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Was[hy] Irony: "Witness" in John (part 2)

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  • GustavSym@aol.com
    [continuation] 1 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
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 7, 2003
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      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
      cloths there,
      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
      his name.

      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
      the disciple.

      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
      Johannine community.

      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.

      Joe C.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • kymhsm
      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
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 23, 2003
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        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.

        You said:

        <<<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.


        Kym Smith
        South Australia
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