The portrait of St John the Evangelist, is by Adam Elsheimer, and provides the front cover for F D Bruner's commentary on John. I hadn't heard of Elsheimer till I read the small attribution at the back of Bruner's book. I like this painting - which is hardly the last word in art criticism! But it's just the truth. I suppose it can be analysed and compared with other contemporary artists, influences traced and duly noted, ethos and provenance established. Then it can be examined for symbolism and the whole painting subjected to hermenecutical scrutiny. Maybe some other time. I just like it - simplicity with enough of mystery, a serpent lifted up and a chalice held for blessing, and the background of a world both vague and detailed.
As to Bruner's commentary, near 1300 pages of commentary on a gospel would once have been considered definitive. But Bruner has aimed at something more realistic, and satisfying. This commentary is a receptacle for the gathered fruit of decades of study and teaching, and at least a third of its length is given over to sections on the history of interpretation of the text. These read like catenas of wisdom from Chrysostom, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Henry, Bengel, Godet, Meyer, Westcott, and then we come to the 20th century with Bultmann, Dodd, Brown, Schnacknburg and beyond. It is a vade mecum on John, and for me at least, is a feast of fun to read.
No it won't displace Raymond Brown as my most loved and used commentary on John; and I still persist with Barrett as the commentary that taught me how to actually enjoy NT Greek and its fruits; and yes there is an embarrassment of riches on John's Gospel from Ashton, Dodd, Carson, Moloney, Michaels, O'Day, Keener, Morris, Beasley Murray, Lincoln, Witherington, Ridderbos to the too easily overlooked John Marsh in the Pelican Commentary Series which manages to combine common sense with spiritual acumen in exploring a complex text. And then there's Richard Bauckham's long promised commentary on the Greek Text, still to appear and looked forward to But John's Gospel is an embarrassingly rich text, and coming back to Bruner, his is a commentary that any preacher worth her salt will value and enjoy!
Here are the words of Rabbi Johannan ben Zakkai about Torah, with pardonable exaggeration enthusing about the value of our greatest teachers:
"If all heaven were a parchment, and all the trees produced pens, and all the oceans were ink, they would not suffice to inscribe the wisdom I have received from my teachers of Torah; and yet from the wisdom of the wise I have enjoyed only so much as the water that a fly who plunges into the sea can remove".
In much less hyperbolic terms, James Denney could refer to Johannine and Pauline theology as waters in which we " hear the plunge of lead into fathomless depths..."