Coy John (Jn 21)
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On: Coy John (Jn 21)
The classical Chinese text called Jung Yung contains what scholars have judged
to be references to the Chin Dynasty official system, implying a date after the
Chin unification in 0221. That text is also clearly alluded to in a variety of
what look like pre-Chin texts: the Analects of Confucius and the Mencius among
them. Both those passages may be interpolated. I have elsewhere argued that, in
fact, they *are* interpolated. But study of all the other interpolations in
those texts suggests that the later limits on the dates of interpolations in
them seem to coincide at 0249. We thus still have the problem that the first
external references to the text occur something like a generation before the
situation to which the text apparently refers.
What date, then, do we give the Jung Yung? To this, on merely the above
conflicting data, there can be no possible single answer.
It then helps to notice that whereas the external attestations refer only to
the content or the wording of low-numbered sections of the JY, the reflections
of Chin imperial state structure occur only in the higher-numbered sections.
The answer, evidently, is that JY is an accretional text, with an early core
that was extended at least once thereafter, and that the core is to be dated to
some time before 0249, whereas the tail, or a part of it to be subsequently
determined, is to be dated to some time after 0221 (but before 0207, at which
point the Chin system and indeed dynasty had fallen apart for all practical
These conclusions are capable of refinement, not here explored. But as they
stand, they suffice to establish the principle that we cannot date a text, or
ascribe it to an author or a locale, or indeed make any other statement about
it, until we have first examined that text to see if it is integral (in which
case all statements about it will refer to the same body of material) or not
(in which case they may easily refer to different parts of the material).
Unfortunately, the standard order of presentation in the typical NT commentary,
however, or such a useful work as the NT overview of Schnelle, is the opposite.
The date and authorship of the work are discussed, and for all practical
purposes determined, before the question of text integrity is taken up. And it
should then come as no surprise that such questions are, in the huge majority
of cases, decided in favor of text integrity.
This order of presentation in effect protects traditional views, while keeping
up a simulacrum of scholarly presentability. But it is not well calculated to
advance understanding of the material, always assuming that better
understanding of the material is both possible and desirable. Thus do
scholarship (as usually understood, and it is not my purpose here to propose
new definitions of basic terms) and critical scholarship diverge. The following
remarks are meant exclusively for the critical subcommunity.
The most intriguing feature of gJn is the person of the "beloved disciple." He
is never named, but when he appears, he is always in the most intimate relation
with Jesus. His presence in the Gospel amounts to a guarantee, not only of
authenticity, but of supreme authority among any other Apostolic writings. This
is because the reader is warmly invited to infer that this privileged disciple
is John the son of Zebedee, one of the original Twelve. To invoke the
assistance of the reader in making this claim is nothing if not ingenious on
the part of the writer; this is what I call the Coy John Ploy.
The Ploy is seen very clearly in Jn 21. There, seven of the Twelve on a fishing
excursion in Galilee, following their return to Galilee after the Crucifixion,
see Jesus on the shore, and Peter (true to the tradition of the Synoptics, and
also to what may be inferred as the precursor of the extant Gospel of Peter) is
the first to go to Jesus, and receive his Apostolic Mandate. Peter's
crucifixion is also predicted in symbolic but perfectly intelligible terms.
Then Peter asks about the beloved disciple, still not named. Jesus answers him
by way of rebuke, implying that this disciple will remain alive until Jesus
himself comes again to end and judge the world. This is an all but explicit
argument with the prediction in Mark, that both the sons of Zebedee would be
martyred, and with the tradition (largely Eastern, ie Syrian) that this was
indeed the case. In Jn 21, the beloved disciple will instead remain alive
indefinitely. Jn 21 closes with the assurance that it is this disciple, the
living link with Jesus long years after, who is responsible for the content of
the Gospel. And on closer look, we find that gJn cedes to Peter leadership in
the later Church. By the time of gJn, this will have been a firmly established
tradition, whatever the firmness of the roots of that tradition; that position
is in being already by the time of Matthew. In an earler note, I gave evidence
that aJn knew all the Synoptics, including Matthew.
In short, Jn 21 is a claim of greater Apostolic authority than gMt can offer.
It claims to be the last word in direct reporting. That it has often been
received as such, in later times, is not relevant to the present discussion.
The relevant point is the claim itself: what the text of gJn actually does.
Now then: Is that claim original to gJn? As far as the part of it represented
by Jn 21 is concerned, evidently not. For Jn 21 is clearly an add-on to the
Gospel. As has been pointed out innumerable times, and as I believe correctly,
gJn comes to a perfectly satisfactory and apparently intentional end at the end
of Jn 20. That piece ends with Thomas at last satisfied, by physical inspection
of what amounts to the still wounded corpse of Jesus, that Jesus has indeed
risen. Apart from an authorial coda, the text ends with what amounts to a
blessing on future believers, "Blessed are those who have *not* seen and yet
believed." A felicitation to the faithful reader.
To say that the Beloved Disciple has been everywhere interpolated into a prior
Jn, by way of giving it additional certification as a genuine Apostolic
document, does not follow from this one demonstration. This demonstration
merely makes examination of the other "beloved disciple" passages a desirable
matter, a thing on the table. I intend to return to the table in a following
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst