The Gospel of John
By the Trajectory arguments, John in its canonical form is the last of the Four Gospels. It presents a highly abstracted Jesus, who is assimilated to the cosmic principle Logos, and also a consistent Jesus, who continually and from the beginning preaches Himself crucified. gJn shows a close knowledge of Jerusalem, but as Bacon has shown, it is a tourist knowledge of late 1c Jerusalem, such as might have been acquired by a pious person visiting what then remained of sacred sites. The dynamic of the gJn narrative is not notably Jerusalemite, and it stands outside Judaism, and sometimes in opposition to Jews.
gJn is notable as the one Gospel which has long been acknowledged by critical scholars to be stratified; the exiguous last chapter (Jn 21, where Peter is introduced as the leader of the party who first behold the risen Christ in Galilee, and given special authority for the care of the future church) is the most obvious example of later material; Jn 21 has obvious affinities with the Gospel of Peter, which unfortunately is lost at just the point of maximum interest for comparison with gJn. It is a coincidence that gMk is lost just at the point of maximum interest for the Appearance stories in all the later Gospels?. Some of the stratifications in gJn involve moving rather than addition of material; thus, the presence of Jn 5 between Jn 4 and 6 creates a widely noticed inconcinnity, and also (see Bacon) spoils the apparently intentional association of Jesus' major actions with major Jewish festivals (see again Bacon).
Here are some reconstructions of the layered gJn:
- von Wahlde
We do not at present recommend Bacon's reconstruction, which at first sight seems unconvincing at many points, but note that Bacon's proposed insertions are clean-edged: when they are removed, a continuous text is left. von Wahlde, on the other hand, assumes extensive replacement by later text, hence the later material cannot be excised so as to leave behind the earliest state of the text. Considerable sections of the text are thus presumed to have been irretrievably lost in the subsequent update process. This eliminates one test of the validity of the first layer of the von Wahlde reconstruction.
Doctrine. The Gnostic aspect of gJn is manifest, as is also its opposition to certain ideas normally considered Gnostic; the place of gJn in the evidently rich Gnostic spectrum of the late 1c is still to be determined. One largely unexplored aspect is the degree of overlap or conflict with the Gnosticism of the Mandaean texts, which agree with gJn in employing a central Light motif. The larger narrative role of John the Baptist (along with his reduced theological role) is of great interest in this connection. Parts of John lack, or do not strongly assert, the Atonement doctrine, which is one argument for the relatively early date of at least those strata, but 1 John shows that Alpha doctrines were still vigorously alive at the end of the 1c (and the PseudoClementines show them still vigorous in the 4c). Then doctrine itself cannot be taken as an index of date.
Date. gJn is not well attested externally. The earliest papyrus fragment of any NT text is a bit of gJn preserved in P52. Then John was known relatively early in Egypt, which gives the text a point of contact with the probable locale of many Gnostic developments. A vague consensus locates the final version of gJn in the early or middle 90s. Claims that gJn is at least in part older than any other Gospel have been made for the last hundred years; most of them founder on the Trajectory arguments. Others take the intentional narrative and doctrinal consistency of John as a sign of genuineness and thus of early date, but it may be observed that the later Gospels continually attempt to smooth and rationalize Mark's narrative and to update his theology. And the perceived smoothness of John is somewhat compromised by the evident signs of rearrangement and addition in the text. gJn in its final form must postdate Luke, on which it extensively relies, and some of whose innovations are the basis for further transformation in gJn. gJn also knows Mark, but the influence of Matthew, though it can be shown, is of very small extent. This probably reflects a geographical positioning (with a strong sequence Mk > Lk > Jn, and a very weak secondary awareness of Mt) more than a chronological sequence as such.
Locale. The usual suggestion is Ephesus, where there are several Johns to pick from as the author of the text, not excluding John of Patmos. This needs to be evaluated against the claims of Ephesus as a Pauline center, and the supposed Jerusalem affiliations of the Mandaeans before their departure for Parthia. The "Beloved Disciple" is in effect a coy claim of gJn to stem from an original eyewitness (the claim of Luke to have accompanied Paul is equally coy); note that half the Beloved Disciple passages are in the late and suspect Jn 21. The idea that John Zebedee survived the Herod Agrippa persecution of c44 is contradicted by a rival Syrian tradition, explored by Bacon, that both Zebedees died early. As usual with ancient authority texts, authorship is a question best left until last, and sometimes never. It is especially to be tabled until the number of authors of gJn, and their doctrinal agendas, have been firmly identified.
Agenda Considerations. The Beloved Disciple claim may be an insertion in support of a claim to Apostolicity, and thus to inclusion in the canon ( a list of works accepted to be read in churches) that was already beginning to emerge at the end of the 1c. The inclusion of the largely Petrine Jn 21 may be a further effort in that direction, in the sense that it acknowledges, and does not try to replace, the role of Peter as the central figure in the increasingly unified Church of the late 1c.
Associated Texts. For the problem of the Johannine Epistles, which appear to be closely related to the Gospel, see those pages, starting with 1 John. The association with Revelation is now regarded as weak and inconsequential; see that page. The apperance, and indeed the comeuppance, of Thomas in Jn 20 (the original ending of the text) is a curious artifact. It seems that Thoams there insists on the corporeality of the risen Christ, and is indulged, but also rebuked (better to have believed without actually seeing) by the Johannine Jesus. It remains to be seen how the relation of this Johannine Thomas (to some extent, an opposition figure) with the Thomas of the Gospel of Thomas, or the quite separate Acts of Thomas, will work out,
There is much primary work still to be done on the Gospel of John.
25 Nov 2011 / Contact The Project / Exit to Alpha Page