Was[hy] Irony: "Witness" in John (part 2)
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the
morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus
loved, and told them, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't
know where they put him."
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at
the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial
and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but
rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb
first, and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the
Then the disciples returned home.
But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over
into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the
feet where the body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They
have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they laid him."
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not
know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"
She thought it was the gardener and said to him, "Sir, if you carried him
away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him."
Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni,"
which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her, "Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the
Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and
your Father, to my God and your God.'"
Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord,"
and what he told her.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked,
where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their
midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples
rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
(Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me,
so I send you."
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive
the holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to
them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into
the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and
said, "Peace be with you."
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring
your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe."
Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are
not written in this book.
But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the
Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in
As I noted in my earlier response to KS, the evangelist plays between the
antimonies of daybreak and evening, inside the tomb and outside touch not and
touch, seeing and believing, not seeing and believing, and not seeing and not
believing. "Witness" is situated in this play between these binaries. Mary
arrives at the tomb at that moment of morning that is still night, that time
just before the Urlicht, the time of beginnings (the Synoptic evangelists
unanimously state that day has already entered its lighted phase). She notes
that the stone has been removed and runs off. She does not look into the tomb
at this point (as the disciple does), nor does she enter the tomb (as Peter
does), yet she witnesses to the tomb's emptiness and presents her conclusion
that the lord has been "taken away." Few lawyers would want to base the
success of their cases on such witness; this kind of witness will not do. The
text compels the reader to wonder whether it is Mary's conclusion that
initiates the sprinting match between the disciple and Peter, or the report
that the tomb had been disturbed ? Which aspect of her witness sends faith
into flight? Like Eliot's Polonius, Mary's testimony will do to swell a
scene, but the reader must ask what Mary saw that the narrative keeps hidden.
This witness simply will not do. Only after the others have left does Mary
finally peer into the tomb, where she sees the angels, ex post facto. Surely
after this experience Mary is better situated to witness.
Left alone again, Mary experiences something odd. In a psychological
translocation, Mary hears a query twice: "woman, why are you weeping?" She
sees two angels framing the place where Jesus rested. Apparently moved (in a
wonderfully cinematic way) to turn around (what moves David Bowman to turn
around in the penultimate scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey?), she hears the
same question again, this time uttered by whom she at first understands to be
the gardener, but soon to be revealed to her as none other than Jesus
himself. Mary has become quite a different kind of witness: it is no longer
dark; she has inspected the empty tomb; she makes a tactile connection with
the risen Jesus. What she sees now is grounded in an admittedly odd but
nonetheless visual and physical experience. The response of the "brothers" is
quite different to the earlier response. There is no dash to the tomb. The
narrator tells us nothing of their reception of Mary's witness; the message
is delivered and the response might be as cerebral as Mary's experience at
the tomb. The reader is left to speculate.
The experience of the disciple is also odd. He gets to the tomb before Peter
and inspects the tomb from without. After he finally gets into the tomb, "he
saw and believed." But what did he see, and what did he believe? Does he
believe Mary's account that Jesus body has been removed to an unknown place?
Ostensibly, the disciple believes that Jesus is risen, but the narrator
discourages this reading, "for they did not yet understand the scripture that
he had to rise from the dead." Nonetheless, the disciple's belief originates
from somewhere, perhaps from a reading of the burial cloths. The proverbial
fly on the wall, the cloths have witnessed the Resurrection. No longer
unified in the pattern of a death garment, they (soudarion/onthonion) are
splint into two loci and reconfigured, reflecting the torn veil of the
Sanctuary in the Synoptic tradition. Had Jesus stayed in the tomb, the cloths
would have retained their message, their pattern representing the status quo.
