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Re: [John_Lit] Re: Jesus as the Word

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  • Thomas W Butler
    Mark: Let me clarify my own theory regarding how the Fourth Gospel was written. Following the lead of Culpepper and others, I begin with the assumption that
    Message 1 of 73 , Mar 19, 2002
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      Let me clarify my own theory regarding how the Fourth Gospel
      was written. Following the lead of Culpepper and others, I begin
      with the assumption that the Fourth Gospel is a document created
      by a community or school which is under the strong influence of an
      eye witness to the events described within it. This eye witness is
      the Beloved Disciple. I have found evidence that the gospel is
      constructed as a text book, to be used as an aid to theological
      reflection upon the meaning of the Jesus tradition, following the
      same method of instruction used to train rabbis in the first century:
      the midrash method. Simply put, that method challenges students
      (really scholars) to expound upon the meaning of a particular
      scripture (one selected by the teacher or an inquiring student).
      The challenge is to expound upon the meaning of that passage
      using the language of scripture. The most popular source of
      language and symbols (semeia, signs) is the Pentateuch.
      My book, Let Her Keep It, tests this theory by identifying
      Mosaic language, especially Mosaic oracles, in the Fourth Gospel.
      I have shown a consistent use of material from the Pentateuch
      (specifically from the Septuagint version of the Pentateuch) taken
      from passages dealing with the temple, the festivals of sacrifice
      and the priesthood.
      Expanding this theory to include the synoptic gospels, and in
      this case, the Gospel According to Luke, what I see is that
      key words, especially words from the Jesus tradition have been
      incorporated into a midrash-like commentary. My suspicion is
      that the Fourth Gospel is a document that had been "under
      construction" for some time. A community using this method
      might still be adding to it. The problem was that this community
      broke apart. What they had at the time of the disolution of the
      community was a collection of the best commentaries thus far
      created by the scholars within the community, including the
      revered Beloved Disciple. It was this collection that was then
      given a final edit by a surviving elder from the community before
      it was made available to other communities.
      Now, with that brief explanation, let us return to your theory
      and consider the relationship between the Gospel of Luke and
      the Gospel of John. You said,

      > I have a much bigger confusion trying to imagine how John
      > would draw upon a Lukan parable and "turn it into" a key
      > story about a raising of a man dead for 4 days, and upon
      > which the opposition by the "Jews" turns to active persecution.
      > This is so crucial for John's narrative, and has so many tenticles
      > into other parts of John's narrative, that this would mean that
      > John's account is really a fiction based upon other stories.
      > But I have been convinced that John at least thinks his account
      > is based on good data, and often times is based on good data.
      > To imagine the Fourth Evangelist (whoever the real author is)
      > creating stories from parables is to imagine his activity far
      > differently that seems reasonable to me.

      The process I have described is not exactly one that turns a
      parable into a key story. It is a commentary on the deeper
      meaning of a theological issue that can be discerned within
      the parable. In the Gospel of John such a commentary must
      follow the rules of midrash, namely, that it must make the
      meaning of the passage being studied more clear, and it must
      use language from a scriptural source to do it. This is a highly
      developed discipline and one which I imagine was very difficult.
      The results, however, are extraordinary, brilliant and profound.
      Not only is there evidence of elaboration on the meaning of
      material found in other sources like Luke's gospel, but there is
      evidence of an insider's perspective, the viewpoint of someone
      whose relationship with Jesus was intimately close, to the point
      of being able to reflect upon what was going on in the mind of
      Jesus as the story is being told.

      Ultimately, the objective of this text and the method by which it
      was used was to cause the readers to see that Christ abides
      within them, to understand that they are able to think as Christ
      thinks, to know what those closest to Christ knew, to encourage
      them to reflect theologically and expound upon the meaning of
      the Jesus tradition as leaders of the emerging Christian community.

      There is much more to all of this, but this is enough to introduce
      my theory. Perhaps it will explain how differently I am approaching
      the subject than you are. Yet I suspect there are a number of
      points upon which we can dialog.

