In Response To: Emmanuel Fritsch
On: Death of John Zebedee
Thanks to Emmanuel for his references on the tradition of John Z's early
death; I think it stands generally established that there are competing
traditions about him; one (present already in Mk) for early martyrdom,
another for a much longer life and a possibly tranquil end. The latter might
be called the Ephesus line.
EMMANUEL: Considering connections between Papias and Irenee, it is also
possible that Papias was depending on a Johannine tradition, which should
have take a part in the fog around the John question.
BRUCE: I think this is well observed. The Johannine enthusiasm of Papias
seems clear just from the surviving quotation of his remark.
Of the two traditions, which we might call the Early JZ and the Late JZ
traditions, does either show *internal* signs of lateness? I think possibly.
In my little essay called "Anticipation of Reader Objection," I mention the
way in which a text may argue with the expectations of readers, in
introducing something which jars with their previous knowledge. I suggest
that such a moment occurs in the Gospel of John, and that it is meant to
argue with reader impressions that John Z, John the Apostle, had died
earlier than that Gospel wishes to suggest.
"Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had
lain close to his breast at the supper, and said, Lord, who is it that is
going to betray you?  When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, Lord, what
about this man?  Jesus said to him, If it is my will that he remain
until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!  The saying spread abroad
among the brethren that this disciple was not to die, yet Jesus did not say
to him that he was not to die, but "If it is my will that he remain until I
come, what is that to you?"  This is the disciple who is bearing witness
to these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his word
is true." [Jn 21:20-24]
It he here conceded, in an appendage to the original GJohn, that Jesus had
never said that John Z would not die. On the contrary, as the writer well
knew (GJn is demonstrably aware of GMk), Jesus had strongly implied the
opposite. The writer legalistically avoids a direct confrontation with this
That is, the later tradition (that of GJn) is directly dealing with the
awkward fact of the earlier tradition (the one in GMk). From this, it is
obvious which one is, in fact, the earlier tradition. It is the one that is
already there to make problems for any later tradition.
In what order did the Twelve die, and what anyway is the proper canon of the
Twelve? One can stare at the variant lists of the Twelve, ordered in columns
in many a work of reference, and come away little wiser than one began. Just
to complicate it further, here is another column, which may be new to some.
It is a text, discovered and published by the ever-zealous Tischendorf,
describing the death of Mary, and the calling of all the Apostles to be
present. It is John who summons them. Here he comes into Mary's presence:
"And as she prayed, I, John, came to her, for the Holy Ghost caught me up by
a cloud from Ephesus and set me in the place where the mother of my Lord
He refers to the charge (given by Jesus in Jn 19:26-27) to this same
"disciple whom Jesus loved." So there is no doubt that we are here supposed
to be hearing the testimony of John the Apostle.
He summons "the apostles" and they appear in this order:
1. Peter, from Rome
2. Paul, from Tiberia [near Rome]
3. Thomas, from the "inmost Indies"
4. James, from Jerusalem
[The following "had fallen asleep," and are raised from their tombs]
5. Andrew the brother of Peter
8. Simon the Canaanite
10. Mark "who was still alive" from Alexandria
Matthew does not seem to make the text at this point, but a little later,
when each Apostle describes how he came, we have:
11. Matthew was in a ship, tossed by waves . . .
[Then those who "had departed this life" before give their testimony]
12. Bartholomew was preaching the Word in Thebes
So there are the Twelve, not even counting John himself. Make of it what you
like. What I make of it is that the list of the Twelve was subject to
constant updating and renewal, according to local agenda, and (who knows?)
perhaps also subject to changing facts.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst