      2. Ἀναγνώρισις
      3. Ἁμαρτία
      4. Emotions
    6. Conclusion
  6. Chapter 3 The Dramatic Prologue of the Gospel
    1. Introduction
    2. Private Communication Channel
    3. The Identities of the Protagonist
      1. The Protagonist Is the λόγος
      2. The Protagonist Is θεός
      3. The Protagonist Is the Creator
      4. The Protagonist Is the Source of Ζωή and the Φῶς
      5. The Protagonist Becomes Σὰρξ that Reveals Divine Δόξα, and His Name Is Jesus Christ
      6. The Protagonist Is Greater Than Moses
      7. The Protagonist Is the Only Revealer of God
    4. The Role of the Baptist as a Witness
    5. The ἁμαρτία of the Gospel and the Solution
    6. Jesus and the Greek Tragic Heroes
    7. Conclusion
  7. Chapter 4 Nicodemus, a Samaritan Woman, and an Official
    1. Introduction
    2. Jesus and Nicodemus (3:1–21)
    3. Jesus and a Samaritan Woman (4:1–42)
    4. Jesus and an Official (4:43–54)
    5. Conclusion
  8. Chapter 5 The Dramatic Conflicts
    1. Introduction
    2. The Healing of a Lame Man (5:1–47)
    3. The Healing of a Blind Man (9:1–10:42)
    4. The Resurrection of Lazarus (11:1–57)
    5. Conclusion
  9. Chapter 6 Towards the Mετάβασις
    1. Introduction
    2. Jesus’s Entry into Jerusalem (12:12–47)
    3. The Last Supper and Farewell Discourse (13:1–17:26)
    4. The “Arrest” Scene (18:1–12)
    5. The Trial of the Jewish Leaders (18:13–28)
    6. The Trial by Pilate (18:28–19:16a)
    7. The Crucifixion of Jesus (19:16b–37)
    8. Conclusion
  10. Chapter 7 The Post-Resurrection Ἀναγνώρισις
    1. Introduction
    2. The Ἀναγνώρισις at the Empty Tomb (20:1–9)
    3. The Ἀναγνώρισις by Mary Magdalene (20:10–18)
    4. The Ἀναγνώρισις by the Disciples in a Closed-Door Meeting (20:19–23)
    5. The Ἀναγνώρισις by Thomas (20:24–28)
    6. The Ἀναγνώρισις for Those Who Have Not Seen (20:29–31)
    7. Conclusion
  11. Chapter 8 Conclusion
    1. Introduction
    2. Summary of Findings
      1. The Dramatic Prologue of the Gospel
      2. Dramatic Irony as Ancient Dramatic Devices
    3. Implications of this Research
  12. Bibliography

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