Let me deal with the easier question of A. Q. Morton and J McLeman first.
St Andrew's Press is, or at least was, the small publishing wing of the
Church of Scotland; although not well known
beyond Scotland's borders. The book is probably out of print now, (219 pp).
I obtained my copy in a sale many years ago but the price I paid does not,
in my view, reflect its real value. I will happily send you my copy on lone
and if you have time you could perhaps do a little review for List readers;
if it is considered worthy, perhaps somone somewhere might do a reprint.
Now the harder question(s).
> Could you say a little about what you mean by 'Wisdom Gospel'? Is
> John a Wisdom Gospel in a way that the synoptics are not? And if so,
> why? What makes his so wise? Also, what relationship, if any, does
> 4G have to the the words and deeds of (I hesitate to say 'the
> historical') Jesus? What process might 4G's tradition have gone
> through in becoming wise?
First let me preface my comments by saying that I may be wrong. I admit I
have been feeling my way in the dark, but I put these comments forward to
be honed by better minds than mine, or else falsified. I will number my
comments for ease of reference. I should also say that this is nothing to do
with material like 'The Bible Code'" or uncritical theories of biblical
inspiration by passing authorial intent. On the other hand I have no reason
to think the Johannine evangelist was being 'untrue'
which would make his commited emphasis on Johannine truth a bizarre parody.
Out task is to try to understand the depths of his Truth which is no mean
task, not to make him out to be a liar (1 John 2:4 etc).
(1) What I am not saying is that the Fourth Gospel is "better" or "wiser"
(in the common sense meaning of the word wise), but that it is significantly
different from the Synoptics not merely in content but in literary style
which cannot be seperated out from spiritual style and the spiritual mindset
of the evangelist; all four Evangelists, it seems to me, would have
considered that they wrote before 'an open heaven' and whoever their first
human audiences were, their primary audience was the heavenly and divine
one. I am using the word 'Wisdom' in a more technical sense and I am feeling
my way towards a technical definition.
To use a crude analogy it might help to explain what I mean by saying that
it is as if the Synoptics were written in prose but the Fourth Gospel was
written in poetry with some echoes of this found in, for example, the Sermon
on the Mount.
(2) This poetry is, it seems to me, very mathematical and Hebrew, rather
like some classical music but it was readily adapted into Greek and
resonates with some Pythagorean ideas which Pythagoras may have picked up
from other Middle Eastern cultures during his reported travels. We are
familiar with the concept of the literary chiasm but it seems to me that
this might relate to the mathematical beauty of number chiasms for example
LOGOS ~ 373. We find this poetic style in the Psalms and Proverbs but it
becomes more sophisticated in the Higher Wisdom literature running in
parallel with the tendency to personify Wisdom. To take up the musical
analogy, William Wallace apparently composed his Creation Symphony using 258
bars of music quite deliberately because 258 is three times 86 which is the
gematria of Elohim. I suspect that the Fourth Evangelist was doing something
very similar and that this would have had a huge appeal to certain
audiences, most probably Greek speaking Jews who could think in Hebrew and
Greek terms; not everyone would get everything but this did not matter,
particularly if the Fourth Gospel was originally composed as a central
source for evangelists and chatechists who were themselves taught.
As well as poetic and mathematical, this Wisdom style is deeply symbolic,
emphasising the yearning for cosmic re-harmony, or in Synoptic terms, the
coming of the Kingdom of God; the re-unification of heaven and earth. In
other words it is not merely about personal salvation but about the groaning
and ultimate renewal of all creation. I suspect this style reflects one
strand of Second Temple Judaism which, while not at all opposed to the
Torah, read it much less legalistically and more idealistically: "be ye
perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect". I suspect it might also relate
to the calindrical disputes between different branches of Second Temple
Judaism since the Enochian solar calendar is more harmonic, 52 weeks (twice
the number of YHWH ~ 26, a year of two halves, a chiasm of seasons) of a
perfect year of seven day weeks, and the Jubilee and Enochian literature
seems highly concerned that cosmic order will be desrupted by the adoption
of the luni-solar calendar. It may also relate to the Tabernacle / Temple
imagery, the cubic holy of holies, the seven branched cadlestick sharing 22
buds between seven branches (Pi), a Johannine theme.
(3) This model, it seems to me, helps explain why the Evangelist limits
himself in the way he does. Why no parables? They are a form of the Wisdom
tradition but they are not strictly poetic; why the repeated use of certain
key words ( Father, one, born, blindness, glory, name, sent etc.)? It is as
if they are the heart beat of the all wise Father, 73 uses of 'the Father'.
