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RE: [John_Lit] The most Obscure Gospel

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  • Bob MacDonald
    Dear Ken Who would dare reply to this? What is believe in Jn 20 that we should know we have done it? The starkness of the metaphor is there to turn us away
    Message 1 of 9 , Apr 13, 2002
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      Dear Ken

      Who would dare reply to this? What is 'believe' in Jn 20 that we should know
      we have done it?

      The starkness of the metaphor is there to turn us away from our dependence
      on abstraction in relationship and to force us to turn to him only, so that
      we might know him and be known by him.

      Once the knowledge is there, there is no saying it - it cannot be written.
      The 'many signs that Jesus did' are of no further help _on paper_.

      Story, parable, and stark metaphor invite us into a reality that is
      unspeakable.

      I think the first century audience has as difficult and as similar a time
      with the word as we do. I think the followers who wrote the gospels or the
      letters (which reason from the abstraction of the law towards a greater
      reality for which it has kept us and to which it also points) knew they
      could not express a formula for faith - they could only point - and that
      using the same terms as Tanach e.g. Habakkuk - but bolstered by the 'these
      days he has spoken to us through a son'. This also is metaphorical.

      God incarnates metaphor - so the 'my flesh and my blood' become a reality
      for us that is true but unprovable (reflecting Godel's incompleteness
      theorem). Our language is no match for God, (our axioms no match for even
      the natural numbers) yet we are told that it points there (yet we are told
      that we can depend on the numbers). We can be satisfied with no person less
      (We must be satisfied that there is no closed system of abstractions in
      which all known true theorems are provable from the axioms.)

      The statement (without proof) 'my flesh and my blood' is true - i.e. above
      logical and normal and apparently natural thought.

      Poetry written from faith shows this feature: here is a description

      Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
      and stand with fear and trembling,
      And lift itself above all earthly thought.

      For the King of kings and Lord of lords, Christ our God,
      cometh forth to be our oblation,
      and to be giv'n for Food to the faithful.

      Before Him come the choirs of angels,
      with ev'ry principality and pow'r;
      the Cherubim with many eyes, and winged Seraphim,
      who veil their faces as they shout exultingly the hymn.

      Alleluia.

      Here is an example from T.S.Eliot's journey of the Magi with its reflecting
      of John's 'Es ist volbracht'.

      But there was no information, and so we continued
      And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
      Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

      Full poem worth a read: http://lucien.blight.com/~sparkle/poems/magi.html

      Be 'no longer at ease'

      yet - let me eat and drink him who knows me...

      Bob

      mailto::BobMacDonald@...
      + + + Victoria, B.C., Canada + + +

      Catch the foxes for us,
      the little foxes that make havoc of the vineyards,
      for our vineyards are in flower. (Song 2.15)
      http://bobmacdonald.gx.ca
    • jamesfrankmcgrath@yahoo.com
      I think there is certainly truth in saying that John is at times intentionally obscure . Wayne Meeks makes much of this in his famous article The Man from
      Message 2 of 9 , Apr 13, 2002
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        I think there is certainly truth in saying that John is at times
        intentionally 'obscure'. Wayne Meeks makes much of this in his famous
        article 'The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism'. The Jesus of the
        Fourth Gospel speaks of spiritual realities, and those who take his words
        at face value misunderstand. Misunderstanding is a key Johannine theme,
        and I think there has been a lengthy previous discussion of the topic on
        the list a while back.

        But I think John expected Christian readers in his community to
        understand where the interlocutors in the Gospel fail to understand - and
        that includes even John 6, where it is not just 'the Jews' but followers
        of Jesus who turn back from following him because of these sayings that
        are 'too much to take' (or in a metaphor closer to that of John 6, 'hard
        to swallow'). To my mind, the first key to unlocking the passage is 6:59,
        where the author of the Gospel specifies what the genre of the preceding
        discourse is: a synagogue homily. Although it is obviously well nigh
        impossible to imagine the historical Jesus preaching this sermon in the
        synagogue in Capernaum, this still tells us about the genre of the
        discourse. If it is a synagogue sermon, we'd expect two scriptural
        quotations (or paraphrases), and we are not disappointed. Exodus 16 (v4
        is paraphrased in John 6:31), and the whole manna story is alluded to
        throughout the chapter) provides the reading from the Law; some section
        of Isa 54-55 provides the text from the Prophets (54:13 is quoted in John
        6:45). The chapter is thus not primarily eucharistic (although
        eucharistic imagery is used), but is a christological interpretation of
        these two passages, linking the Word that comes down from heaven and the
        food offered by God in Isaiah 55, and linking it to the manna tradition
        in Exodus.

