Studies in Philology
Yet a Little While:
Jesus in the Gospel of John
E Bruce Brooks
Of the Four Gospels, John is the one which has most obviously gone through several stages in its formation process. What do these suggest about the evolution of one branch of Christian doctrine in the late 1st century?
The last chapter of the Gospel of John, Jn 21, is very clearly added to the perfectly satisfactory ending which occurs at the end of Jn 20. Its chief purpose is to emphasize the identity of the author with the intimate Apostle, John the son of Zebedee, and so secure Apostolic sanction for this most mystical of the Gospels.
The long Farewell Discourse of Jesus, Jn 15-17, interrupts a perfectly continuous narrative sequence at the end of Jn 14 ("Rise, let us go hence") and the beginning of Jn 18 ("When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden . . ."). It adds theological details to the doctrines given in the surrounding narrative, and in the rest of the Gospel. It prolongs the moment when Jesus last addresses his disciples, a moment which is also expanded in several of the Apocryphal texts: the most direct statements of Jesus about his own nature, and his last instructions for their future life without him.
Severe geographical discontinuities (Jesus in Jn 6:1 proposes to go "to the other side" of the Sea of Galilee, but in the previous text, the end of Jn 5, he is in Jerusalem) are resolved, and no additional problems are created, if the present Jn 5 is put after, rather than before, Jn 6. What was the motive for its relocation?
These questions have been widely raised, and variously answered; solutions to the inconcinnity of John abound, no two of which (as those offended by the very idea of changing the order or content of Sacred Scripture delight to point out) are identical. The persistence of the problem nevertheless suggests that a problem does exist, and the variety in the proposed answers merely shows that the problem has not yet been definitively solved. The present book ventures to consider the strongest evidence afresh, and to propose a model of the text before these additions and rearrangements had been made. It then asks, What is the tendency, and what was the probable motive, for the changes? What did the Gospel of John gain in cogency, to make up for what it now lacks in elementary narrative consistency?
Separating the Gospel as it first was from the Gospel as we now see it clarifies the also perennial question of what doctrine the Gospel was written to propound, and what forms of wrong belief it was concerned, whether originally or at a later time, to oppose.
Extracts from Valediction:
Chapter 1: The Ending of John
Chapter 2: The Beloved Disciple (Jn 21)
Chapter 3: The Valedictory Address (Jn 15-17)
Chapter 4: Crossing Galilee (Jn 4-7)
Chapter 5: The Signs
Chapter 6: The Original Gospel
Chapter 7: The Johannine Epistles
Chapter 8: Thomas and John
John is late in the sequence of Gospels. Its cosmically centered mysticism, though attractive to some, is not likely to suggest itself as Christianity's first idea of Jesus. It rather shows Christian tradition at a relatively late date making contact with ideas originating elsewhere, particularly in India, the land to which Thomas (elsewhere associated with a different kind of mystical Christianity) was supposedly sent as a missionary. No one statement, as the present book is meant to show, can describe the content or purpose of John. The question for the careful analyst is rather, What trend of thinking do the several stages in the composition and recomposition of John capture for us?
E BRUCE BROOKS is Research Professor of Chinese at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Yet a Little While: Jesus in the Gospel of John
Approximately 256 pages.
Tentative $50.95 cloth. ISBN 978-936166-47-3
Tentative $27.95 paper. ISBN 978-036166-87-9
Release Date: To Be Announced
When announced, this book may be ordered from the University of Massachusetts Press
26 March 2012 / Contact The Project / Exit to Publications Page