Ancient rhetorical theory and the modern cognitive sciences have been almost entirely overlooked by scholars interested in the characterization of Nicodemus. In an effort to fill these twin lacunae, I approach the characterization of Nicodemus in John 3:1–15 from the vantage point of its rhetorical context, as well as of what we know of how humans make sense of characters. Unsurprisingly, new approaches shed new light on old questions surrounding the characterization of this (in)famous “leader of the Jews.” Viewed from this perspective, informed audience members likely would have viewed Nicodemus as a suspicious dissembling character in his first appearance in John's Gospel, rather than as a “secret” or “imperfect” believer or seeker. This conclusion is supported by the cognition of characterization and the particular variety of figured speech enlisted by the Johannine Jesus in response to Nicodemus. While this article focuses particularly on John 3:1–15, there are compelling reasons to infer that audience members were meant to deduce that Nicodemus was ultimately convinced by Jesus's rhetorically savvy response (cf. 7:50–51, 19:39).

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