UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Rediscovering the meaning of John 6:53 : the two ways, the Lord's ambivalent table, and mimetic theory Barber, Peter John


The focus of this thesis is the meaning of John 6:53: “So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’” (NRSV). This verse is the crux interpretum of John 6:51-58, and of the midrash this passage concludes (John 6:31-58). It is also a verse that many Johannine scholars agree remains to be understood in context. The verse expresses language of sanctioned violence and cannibalism, language of gaining life through devouring a fellow mortal. Should Jesus’ statement be taken literally, metaphorically, or both? Does Jesus refer only to himself with the term ‘son of Man’, or to mortals generally, or both? Does the literary background alluded to in this verse and its context shed light on these questions? The close and broad socio-literary contexts should help the reader with these interpretive decisions. René Girard’s anthropology of violence and religion was formed to address the matter of sanctioned violence and the language used to articulate it. It is therefore the tool employed here, in combination with the subverted combat myth tradition of the Hebrew Bible, to address the question of the intended meaning of John 6:53. Reading through the lens of mimetic theory, I propose that this verse as part of a Passover midrash expresses a contrast of two types of modus vivendi (e.g. John 6:27), or the biblical theme of the ‘two ways’. These ways complement two types of ‘imitation’ for gaining ‘being’ as described by Girard’s mimetic theory: internal mimesis as a way of death, and external mimesis as a way of life. In John 6:53, Jesus describes both ways in one breath as part of a test for his audience.

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