Instead our Evangelist chooses a few themes and weaves them around in a
christological musical, mathematical, poetic epic seeking to re-inforce the
message that Jesus was Wisdom Incarnate. In this sense I suppose we could
liken the Fourth Gospel to a film and the evangelist to a film director. The
narrative sections are less sophisticated as they move the plot forward
while the speeches and dialogue are far more simple and yet sophisticated.
It would be nice to demonstrate that the Prologue reflects the Shema through
the use of 1118 letters and that it begins with an echo of Genesis 1:1 thus
linking it to the very early 1 Cor 8:6 but, alas, the Prologue's letter
count is hard to demonstrate.
(4) As I have said, I do not believe this style is completly innovative. It
seems to operate around certain key numbers and these appear to be linked to
divine names and their numbers. As Bauckham demonstrates, square triangle
and rectangular numbers held a certain fascination but 26 is central as it
is the number of YHWH. It is worth asking when this Name first starts
getting introduced into the Hebrew Bible, raising all kinds of critical
issues. It also raised problems for the ancients who, without source
critical tools, had to explain why Elohim rather than YHWH was present 'in
the beginning'. 'Chokmah' proved to be fascinating because on a consecutive
count of the Hebrew letters it yields 37 but on the method known to the
Greek is yields 73. Seven and three were already special numbers in Near
Eastern cultures as is reflected in for example the Epic of Gigamesh. New
Testament christology with its emphasis of divine names seems to relate
directly to this tradition and for this reason I do not think 'high
christology' need mean 'late christology' in fact it may mean very early
christology linked to messianic expectations prior to the public appearance
(5) How we move from Johannine style and theology to the historical Jesus
and the Jesus of the Synoptics is even less easy.
There seems to be something of a superficial agreement that Jesus was
somehow related to wisdom sayings either at one end of the continuum as a
wandering Jewish Cynic or else as a self-discovering self-revealing person
who identified himself with Wisdom incarnate. Personally I think anyone
capable of writing such a sophisticated Gospel ( no pejorative comparative
with the Synoptics intended), is unlikely to have been a Galilean fisherman,
but might well have been a rich young ruler, or a 'John' also known as
'Mark', or both. I think his role may have been at least comparable with
that of St Paul and that his life might well have been in constant danger,
requiring his actual identity to be concealed, particularly if he had some
public status in pre- war Palestine. Personally I pitch myself somewhere
between Ben Witherington III, and N.T. Wright and think what Crossan sees as
Cynicism is actually a yet to be excavated Jewish-Greek Wisdom Mysticism. In
christological terms I find myself operating in a dialogue between Larry
Hurtado, Margaret Barker, Martin Hengel. I have postponed making up my mind
on the synoptic problem between the Q hypothesis and Matthean priority but I
think there is a 'ditch of missing history' between our New Testament
documents and witnesses like Papias, Ignatius, Justin and Irenaeus that
suggests to me a massive wipe out of available Christian testimony
surrounding the two Jewish War and there aftermaths, eg an early and lost
Jewish-Christian presence in Alexandria.
(6) I suspect the pre-Christian tradition I refer to may relate to what some
scholars describe as pre-Christian Gnosticism, and also to Jewish and
Samaritan amulet and magical traditions and the Greek magical traditions
and papyri in a much developed form. This would explain why the Fourth
Gospel was found to be so attractive to the second century Gnostics and so
difficult for emerging second century catholicism as attested in the
development of the Christian canon.. Personally I would see the Fourth
Gospel as the pinnacle of this tradition but this is a subjective matter.
The Apocalypse of John is sometimes considered to be part of the Johannine
literature despite its evident differences. Although I am not arguing for
common authorship th4G and the Apocalypse do share a fascination with
numbers. This is why I argue that wisdom and apocalyptic material should not
be viewed as polar opposites: the Apocalyptic is merely Wisdom material in
socio-spiritual crisis or kairos times. The true anthithesis of both seems
to me to be an overly rigid legalism.
(7) For a variety of personal reasons people often have a "favourite
Gospel", and this choice may change with time and personal development.
Those who find the Fourth Gospel most appealing may not simply be drawn to
its content but also to its style, (incidentally, I have often been told
that the Fourth Gospel has greater appeal in the Indian sub-continent so
there may be both personal and cultural issues at work).
I am conscious that this posting has been too long, once again taxing the
moderator's patience, but I have tried to make a start at answering your
penetrating questions whilst staying on topic. If you would like to borrow
the Morton and McLeman book I will send it to you my snail mail if you can
confirm your full institution address, (off-list).
Bill Bullin (East Sussex, Private Student).