        Barnabas Lindars suggests John 6 is inserted here to illustrate the point
        made in John 5:46, namely that Moses wrote about Jesus. Even more
        important for the original readers was probably the question of why their
        Jewish contemporaries so frequently refused to accept Jesus as the
        Messiah and complained about Christians claims and practices. John's
        answer: 'the Jews' are grumbling at the bread God has given from heaven
        now, just as their forefathers always 'grumbled' (that is the word used
        in LXX in the manna story) when God gave them bread from heaven. If one
        takes the statement of purpose in John 20:31 to mean that what is written
        is to encourage Christians to continue believing, then presumably this
        would have helped them.

        Is the imagery intentionally difficult? Certainly, on one level at least.
        For John and his community, no concession is to be made for unbelief. But
        I'm not sure that this language, however difficult it might be for us,
        would have been particularly hard for members of John's own community to
        understand. For a presentation of Jesus' sayings that intentionally tries
        to make them as hard as possible to understand, perhaps one should look
        at the Gospel of Thomas!

        Best wishes,

        James McGrath



        On Sat, 13 Apr 2002 15:42:53 -0700 Kenneth Litwak
        <kdlitwak@...> writes:
        > I've been studying John's Gospel lately and for he first time,
        > I've been struck at just how large a proportion of the content is not
        > only less than clear but it seems that Jesus goes out of his way to be
        > obscure. I'm trying to figure out why John's Gospel, written in
        > such simple Greek, would at the same time, have been composed with
        almost
        > it seems the goal of not being understood. For example, in John 6,
        > without going into what Jesus means by "eat my flesh and drink my
        blood,"
        > the narrative offers no real attempt to remove this metaphor and
        replace
        > it with something clearer that the audience might understand. In John
        > 8, all that talk by Jesus about the Jews being of their father the
        > devil and about bearing witness to himself, when he had previously said

        > that was not valid, the strange statement by the disciples in :2 in
        > which they seem to imply that a Jew could sin before birth and be
        > punished with blindness, and so on.
        >
        > This is not the same as, say, JOhn 1. John 1 is profound, but I
        > don't find it particularly obscure. There aren't metaphors that seem
        > past unraveling. In John 6, however, I read Jesus' discourse and he
        > seems like he's trying o leave his audience so perplexed hat they won't

        > follow him anymore. The same seems true in John 8. Or, that bit about

        > being born again at the start of John 3. If modern scholars struggle
        > over what these texts might be about (not to imply that we are smarter
        > but that there's a lot more energy being focused on interpreting these
        > texts than in, say 90 AD)), what did JOhn's initial audiences make of
        > them? If we are to take the end of John 20 seriously, that John's
        Gospel
        > is written to help those who beleive/being unbelievers to faith, how
        > are we to make sense of these other features? Thanks.
        >
        > Ken Litwak
        >
        >

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      • Horace Jeffery Hodges
        I had an analogous but somewhat differing reaction to the Johannine language that you mention when I began re-reading the fourth gospel as an adult. What you
        Message 3 of 9 , Apr 14, 2002
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          I had an analogous but somewhat differing reaction to
          the Johannine language that you mention when I began
          re-reading the fourth gospel as an adult.

          What you found obscure, I found offensive.

          Indeed, it seemed to me that the fourth evangelist was
          being intentionally offensive in his rendering of the
          Jesus story, and I found it annoying.

          I still think that he was being deliberately
          offensive, but the interesting questions (for me) are:

          1) Why?

          and

          2) How?

          Answers to the the former could range from
          characteristics of sectarianism to reaction at
          expulsion from larger religious community to
          proto-Gnosticizing world denigration.

          Answers to the latter would require determining what
          Christological views the evangelist's opponents would
          find offensive, learning what sorts of rhetorical
          techniques available to the evangelist could be used
          for offending, and analyzing the fourth evangelist's
          use of such views and techniques.

          Incidently, has much work been done concerning what we
          could call "The Johannine Offense"? (Not a football
          gameplan even if it might sound like one.)

