Equal to God: Jesus’s Crucifixion as Scheintod
John’s Gospel depicts Jesus as simultaneously fleshly and divine. Nowhere is this clearer than in the moment of his crucifixion, where Jesus’s physical body is lifted up and glorified. I argue that his crucifixion—and notably, his survival—establishes firmly Jesus’s divinity. In comparing Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross to the sacrificial Scheintoten (“apparent deaths”) of the Greek romances, I propose that Jesus’s death and his escape from it work within the Gospel to establish his divinity. The protagonists of the novels appear to die and at the same time are taken as deities by those whom they encounter, even by their own romantic partners. In narrative, these deaths appear real; their loved ones behave and react to a narratively real death, and for a time, even the reader mourns for the character. Scheintoten point to the divinity of the heroines, since ordinary people are incapable of returning from the dead. Likewise, the moment of Jesus’s death in John is left unarticulated, creating a similar instant of unreality in the narrative in which Jesus’s death both occurs and is survived, signifying his divinity. Reading Jesus’s survival of his crucifixion within the literary framework of Scheintod presents Jesus’s divinity—and John’s christology—as participating in the idea-world of the ancient Mediterranean, an approach which illuminates the function of Jesus’s death in John.
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