      One example is in response to what you said:

      > But there are some really intriquing issues at stake. Why does
      > Luke's parable have a named figure? This seems to break the normal
      > rule for parables, even Luke's parables. Doesn't this suggest that
      > Luke is under the influence of some "source" that is causing him to
      > modify a story in favor of that source? Yet it is a big difference.
      > I can imagine a number of possibilities for why Luke might have
      > been suspicious of John's story of Lazarus, and yet might have
      > allowed it to influence in a small way his telling of another oral
      > tradition. But this is really speculation. The big issue is the
      > larger pattern, especially in the passion and resurrection
      > narratives.

      I submit that the scholars of the Johannine community recognized
      the fact that the name used in this parable in Luke was a clue to
      the parabe's deeper meaning. The parable is an indictment of the
      High Priest. It suggests that those priests expelled from the temple
      are dying, literally starving. The commentary in the Gospel of
      John suggests that there is more to the story, namely that Jesus
      offered new life to the dying priesthood. I would be glad to expound
      further on this if you are interested.

      Yours in Christ's service,
      Tom Butler

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Kenneth Litwak
      Thomas W Butler wrote: If this story were made up out of whole cloth, it would be ... Disciplined or not, either John recounted the raising of Lazarus as an
      Message 73 of 73 , Apr 27, 2002
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        Thomas W Butler wrote:> If this story were made up out of whole cloth, it
        would be

        > When I say that a passage of scripture in the 4G is a midrash
        > commentary, I am NOT suggesting that it was "made up out of
        > whole cloth." As I indicated in a previous post, the midrash
        > process is very disciplined.

        Disciplined or not, either John recounted the raising of Lazarus as an event,
        or John was inspired by Luke 16, performed some sort of literary magic on it
        (quite unparalleled that I can see from testable examples), then John
        invented the story out of whole cloth. When someone writes a fairy tale,
        they follow an established form. The discipline of doing so does not make
        Cinderella an historical account.

        > It requires a deep knowledge and
        > understanding of the language used in the source material (in
        > this case the language of the parable in Luke) as well as the
        > issues being presented to generate faith in Jesus. This is no
        > small challenge.
        > Even within tradition, you are overlooking the genre of midrash.

        No, I am not overlooking the genre of midrash. Let's try this one more time
        and then I'm done with this discussion. "Midrash" as used in ancient
        literature referred to a rabbinic method of interpretation. This method was
        delineated and used in rabbinic literature, from after 200 A.D. Its roots
        might have come from an earlier period, but we have no documentation of
        that. Some of its principles may have been used at an earlier stage, but we
        have no explicit record or demonstration or assertion of that from texts of
        the period.

        What we have instead is a technical term, which applies to a form of
        interpretation which seems to take some liberties with the text, and
        therefore, has been appropriated by scholars to refer to any number of
        phenomena, as though simply giving it that label a) tells us something
        meaningful (which it doesn't -- any more than saying "this is an articular
        infinitive") and b) arguing based on a that you can then say "this text means
        something totally different than what it appears or has a totally different
        origin than you expect because it owes its existence to a technique only
        documented 200 years later". The way midrash is being used by some
        participants in this discussion reminds me of the article title, "Q is
        whatever you make it" (or similar wording). It is methodologically improper,
        IMO, to take a term from 200 A.D., which has a very specific meaning, and,
        ignoring that definition, apply it to works of an earlier period, while
        failing to define it. If one won't define pizza enough to make it distinct
        from something else, then there's no reason to not call a Big Mac a pizza.
        If you define pizza strictly enough, however, that you can actually say,
        "This qualifies as a pizza but this does not," then "pizza" is a useful
        term. I've referred to a work which critiques the application of the term
        midrash to phenomena which came into being before the rabbis defined midrash
        or its approach. If you wish to grab that label and slap it on whatever you
        wish, I cannot stop you. I, however, prefer a non-Humpty Dumpty approach to
        language. Words have specific referents. They don't mean anything you'd like
        them to mean.

        I ask again then: if John used some technique to turn, say, the parable
        of Luke 16 into a very different story for very different purposes, none of
        which can be an historical account, what genre does the FG belong to? You
        only get three choices. It's not methodologically valid to say "First
        century people in the Med knew three genres. I'm going to think outside the
        box, and invent another and impose it upon a First century document."
        There was NO genre of midrash in John's day. He could not apply it because
        it did not exist. Pesher as an approach existed but not midrash because
        midrash should refer only to the procedure which its practitioners referred
        to by that name, not any old phenomenon from earlier days. Why is it such a
        problem to give up an anachronistic label?