          Jeffery Hodges

          =====
          Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
          Hanshin University (Korean Theological University)
          447-791 Kyunggido Osan-City
          Yangsandong 411
          South Korea

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        • ProfRam@aol.com
          In a message dated 4/14/2002 8:00:36 PM Eastern Daylight Time, jefferyhodges@yahoo.com writes:
          Message 4 of 9 , Apr 14, 2002
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            In a message dated 4/14/2002 8:00:36 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
            jefferyhodges@... writes:

            << Indeed, it seemed to me that the fourth evangelist was
            being intentionally offensive in his rendering of the
            Jesus story, and I found it annoying. >>

            Apparently, it worked.


            Ramsey Michaels
          • Thomas W Butler
            Dear Ken, The Fourth Gospel is intentionally written on two levels of meaning. It can be and usually is read on a level equivalent to the Synoptics, as a
            Message 5 of 9 , Apr 14, 2002
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              Dear Ken,
              The Fourth Gospel is intentionally written on two levels of
              meaning. It can be and usually is read on a level equivalent
              to the Synoptics, as a gospel that tells the Jesus tradition. It
              is rarely, but can be read as a book of signs that must be
              interpreted by persons alert to the story line of the signs and
              very familiar with the Mosaic oracles in the Pentateuch from
              which those signs were taken. One clue to the fact that at
              least the first thirteen chapters of the Gospel are written as
              a book of signs is that the language appears to be strained
              in some passages, apparently to accommodate the use of a
              particular Greek word, even though a different Greek term
              would seem to have been a better choice. I believe that this
              was done intentionally, because the purpose behind the
              writing of the text was to use the Mosaic sign language. It
              is on that level of meaning that the text makes the most sense.

              Yours in Christ's service,
              Tom Butler

              On Sat, 13 Apr 2002 15:42:53 -0700 Kenneth Litwak
              <kdlitwak@...> writes:
              > I've been studying John's Gospel lately and for he first time,
              > I've
              > been struck at just how large a proportion of the content is not
              > only
              > less than clear but it seems that Jesus goes out of his way to be
              > obscure. I'm trying to figure out why John's Gospel, written in
              > such
              > simple Greek, would at the same time, have been composed with almost
              > it
              > seems the goal of not being understood. For example, in John 6,
              > without
              > going into what Jesus means by "eat my flesh and drink my blood,"
              > the
              > narrative offers no real attempt to remove this metaphor and replace
              > it
              > with something clearer that the audience might understand. In John
              > 8,
              > all that talk by Jesus about the Jews being of their father the
              > devil
              > and about bearing witness to himself, when he had previously said
              > that
              > was not valid, the strange statement by the disciples in :2 in
              > which
              > they seem to imply that a Jew could sin before birth and be
              > punished
              > with blindness, and so on.
              >
              > This is not the same as, say, JOhn 1. John 1 is profound, but I
              > don't
              > find it particularly obscure. There aren't metaphors that seem
              > past
              > unraveling. In John 6, however, I read Jesus' discourse and he
              > seems
              > like he's trying o leave his audience so perplexed hat they won't
              > follow
              > him anymore. The same seems true in John 8. Or, that bit about
              > being
              > born again at the start of John 3. If modern scholars struggle
              > over
              > what these texts might be about (not to imply that we are smarter
              > but
              > that there's a lot more energy being focused on interpreting these
              > texts
              > than in, say 90 AD)), what did JOhn's initial audiences make of
              > them?
              > If we are to take the end of John 20 seriously, that John's Gospel
              > is
              > written to help those who beleive/being unbelievers to faith, how
              > are we
              > to make sense of these other features? Thanks.
              >
              > Ken Litwak
              >
              >
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            • Maluflen@aol.com
              In a message dated 4/14/2002 8:00:31 PM Eastern Daylight Time, jefferyhodges@yahoo.com writes:
              Message 6 of 9 , Apr 15, 2002
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                In a message dated 4/14/2002 8:00:31 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
                jefferyhodges@... writes:

                << I had an analogous but somewhat differing reaction to
                the Johannine language that you mention when I began
                re-reading the fourth gospel as an adult.

                What you found obscure, I found offensive.

                Indeed, it seemed to me that the fourth evangelist was
                being intentionally offensive in his rendering of the
                Jesus story, and I found it annoying.

