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REBELLO Naveen Wilson

Recognizing the Messiah. A Study of Antithetical Ἀναγνώρισις in the Gospel of Matthew


     The present research explores the ancient literary device of ἀναγνώρισις and studies recognition scenes and motifs in the first Gospel. The goal of this narrative-exegetical work is to examine the phenomenon of ἀναγνώρισις in the Matthean narrative world where the divine-messianic identity of Jesus becomes the focal object of recognition by the characters. In this pursuit, some preliminary questions regarding recognizability, recognition moments, cognitive content, meaning and function of ἀναγνώρισις and a distinctive vision of knowledge, recognition and revelation are identified. These guide the course of the research, examining a number of scenes through the lens of a recognition “type-scene” (encountercognitive exchangeself-disclosure/signsrecognitionfinal reactions/reunion) as suggested by Larsen’s semio-narrative analysis of a recognition scene.

     Chapter 1 introduces the literary technique of ἀναγνώρισις, defines its meaning from Aristotle’s Poetics (a movement from ignorance to knowledge) and demonstrates its purpose and value with examples of recognitions (transitive, reflective and reciprocal) from a wide range of Greco-Roman literature. In the second part, previous studies on biblical recognitions are surveyed to situate the present research in the ongoing conversation on ἀναγνώρισις. Chapters 2 to 5 focus on recognition scenes and motifs in the first Gospel. Chapter 2 studies the incipit (1,1) which introduces the messianic protagonist (to-be-recognized) to the story-world with key identity-descriptors and becomes a reference point by offering pre-cognition to the readers. Subsequently, it is argued that 11,27 is a recognition programmatic verse in which the two decisive verbs of ἐπιγινώσκω (= recognize) and ἀποκαλύπτω (= reveal) point to the exchange of mutual knowledge between the Father and the Son, the horizontal and vertical dimensions of recognition and the presence of a revelatory epistemology. Echoing 11,27, the scenes of baptism (3,17) and the transfiguration (17,5) can be seen as examples of divine recognition. Chapter 3 analyzes the Magi story (2,1-12) as the first example of a horizontal recognition in the narrative overture (1,1–4,17) by assessing the knowledge of a “character-triangle” (the Magi, Herod, chief priests and scribes) and their contrasting responses to the birth of the messianic child. Chapter 4 locates the recognition scenes in the narrative corpus (4,18–25,46) by examining four episodes in which the divine-messianic identity of Jesus becomes the focal object of recognition-rejection: demoniacs’ recognition (8,28–9,1); disciples’ sea-recognition (14,22-33); Peter’s recognition (16,13-23) and eschatological recognition (25,31-46). Chapter 5 explores the motif of ἀναγνώρισις in the narrative finale (26,1–28,20) where the confession of the Roman centurion and his soldiers becomes the climactic recognition of the Passion Narrative (27,54) and of the first Gospel. In addition, some potential anti-models are characterized as “non-recognizers” (Judas, Caiaphas, Peter, Pilate, soldiers, bystanders, etc.). The recognition dynamics continue in the resurrection encounters too (28,1-10.16-20). The conclusion summarizes the significant findings of this research by offering a synthesis of exegetical contributions and identifying some perspectives for further study.

     In short, the present cognitive-narrative study argues that ἀναγνώρισις is constitutive of the first Gospel. As a narrative technique and recurrent motif, it thematizes the messianic identity (“Christ”), the divine sonship (“Son of God”) and the divine presence (“God-with-us”) in Jesus who is both recognized and rejected (antithetical). Likewise, it casts new light on a recognition-based model of discipleship where one’s ethical conduct becomes the decisive criterion for recognizing the true disciple of Jesus – from who-Jesus-is to who-a-disciple-is.