This is what the disciple sees, discerns, and reads. The reader meets this
reading in the faith of the disciple, the witness to the witnessing burial
clothes. Indeed, the face cloth [soudarion] is wrapped up [entetuligmenon],
as Jesus' body had been in the Synoptics, and separated from its context:
these are burial garments no more---these are not washed, ironed clothes
continuing in their function of the old regime: they are asunder, freeing
something new, meaning something new. The cloths are read, even as they read
Peter's experience is silent, even though he has access to the same text as
the disciple, and the reader has no narratological access to his response to
the empty tomb. He is the odd man out. The evangelist excludes his reading of
the burial cloths. The disciple's and Mary's experience share a rapport that
mutes Peter's experience. Mary and the disciple respond to their experience
of the empty tomb by reaching conclusions based on what is not seen, but what
is instead, "read." Mary and the disciple become the readers of the fledgling
The text avoids setting up difference-as-meaning within the binaries that
function here. The binary morning/night slides into its middle-ground of
dialectic, as the fourth evangelist, unlike the Synoptics, points out that
the morning remains embedded in night: it is dark. In a sympathetic moment
between reader and character, both know it is hard to read in the dark of
night. Mary's witness plays somewhere between morning and night, liminal, as
if liminality is the crux of reading. Mary's exuberance wins Jesus' rebuke:
noli me tangere. Mary finds herself between earth and heaven, between the
human and the divine. Touch me not, says Jesus, because neither he nor Mary
is either here or there. Both are on the brink of a new mode of being; they
are both liminal entities. In any event, it is Thomas' assessment that allows
the narrator to deconstruct the binary, touch me not/touch me.
Seemingly excluded from the reception of the Spirit (Thomas is absent for the
bestowing of this gift), Thomas states, in response to the joyous declaration
of the others that they "have seen the Lord," that he "will not believe"
unless he has his own experience of the risen Jesus. He is at once a
reluctant and eager witness. He wants to have seen, but he must first see,
and touch; he hinges his own faith on sensory data---his witness is
contingent upon his senses. Mary touches but Jesus scold her; Thomas'
disbelief cannot stand, so Jesus invites him to touch. The evangelist
confounds any search for difference in these narrative experiences, which do
not privilege either pole of the binary. Do not touch and touch mean the same
thing, much like morning and night having an uncanny equivalence; for it is
night when Thomas satisfies his faith, as it is the night part of morning
that inspires Mary to read it all wrong, bringing the quality of her witness
into question. Indeed the loci of outside and inside the tomb reveals an
unwillingness of the text to choose one over the other. The disciple sees and
believes while in the tomb and Mary sees and believes in the risen Jesus
outside the tomb. Neither reading trumps the other. These readings are
contiguous, one pointing to the new discourse of the disjointed cloths and
the other its trajectory.
But the evangelist is not quite finished misleading the reader, who must
account for the disciple's reading in light of Mary's misreading of the moved
stone. Thomas can be forgiven because he seeks a text. Mary and the disciple,
however, must be held to a higher standard, privileged as they are by the
narrative. Mary's reading, incorrect as it is, nevertheless leads to the
disciple's proper reading, hidden though it may be by the narrator. The
narrator leads the reader to think the disciple has already developed a faith
in the resurrection, even as he deflates that reading in short shrift. The
binary opposition seemingly established between reader and character does not
play out in the privileging of either. Instead, both find themselves
struggling within the tension of text and its reading: the struggle to be a
KS's definition of "witness" cuts against the evangelist's interrogation of
it in the FG. A witness is primarily a reader. A witness may or may not see,
but she must read, and what she sees cannot remain in the senses but must be
read in order the effect belief. The ex-blind man witnesses to where Jesus
comes from before he has seen, but not before he reads. The disciple "saw and
believed" because the reconfigured, recontextualized burial cloths evoke the
reading of their own silent witness. Mary's reading of the moved stone, while
faulty, remains extraordinary nonetheless, for she reads a change within the
tomb though she had not inspected its interior. Her conclusion is partly
accurate: Jesus is no longer in the tomb; only when she sees the radiant,
"white"garments (a transformation of the burial cloths) of the angels can she
finish her reading, her witness. The FG is all about reading. The disciples
are presented as unwilling to read throughout, and the reader of the FG often
reads this unwillingness as obtuseness (this reading is not unique to the FG,
but the evangelist's method utilizes irony to bring such weak readings to the
fore---the reader of the FG has been privileged by the Prologue and
occasionally knows more than the disciples [but not always]). By way of the
disciples' poor reading, the evangelist instructs his community of readers to
read. But the effect is more than didactic; it takes on a subversive flavor
as an undisclosed agenda begins to take shape.
An encrypted FG where burial cloths are witnesses might betray a
transgressive reader. Elizabeth Danna has already commented on such reading's
"amusing" qualities as she has challenged their strength to convince. Similar
observations can be made about the FG itself: the evangelist has a sense of
humor, yet he is often compelling. In his exasperatingly exuberant study,
Jesus Begins to Write [I have truncated the title], Stephen Moore presents
several readings through several lenses of the Gospels of Mark and Luke.