                I still think that he was being deliberately
                offensive [...]:>>

                I must confess to being a bit surprised by this reaction. At the very least,
                I would want to ask, when you say John's Gospel comes off as being offensive:
                offensive to whom? I don't see how this Gospel offends one who believes in
                Jesus as the authentic Messiah of Judaism and needs only to have this faith
                in Jesus as the Christ confirmed (Jn 20:31). And its offense to those who
                oppose this faith, it seems to me, consists only in the strength with which
                the "true confession" is affirmed and explicated in the face of opposition.
                In other words, it is the truth itself which offends the powerful when it is
                undeterred by their agenda and their threats. I do not see an edge of
                offensiveness in John above and beyond what is contained in the truth that is
                implied in the common faith of all Christians. Perhaps it is our modern
                oversensitized conditioning in the buzz-concepts of pluralism and tolerance
                that could make some take offense at a little red-blooded polemic on behalf
                of this truth.

                Leonard Maluf
              • ProfRam@aol.com
                In a message dated 4/15/2002 10:40:08 AM Eastern Daylight Time, Maluflen@aol.com writes:
                Message 7 of 9 , Apr 15, 2002
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                  In a message dated 4/15/2002 10:40:08 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
                  Maluflen@... writes:

                  << I must confess to being a bit surprised by this reaction. At the very
                  least,
                  I would want to ask, when you say John's Gospel comes off as being
                  offensive:
                  offensive to whom? I don't see how this Gospel offends one who believes in
                  Jesus as the authentic Messiah of Judaism and needs only to have this faith
                  in Jesus as the Christ confirmed (Jn 20:31). And its offense to those who
                  oppose this faith, it seems to me, consists only in the strength with which
                  the "true confession" is affirmed and explicated in the face of opposition.
                  In other words, it is the truth itself which offends the powerful when it is
                  undeterred by their agenda and their threats. I do not see an edge of
                  offensiveness in John above and beyond what is contained in the truth that
                  is
                  implied in the common faith of all Christians. Perhaps it is our modern
                  oversensitized conditioning in the buzz-concepts of pluralism and tolerance
                  that could make some take offense at a little red-blooded polemic on behalf
                  of this truth.

                  Leonard Maluf

                  >>

                  Amen, and Amen!

                  Ramsey Michaels
                • Yuri Kuchinsky
                  ... Jeffery, Here s my 2 cents worth on this. a) obscure This obscurity in numerous passages is the result of late editorial interference. The obscurity could
                  Message 8 of 9 , Apr 15, 2002
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                    On Sun, 14 Apr 2002, Horace Jeffery Hodges wrote in reply to Ken:

                    > I had an analogous but somewhat differing reaction to
                    > the Johannine language that you mention when I began
                    > re-reading the fourth gospel as an adult.
                    >
                    > What you found obscure, I found offensive.
                    >
                    > Indeed, it seemed to me that the fourth evangelist was
                    > being intentionally offensive in his rendering of the
                    > Jesus story, and I found it annoying.

                    Jeffery,

                    Here's my 2 cents worth on this.

                    a) obscure

                    This obscurity in numerous passages is the result of late editorial
                    interference. The obscurity could have come about both unintentionally,
                    because of careless or hasty last-minute editing, and even intentionally.
                    The latter could have been motivated by the desire to complicate some
                    previously simple stories, for example, because, in a later period, they
                    may have been seen as too simple and perhaps even homespun.

                    So, I suppose this would argue against a too rigid application of the Text
                    Critical maxim "lectio difficilior potior" (the more difficult reading is
                    the more probable reading). While this maxim is indeed justified in some
                    cases, it's not in others, IMHO, in so far as it neglects the desire of
                    later editors to present their Christian audience with some impressive
                    "mystical sayings", that would really give them something to ponder about.

                    b) offensive

                    A variety of passages can be cited here, and the reasons for each being
                    what it is could be different. But, again, these also may represent late
                    editorial interference. In my view, some anti-Judaic passages could have
                    well been added as late as post-135 CE, which is, of course, the time of
                    officially sanctioned Roman antisemitism.

                    Best wishes,

                    Yuri.

                    Yuri Kuchinsky -=O=- http://www.trends.ca/~yuku

                    Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority,
                    it is time to reform -=O=- Mark Twain
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