Martyrdom of John
- The yet quoted Boismard's book is probably the most precise
overview of the John's martyrdom question in the last decades.
He gives some references for the 1890-1920 period, when the
question as been widely debated by scholars.
All what I will say on the topic comes from Boismard.
In his book, he provides an extensive examination of all kind
of evidences provided a century ago, and join his own views.
# If Mk 10:39 par. does not contain a certain vaticinium of the
# martyrdom of the two sons of Zebedee, one cannot deduce from
# it with certainty that the early Church had any knowledge of
# the violent death, of the Apostle John at an early date.
Boismard analyses ancient liturgies and homelies,
arguing that "cup" was allways understand as "martyrdom".
In the same works, James and John have often been associated
in the martyrdom.
Thus, from the cup notation and other evidences, we may deduce
with a high degree of confidence that the early church honoured
and feasted John as a martyr.
# brother James soon fell victim to King Herod Agrippa I (A. D. 44).
Some Ethiopian manuscripts wear a strange reading, replacing
James by John as victim of Herod Agrippa. The confidence we
may attach to this tradition is quite low, since the history
of ethiopian manuscripts is hard to trace, but Boismard is
higly interested with this tradition, since he estimates
in a previous study leaded with A. Lamouille that these
manuscripts were witnesses of the occidental tradition for
the Acts. (reference : "Texte occidental des Actes des apôtres
- reconstitution et réhabilitation" - Marie-Emile Boismard et
Arnaud Lamouille - Recherches sur les civilisations, 1984)
# But John was still alive, and "pillar" of the Church, when Paul
# met the first Apostles in Jerusalem which can only have been at
# the "Council of the Apostles" of Acts which must be dated about
# 49. If John died a martyr's death, it would have had to be later
# (at the hand of Jews); to connect it with the martyrdom of James
# "the brother of the Lord", in 62, is an arbitrary procedure.
"which must be dated about 49." Is it certain ? This argument
is week, since it assumes the veracity of the Act indication,
plus that modern datation of the council.
What occurs with John after the death of his brother, according Act ?
# Some ancient martyrologies or menologies are also invoked. The Breviarium
# Syriacum (of A.D. 411) gives for 27 December: "John and James, Apostles, in
# Jerusalem", and the Armenian calendar (probably earlier, third century): "St
# James the Elder and St John the Evangeliist for 28 December.
In fact, this has been aknowledged a century ago either by
oponents to martydom. Their answer was arguing that St John
reference in those martyrologies was corrupted from John the
Baptiste toward the evangelist, and they had good arguments
to support it.
# Such notices vary in the different calendars, and they intend to
# do is to fix the date for the liturgical remembrance of the saints
# which is celebrated under various headings: not only martyrdom but
# consecration as bishop, transfer of relics, etc.; feasts of different
# saints were celebrated on the same day, and no further conclusions
# are possible [Cf. Braun, pp. 381-5, appealing to H. Delehaye].
What is forgiven here is that the post-Christmas sequence of
saints were often early martyrs. For instance :
26 dec => St Stephanos
27 dec => St James & St John
28 dec => St Peter & St Paul
This is not due to random, and Boismard shows how each kind of saints
was honoured at a given season : Prophets, bishops, virgins, etc.
The Baptist was placed among the prophets.
If placed in the early martyr sequence, John the evangelist
should have been considered as a martyr.
# In view of all this, the hypothesis of the martyrdom of
# the Apostle John may be pigeon-holed without misgivings.
According Boismard, even if it is difficult to place and date with
precision the martyrdon of John, the earlier tradition of this
martyrdom is so consistent that it should be taken into account.
"LE MARTYRE DE JEAN L'APOTRE" - M.-É. BOISMARD -
Cahiers de la revue biblique - 1996 - Gabalda, Paris.