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Re: [John_Lit] Discussion of Jo-Ann A. Brant's SBL2000 Paper

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  • Thomas (Tom) Butler
    Dear Frank McCoy and other J.L. Listers, We are very close to agreement regarding your commentary on Jn. 13 (written on Feb. 25), with one significant
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 9, 2001
      Dear Frank McCoy and other J.L. Listers,
      We are very close to agreement regarding your commentary on
      Jn. 13 (written on Feb. 25), with one significant difference. I have purposely avoided reference to Philo's works in my study, suspecting that the connection between the FG and the Pentateuch could be seen without it. My premise is that the Jewish intelligentsia - as you call them - could well have been involved in the writing of the FG, using the midrash method in an expert fashion. Their intention, in other words, was to utilize the symbolic language of the Pentateuch to recount the Jesus story, thus recycling -to use a late 20th century concept - the sacred symbolic language of the Mosaic system of worship into Christian theology. They were intentionally maintaining the sacred elements of the law as they told the gospel story. They believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of the law, that Jesus fulfilled the law, and that the language of the law was required to tell God's story in terms of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

      ------Original Message------
      From: "FMMCCOY" <FMMCCOY@...>
      > To: johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com
      > Sent: February 25, 2001 7:03:25 PM GMT
      > Subject: Re: [John_Lit] Discussion of Jo-Ann A. Brant's SBL2000 > Paper: "Unmasking the The

      > Dear Tom Butler and Other JL Listers:

      > The final story of the trilogy, the washing of the feet of > the disciples, has two levels of meaning. One is explicitly > brought our in 13:12-17. The other is the level of meaning in > terms of Philionic thought. It is not explicitly brought out, > but can be discerned while reading this story.
      > Let us turn to the beginning of this story in 13:3-4,
      > "Jesus, knowing that the Father has given him all things into
      > (his) hands, and that from God he came out and to God goes, he > rises from the supper and lays aside (his)garments and having
      > taken a linen cloth, he girded himself."

      We agree that there are two levels of meaning, one explicit, the other is semeiotic, using the language of the Pentateuch to affirm the sacred nature of the event being described. You have suggested that the second level is Philionic. I'm aware that there have been numerous scholars who have pointed out the similarities between Philo's thought and the Gospel of John. It seems to me that this similarity need not be a direct connection. Since Philo's work focused upon the interpretation of the Pentateuch and - as I am suggesting - the FG is making a midrash commentary on the Jesus story using language from the Pentateuch, the similarities may be coincidental, though I cannot rule out the possibility that the Jewish intelligentsia who were involved in the composition of the FG knew about Philo's work.

      I have shown, for example, that in the Pentateuch, there is semeiotic meaning behind the use of the terms for head, hand, body (side), and feet. The head (top) is always associated with the holy. The body (side) is associated with the creation (or presence of the holy in the world) and the feet (base) is associated with that which has been profaned, soiled by sin. Of particular importance for our discussion is the significance of the hand, which represents the role of the intermediary between the sacred and the profane, the role of the priest, specifically the function of the priest as the right hand of God, performing the ritual functions required to maintain the covenant between Holy God and profaned humanity. (I can provide references to support this, but for the sake of brevity will not include them now.)

      For Jesus to be described as "knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands," points to the assertion that Jesus has now assumed all priestly authority. This is consistent with my interpretation of the story of the raising of Lazarus, who represents the priesthood. In that story, Jesus calls the priesthood out of the temple, which has become a tomb, and orders that the grave cloths (vestments) of Lazarus (the called out priests) be removed. The story continues in Jn. 13 with Jesus knowing that all semeiotic priestly functions now have been given into his hands.

      > Jesus is the Logos: who, as the true High Priest of Leviticus > > 21:10, is the Viceroy and the offspring of the Father (Fuga, > 108-111). He symbolically indicates that he will be acting as > this true High Priest by setting aside his garments and donning > a linen cloth--just as the High Priest puts off his clothes and > dons a linen garment before entering the Holy of Holies.

      Yes, though Philo's elaboration is not necessary to draw the connection between Jesus and the High Priest.

      > . . .
      > This story thusly continues in 13:5, "Afterwards, he pours > water into the wash-basin and began to wash the feet of the > disciples, and to wipe (them) with the linen cloth with which > he was girded."

      As Moses is instructed to create the basin for the temple, from which water is to be taken to wash the hands and the feet of the priests before and after every ritual sacrifice is made (Exodus 30: 17-21), we are told that this is a perpetual ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for all generations, so that they may not die. The linen cloth with which Jesus is girded represents the ephod (Exodus 28: 6-15), though there is no indication in the gospel that the linen towel used by Jesus was anywhere near as elaborate as the one described in Exodus.

