Recognizing the Stranger

Recognition Scenes in the Gospel of John


Recognizing the Stranger is the first monographic study of recognition scenes and motifs in the Gospel of John. The recognition type-scene ( anagnōrisis) was a common feature in ancient drama and narrative, highly valued by Aristotle as a touching moment of truth, e.g., in Oedipus’ tragic self-discovery and Odysseus’ happy homecoming. The book offers a reconstruction of the conventions of the genre and argues that it is one of the most recurrent and significant literary forms in the Gospel. When portraying Jesus as the divine stranger from heaven, the Gospel employs and transforms the formal and ideological structures of the type-scene in order to show how Jesus’ true identity can be recognized behind the half-mask of his human appearance.
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Biographical Note

Kasper Bro Larsen, Ph.D. (2006) is Assistant Professor of New Testament Studies at University of Aarhus, Denmark. He has published on various topics related to early Christianity, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, wisdom literature, and the Gospel of John.

Review Quote

"Displaying a masterful command of ancient literature, Larsen has produced a major contribution to the literature on the Fourth Gospel, displaying admirable literary sensitivity and conceptual sophistication."
Harold W. Attridge, Yale University


”In this engaging and articulate study Kasper Bro Larsen moves with confidence between contemporary literary theory, the classical discussions and exempla of 'recognition scenes', recent scholarship on the Fourth Gospel, and the detailed analysis of the text of John. He demonstrates persuasively how such scenes should not be viewed merely as aesthetic devices but how they fulfil a focal role in the Fourth Gospel's call to faith in the one who can no longer be seen in person. Recognizing the Stranger makes a decisive contribution not just to the study of the Fourth Gospel in its ancient literary environment but, more importantly, to how the Gospel through its narrative structures addresses profound theological questions about the possibility of faith and knowledge, and about the one in whom faith is held.”

Judith Lieu, Professor of Divinity, Cambridge

Table of contents

Odysseus’ Scar and Jesus’ Wound Marks
Previous Studies in Johannine Recognition.
The Present Study: Aim, Method, and Outline
Chapter One. Anagnorisis in a Theoretical and Historical
Anagnorisis in Aristotle’s Poetics
The Embarrassments of Recognition
Anagnorisis and the Cognitive Dimension of John’s Gospel .
The Semiotics of Recognition.
The Dual Appearance of the Observed
How to Display the Recognition Mark: Showing, Telling,
and Whispering
Aspects of Recognition: Identification and Social
Anagnorisis as a Type-Scene in Ancient Literature
The Meeting
The Move of Cognitive Resistance.
The Move of Displaying the Token
The Moment of Recognition
Attendant Reactions and Physical (Re-)Union
Chapter Two. Anagnorisis and Arrival (John 1–4)
Anagnorisis within the Matrix of John’s Narrative
Prologue and Prejudice: Prefatory Whisperings
The Prologue’s Web of Identity Relations
The Logos Changes its Guise
Recognizing a Stranger: Comparing Jesus with Odysseus
Establishing Jesus’ Presence in the Story-World (1:19–51) .
John the Baptist: Recognizing the Wrong Man (1:19–28)
Jesus and John the Baptist: From Baptismal Scene to
Recognition Scene (1:29–34)
Jesus and the Disciples: Call Narratives in the Form of
Recognition Scenes (1:35–51)
Semeia as Semata: Tokens of Jesus’ Divine Doxa
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (4:4–42): Betrothal and
Chapter Three. Recognition in Conflict (John 5–19).
John 5:1–18: A Recognition Parody
“I Am”: A Recognition Formula
John 9: Blindness and Insight
The Recognition Scenes of the Hour
The Exposure of Judas as Traitor (13:18–30).
Jesus’ Arrest: From Discovery to Self-Disclosure (18:1–12)
Peter’s Denial (18:15–18, 25–27).
Jesus Judged by Pilate: By What Law? (18:28–19:16a)
Death as Arrival: God’s Recognition of Jesus
Chapter Four. Recognition and Departure (John 20–21). .
John 20–21: Bridging the Horizons
The Race to the Empty Tomb: Acknowledging the Absent
One (20:1–10)
Mary Magdalene and the Gardener-Rabbi (20:11–18)
The Disciples: Recognizers on a Mission (20:19–25)
Jesus and Recognizing Thomas (20:26–29)
John 21:1–14: Community with the Absent Jesus
The Reader as Anagnostes
Ancient Texts
Modern Works
Index of Ancient Texts
Subject Index


Students and scholars interested in the New Testament, early Christianity, ancient Greco-Roman literature, ancient literary theory, and comparative literature; biblical scholars, classical philologists, theologians, scholars of religion, and historians of literature.