        Ken Litwak

        > Simply because the process was not codified until around the
        > second century does not mean that the method was not used
        > in the first century or even earlier. To suggest that it was a
        > rabbinical method, so it should not be considered as a method
        > used in Christian circles ignores the fact that the first Christians
        > were all children of Israel. The Gospel of John provides ample
        > evidence that great Jewish teachers like Nicodemus were
        > disciples of Jesus. Of course pedagogical techniques used in
        > rabbinical schools would have been used in early Christian
        > schools! Why wouldn't they be used?

        I never denied this. I denied that anyone in John's day used a technique
        which, so far as we can tell from known documents, did not exist as a
        technique in John's day. It's like telling me that alchemists measured gram
        atoms, when they didn't even know for sure that atoms existed. Or, it's like
        calling Apuleius sci-fi, even though that genre didn't exist.

        > > John is absolutely clearly not a romance (and those who claim
        > > that any Gospel is a Greek romance have obviously not read
        > > closely enough a Greek romance).
        > > Therefore, its genre must be one in which we ought to take the
        > > narrative as intending to talk about actual events, regardless of
        > > how they are presented or reported.
        > Here I suspect that you and I have different starting places. I am
        > absolutely convinced that the writer(s) of the Fourth Gospel were
        > presenting THE TRUTH. In the first century mind set, that does
        > not mean that they were attempting to write a history of Jesus.
        > Modern scholars have been frustrated time and again when they
        > have attempted to use the tools of historical criticism developed
        > to study the Synoptics - on the Fourth Gospel. The results are
        > very confusing and often frustrating to the scholars who try it.

        That only means the tools are inappropriate, in part because they depend on a
        flawed notion of historical research, viz., a van Rankean-Positivist
        approach. First century audiences knew three genres: historia, Bioi and
        romance. You don't get to choose another because you don't like those
        choices. Well, I can't stop you from doing so but I can't responsibly
        consider the result as having validity. What you are suggesting is that same
        thing as an example of ideological criticism, reaping from the text what is
        not there according a worldview that the author could not possibly have had.

        > A history in the first century was an account written by servants
        > of a king or conqueror of events that detail the great victories of
        > that king.

        In some cases this is true, but it does not fit the case of Josephus, the
        author of LAB, other Hellenistic Jewish historiographers, nor even, so far as
        I can see, the advice of either Lucian or Dionysius of Halicarnassus. This
        goes back to my point above. Hellenistic historiogrpahy's definitions should
        be gained from pieces of the period, not imposed from without.

        > The TRUTH about Jesus does not fit such an objective
        > exactly. In fact, such truth cannot be conveyed using such a form.
        > There is a need to reflect in greater depth about the meaning of
        > the resurrection than a mere history could achieve.

        This seems contradictory to me. If it is not an historical account of a
        resurrection, then surely it does not recount a real resurrection and there
        is nothing "true" about resurrection reflected by it to talk about. You are
        certainly permitted to call John's Gospel fiction, and say that John used
        fiction to present "truth". That's a theoretical possibility. IN that case,
        however, we are free to completely ignore any questions regarding what
        happened because John was not thing to ell us what happened. He's using the
        license granted by "midrash" to crate any old thing that will suit his
        purposes for "truth" telling. That sure makes the prologue easier to deal
        with. We don't have to interpret it. We just have to decide what all that
        midrash is trying to tell us truth-wise. If midrash is what I want to make
        it, then the entire Gospel can be a midrash. Since you won't define this
        term precisely, anything fits it.

        > I suspect that when you see the word "midrash commentary"
        > you are assuming that someone has made up a story and tried
        > to pass off that story as history. That is not what I am saying
        > at all. Using my theory I can say that Lazarus is not a historical
        > person without suggesting that the story of the raising of Lazarus
        > is fiction. For those two sentences to be true, we as scholars
        > must be able to look for truth in a category other than history.

        No. What I assume is that the term midrash is being completely misapplied
        to refer to some other phenomena which no rabbi would have understood as
        valid hermeneutically as an example of midrash. Choose a different term.
        Call it a fable. Call it a parable. Call it whatever you want to call it,
        but don't overload one term with a specific referent for something unrelated.
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