      > The water poured out by the Logos is the spiritual water of the > Spirit-Sophia-Arete (Fuga, 97). The feet symbolize the soul > and shoes the body (Exodus, I, 19).

      I do not see the relevance of Exodus 1: 19 here, though it seems to me that you (and Philo?) are looking in the right direction.

      > His washing of the feet of the disciples, then, symbolizes his > washing of their souls with the Spirit-Sophia-Arete.

      I would say that the washing of the feet of the disciples fulfills requirements of the perpetual ordinance required of Mosaic priests. It symbolizes the preparation required to perform the intermediary function of priests, thus designating the disciples of Jesus as the replacements for the priests who have been called out of the temple. (There is more to this, of course. I have shown that by commanding that "the stone" be removed, Jesus symbolically destroys the temple first envisioned by Jacob when he anoints a stone as a marker for "the house of God." The body of Jesus is acknowledged as the new temple in
      Jn. 2: 21.)

      > He wipes their feet with the linen cloth to symbolically > indicate that the logoi out of which the garment of Truth is
      > woven help in the cleansing process of the soul--for "in the
      > understandings of those who are still undergoing cleansing and > have not yet fully washed their life defiled and stained by the > body's wight, there walk angels, divine logoi, making them
      > bright and clean (Som i, 148)."

      In the context of the Pentateuch, the feet are in contact with the dust of the earth, which has been cursed by God as a consequence of human sin (Genesis 3: 17), thus they must be ritually washed before and after every ritual sacrifice and before and after the high priest enters the holy of holies, since to bring the dust of the earth to the altar or the holy of holies would be to defile those holy places, and to leave the blood of the sacrifice on the priest's hands when leaving the holy places would be to defile that holy blood when it comes into contact with the dust of the earth. As an intermediary, the priest must preserve the holiness of the sacred, even though maintaining contact with the profane.

      > And then we read in 13:6-7, "He therefore comes to Simon
      > Peter and he says to him, 'Lord, do you wash the feet of me?'
      > Answered Jesus and said to him, 'What I do you do not know now, > but you shall know hereafter.'" Peter does not understand the
      > symbolic meaning of the foot washing now, but he will soon
      > understand it.

      I agree. On the surface level of meaning, Peter sees Jesus performing a function that a slave would perform for his or her master. He resists such a symbolic definition of his relationship to Jesus. Jesus explains to him that he will understand later, then offering a hint (a sign?) that if Peter refuses this ritual foot washing, then he will not have any portion with Jesus (13: 8). This refers in terms of the Mosaic language in the Pentateuch, to the priest's portion of the sacrifice. Jesus is telling Peter that in order to be a priest, authorized to celebrate the ritual sacrifice in the new temple, he must submit to the foot washing.

      > Next is 13:8, "Says to him Peter, 'In no way may you wash my > feet!' Answered him Jesus, 'Unless I wash them, you have not
      > part with me!'" Peter continues to mis-understand. The basic
      > idea in Jesus' reply is that the spiritual water of the Spirit-
      > Sophia-Arete that fills the Logos is of the very self of this
      > Logos and, so, is poured into a soul as a spiritual wine that
      > is of the very self of the Logos (Som ii, 245 & 249). Since
      > she is of the very self of him, when she is poured into a soul, > it is also the Logos pouring into the soul. Thereby, the soul
      > becomes attached to the Logos, like a branch grafted on a vine.

      Again, Philo's language relates, but is not necessary. The language of the Pentateuch is sufficient to interpret the meaning of the passage.

      > Then comes 13:9-10a, "Says to him Simon Peter, 'Lord, not
      > only my feet, but also the hands and the head!' Says to him
      > Jesus, 'He that has been laved has not need (other) than the
      > feet to wash, but is wholly clean.'"

      Peter now seems to understand what Jesus is doing, but wants more than Jesus is offering. Following the symbolism of the preparation of Aaron and his sons by Moses to fulfill the role of high priest and temple priests (Exodus 29: 4-9), Peter wants Jesus to designate him (Peter) as the High Priest. Jesus replies with a play on words that differentiates between bodily cleanliness and ritual cleanliness, and effectively denies Peter the high priestly role he is seeking.

      > Peter is thinking of cleansing the body. However, he has
      > already been laved and, so, is wholly clean in a bodily sense.
      > All he still needs to have done is to have his soul washed
      > clean with the spritual water of the Spirit-Sophia-Arete--for
      > when the soul "made use of the lustrations and purifications of
      > Sophia, it could not but be clean and fair (Mut, 124)."

