Re: [John_Lit] Re: Jesus as the Word
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 JohnThe process I have described is not exactly one that turns a
> 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.
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 doesI submit that the scholars of the Johannine community recognized
> 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
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,
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Thomas W Butler wrote:> If this story were made up out of whole cloth, it
> When I say that a passage of scripture in the 4G is a midrashDisciplined or not, either John recounted the raising of Lazarus as an event,
> 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.
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 andNo, I am not overlooking the genre of midrash. Let's try this one more time
> 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.
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
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?
>I never denied this. I denied that anyone in John's day used a technique
> 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?
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.
>That only means the tools are inappropriate, in part because they depend on a
> > 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.
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.
>In some cases this is true, but it does not fit the case of Josephus, the
> 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.
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 objectiveThis seems contradictory to me. If it is not an historical account of a
> 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.
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.
>No. What I assume is that the term midrash is being completely misapplied
> 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.
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.