These readings are many things, but they are certainly post-mortems on the
death of Jesus and of the Gospels themselves. Moore's autopsies, aggressively
performed with Joycean, Lacanian, Derridean. Foucaultian lenses, reinvigorate
the texts to the extent where the whole process becomes a vivisection of text
and lens. This is certainly the case when Finnegans Wake does the reading; it
is here where Moore places himself at the path to the tomb, at the wake of
the Pharisees, at the wake of the text and the absent corpse of Jesus, in the
wake of the maelstrom that becomes the witness called Gospel If I have
succeeded at all in this poor attempt at vivisection, it is within this
modicum of success that I should name it The Disciples Begin to Read: Witness
in John. Jesus writes that he might be read. The irony is not wasted on the
characters or the reader of the FG. They must begin to read or find
themselves on the outside, on the fringes and left behind as something new
departs from the prison of a moribund, stultifying disource. Irony is not
only a modality for the evangelist, but also an artifact of the transition
from one discourse to another. The FG signals a change in tropes, from irony
to metonymy, which is the truth within the relationship between witness and
Finally, I would like to respond to the recent work of John Lupia, who has
suggested that The Gospel of Thomas subverts the orthodox community by
taunting it with cacography. Subversion always cuts both ways. The
evangelist's technique of presenting witness and witnesses and educating his
community in how to read is a powerful strategy to ward off the subversion of
the "antichrists" (cf. 1 John), and to identify true witnesses, true members
of the community, providing a bulwark for further fragmentation of a
community already under siege. Indeed, the subversion of those who would
subvert is encoded in the deft ironic rhetoric of the FG's discourse. It is
to this end that the evangelist gives his own witness. Whether he has
actually seen all he presents or merely recorded these texts does not
challenge the power of his witness. He is reader, and that is all one needs
to be a good Johannine witness. Moreover, the evangelist is a good witness,
not because he personally beat Peter to the tomb, but because he is a better
reader, and his Gospel is quite a good reading, a good autopsy and
vivisection of the Jesus-event. Reading is the whiskey spilled on the
corp[u]s[e] of these texts.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Dear Joe C.,
Sorry for such a long delay but I have been away and there have
been some serious distractions. As will be clear, I have also
decided that there is little value in me being too involved with this
discussion. That does not mean that there is not some value in
your continuing your investigation, I think there is, it is just that I
will not be much help for you.
<<<In the FG, "witness" is more than being there; it also includes
a kind of being in and engaging the moment, with an eye toward
horizons of change.>>>
I agree with this. However, as we are both coming from different
directions, I am not sure that agreeing and/or countering each
other is of much value. I think that your pursuit of the idea of
witness in John is reasonable but my use of the term is only
concerned with the authors of the gospel.
When asked initially about the writers of the gospel, I wrote:
"What constitutes a witness would be similar to the one called
for to replace Judas in Acts 1:15f. In the first instance there are
the apostles who had witnessed the whole of Jesus ministry
i.e. those still alive in 68 (when I reckon the gospel was written) -
and other eyewitnesses who had been part of Jesus' ministry
perhaps not all of it and who had been involved in the witness
of the early Church."
There was probably no need to go to Acts, the FG itself states:
"Now Jesus did many other signs **in the presence of the
disciples,** which are not written in this book; but these are
written " (20:30-31)
Surely the implication here is that those things (signs) that *are
written* were, like the *many other signs*, done in the presence
of the disciples / apostles
As I have said, the idea of `witness' in the FG as you are
exploring is not of direct concern of mine. While I do not wish to
engage in a long discussion on it, there are a couple of
comments that I could make about your two posts.
The formerly blind man was certainly a witness to Jesus, but
was he a contributor to the gospel? We do not know. The
Muratorian Fragment and Clement of Alexandria seem to be
saying that some of those who did contribute to it were among
the disciples who questioned Jesus at the beginning of that
pericope and who though not mentioned witnessed the
unfolding of the events.
About Mary Magdelene's failure to look into the tomb and her
conclusion that Jesus' body had been taken away only on the
evidence that the stone had been moved is inadequate. We may
not be told that she looked into the tomb but it is unreasonable to
assume that she came to the conclusion she did when no one
looked into it. Either Mary did and we are not told or one or
more of those with her did (i.e. `*we* don't know where they have
put him' 20:2).
I also wonder if your suggestion that the `radiant "white"
garments' were `a transformation of the burial clothes' is not a
little fanciful, whether you intend it to be literal or symbolic.