      > Finally, there is 10b-11, "'And you are clean, but not all.'
      > For he knew him who was delivering him up. On account of this,
      > he said, 'Not all (of) you are clean.'" Not stated but under-
      > stood, Jesus has just finished washing the last soul present
      > (i.e., Peter's soul) with the Spirit-Sophia-Arete and wiping it > with the logoi, so now all the disciples are clean--except for
      > the one who has immediately gotten his soul dirty again with
      > sin by planning to betray him.

      We are close to the same understanding. I interpret this to mean that Jesus is explaining that while those who approach the altar have already bathed, since this is required, they must still undergo the ritual washing of the feet and hands before they are ritually ready to celebrate (to use a Christian term) the sacrifice. The "not all of you" is in the plural, so it applies not just to one (i.e.: Judas as you suggest), but to all of those who have had their feet washed. It suggests that while all of the disciples are physically clean, not all parts of each of them are ritually clean and ready for the function they will soon be performing. Their feet, in other words, MUST be washed, but Jesus is not agreeing with Peter that any other part of him needs to be washed. He is not ready to set Peter aside as any more authorized than the other disciples. (He does do this at the end of the Gospel, however (21: 15-19).

      > On the Philionic level of understanding, then, the story of
      > the foot washings speaks of how the logoi and the Spirit-Sophia > -Arete given to a soul by the Logos completely purify and
      > cleanse this soul and bring it into union with him. Since it
      > focuses on the logoi and the Spirit-Sophia-Arete given by the
      > Logos, it is related to John 6:51-58: where Jesus speaks as the
      > Logos, who gives us his flesh/body that consists of the logoi
      > and his blood that is the Spirit-Sophia-Arete. Both are likely
      > related to Jesus' words at the Last Supper as rendered by Mark.
      > In 6:51-58, the emphasis is that the logoi he gives us to "eat" > as his "body" and the Spirit-Sophia-Arete he gives us to
      > "drink" as his "blood" give us eternal life. In 13:3-11, the
      > emphasis is on how these logoi and this Spirit-Sophia-Arete he
      > gives us purify and make clean our souls--at least until we sin
      > anew--and bring us into union with him.

      I see the same correlation as you do between the Johannine passages that you cite, but do not find it necessary to use Philo's language to interpret them. The language used even in these other passages is related to the Pentateuch, and their second level of meaning is derived from understanding the meaning of the symbolic language in its original context, then applying that meaning in the Johannine context.

      > The story of the foot washings is related to 6:35-58 in a
      > dramatic sense. In particular, as, in 6:35-58, Jesus does not
      > clarify his statements to the people at the synagogue in
      > Capernaum, but continues on with more statements they cannot
      > understand, so, in 13:3-11, he does not clarify his statements
      > to Peter, but continues on with more statements he cannot
      > understand. One difference, of course, is that, we learn,
      > Peter will come to understand what Jesus is telling him. As a
      > result, he is more positively portrayed than are the people at
      > the synagogue in Capernaum.

      Yes. In 6: 35-58 the Johannine author(s) lay the foundation for their eucharistic theology, which is only fully understood by the disciples AFTER the crucifixion and resurrection.

      > As with 6:35-58, the intended audience for 13:3-11 consists
      > of those who are familiar with Philionic thought and, so,
      > probably consist of the Jewish intelligentsia in Alexandria.
      > Thus, they indicate, John (or, to be more specific John 1-20)
      > was written to convince the Jewish intelligentsia in
      > Alexandria that Jesus had been Philo's Logos incarnate in the
      > flesh.

      Again, we are almost in agreement. I contend that the intended audience consists of those who are intimately familiar with the Septuagint version of the Pentateuch. The gospel is written to convince these Greek-speaking, highly educated Jewish scholars that Jesus fulfills the Law.

      While our arguments are hinged on similar understandings of the text, we disagree as to the importance of Philo's thought in interpreting those texts. I do not disagree that Philo's thought is relevant, but I do disagree that Philo's ideas are necessary to interpret the Fourth Gospel. It is possible, in my mind, for the author(s) to have written this gospel without any knowledge of Philo's work or any expectation that the readers would know of Philo's work. It is not possible, on the other hand, that the author(s) would not have known the Pentateuch (especially the Greek version of it) extremely well. They were counting on the readers having or acquiring a similar depth of understanding of the Pentateuch, since that is the cypher for this level of meaning in the gospel.

      I'm greatly enjoying our dialog. I look forward to continuing it.

      Yours in Christ's service,
      Tom Butler
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