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Journal of the Bible and its Reception

Managing Editor: Kraemer, David / Marsengill, Katherine

Ed. by Black, Fiona C. / Oekland, Jorunn / MacDonald, Nathan / Ocker, Christopher

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“Behold the Man”? Subverting Imperial Masculinity in the Gospel of John

Jason J. Ripley
Published Online: 2015-11-06 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jbr-2015-0009


Modern variations of the “Muscular Christianity” movement emphasize Jesus’ masculinity in various dimensions, inspired in part by the idealized masculinity of Jesus portrayed in the Gospel of John. However, these constructions overlook the Roman context of the Fourth Gospel, and thus miss its critical and subversive engagement with imperial masculinity. I argue that the Gospel of John forges its portrait of Jesus in the rhetorical crucible of honor and virtus, where Roman masculinity was socially constructed and contested. Within the divergent configurations of manliness that emerge in the early imperial period, the glorious death of John’s Jesus appeals to and subverts reigning constructions of imperial masculinity. Through the portrayal of Jesus’ unflappable courage and conquering via his death, the rhetoric of the Fourth Gospel lays claim to the ideal of Roman virtus, especially as set forth in the rhetorized renditions of anti-imperial Stoic martyrs (such as Cato and Seneca). However, by constructing Jesus’ masculinity around his bound, beaten, crucified and penetrated body, the Fourth Gospel critiques and subverts imperial configurations of hegemonic manliness and domination. John’s glorification of the cross provides a paradigm of masculinity that exalts courageous critique and rejection of imperial violence even at the cost of one’s life, thereby inverting the shame of crucifixion and imbuing it with honor and virtus. In so doing, imperial notions of martial masculinity and power are subverted and reconfigured around the cross, thereby opening up new possibilities for the performance of masculinity by ancients and moderns alike.

Keywords: classical rhetoric; Gospel of John; masculinity; Muscular Christianity; noble death; Roman imperialism

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About the article

Corresponding author: Jason J. Ripley, Assistant Professor of Religion, St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, USA, e-mail:

Published Online: 2015-11-06

Published in Print: 2015-11-01

Citation Information: Journal of the Bible and its Reception, Volume 2, Issue 2, Pages 219–239, ISSN (Online) 2329-4434, ISSN (Print) 2329-440X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jbr-2015-0009.

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