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

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  • Thomas W Butler
    ... Joe, Do you see a relationship between these binary categories and the model for discipleship / witness established in the gospel by John the Baptist at
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 10, 2003
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      On Fri, 7 Mar 2003 20:07:31 EST GustavSym@... writes:
      >
      > 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.

      Joe,
      Do you see a relationship between these binary categories
      and the model for discipleship / witness established in the
      gospel by John the Baptist at Jn. 1: 34?
      You have made your point well. I wonder, however, if you
      have considered that all of the antinomies you have listed are
      not simply means of testing the primary category: seeing and
      believing.

      (snip)

      > 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?

      If one defines the role of disciple / witness according to the model
      established by John the Baptist, then the answer to this question
      would seem to be that one has seen the Holy Spirit descend upon
      and / or remain (abide) in Jesus AND one has testified / given
      witness to what one has seen.

      In this case, the disciple does not see the body of Jesus with her
      eyes. (As you know, I contend that this disciple is Mary of Bethany.)
      Instead, what she "sees" is a sign in the grave cloths that had been
      used to cover the body and head of Jesus. I see a material connection
      between this sign and Jn. 11: 44, where Jesus instructs His disciples,
      including Mary of Bethany and her sister, Martha, to remove the
      cloths that were binding the hands, feet and face of Lazarus with the
      words, *Loose him and let him go.*

      In my exegesis of the Lazarus story, the grave cloths are the vestments
      of the temple priesthood, a priesthood which has spiritually died. The
      removal of those vestments is a sign of the release of those priests from
      the spiritual death to which they have been consigned by the religious
      authorities of their time. *The (beloved) disciple* (Mary of Bethany)
      *sees* the same sign in the tomb to which the religious / secular
      authorities of the time had attempted to consign Jesus. Their removal
      means the same thing that the removal of the *grave cloths* from
      Lazarus meant: Jesus is no longer bound by the death imposed upon
      him. She *believes* as Jesus has already promised first to Martha
      (Jn. 11: 25-27) and to Mary (Jn. 11: 40) that they would.

      > 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.

      I am interested in your mental jump from *seeing* to *reading.*
      Clearly in a gospel which makes extensive use of signs, the
      writer(s) expected that there would be *readers.* Since the
      gospel is written in such a way as to allow some readers to *see*
      only what was on the surface level meaning of the text and others
      to *see* the deeper meaning from which an understanding of
      the signs comes, it seems clear that *reading* is implied. I
      suspect that you are using this term to indicate those who *see*
      on that secondary, deeper level, the meaning of the narrative.

      However, it is significant that the writer(s) do(es) not use a word
      for *read,* but uses *see and believe.* I very much appreciate
      your work, but would choose to define what *see and believe*
      mean in the Johannine context rather than require that we
      transform that Johannine category into *read (meaning).*

      Yours in Christ's service,
      Tom Butler
    • GustavSym@aol.com
      In a message dated 3/10/2003 2:28:23 PM Eastern Standard Time, ... Dear Tom: I do indeed see a relationship between the Baptist s *kago eoraka kai memartureka*
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 10, 2003
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        In a message dated 3/10/2003 2:28:23 PM Eastern Standard Time,
        butlerfam5@... writes:

        > Do you see a relationship between these binary categories
        > and the model for discipleship / witness established in the
        > gospel by John the Baptist at Jn. 1: 34?
        >

        Dear Tom:

        I do indeed see a relationship between the Baptist's *kago eoraka kai
        memartureka* (I have seen and given witness) and the disciple's *eiden kai
        episteosen* (he saw and believed).

        >>I wonder, however, if you
        have considered that all of the antinomies you have listed are
        not simply means of testing the primary category: seeing and
        believing.<<

        These antimonies are not "simply" anything, especially not a simply "means of
        testing," though such testing might indeed be a Johannine strategy, as I have
        speculated. These antimonies, or binary oppositions are not the strategy to
        meaning however, if meaning is simply the privileging of one pole over
        another. 'Seeing and believing' cannot be privileged simply because it is not
        'not seeing and not believing.' The evangelist has seen to this, quite
        poignantly, in his representation of Thomas, who, after all, wants only to be
        included in the community of those who believe: he simply wants what the
        disciple has--to have seen and believed. The radical structure in the
        narrative is to 'have not seen yet believe.' Thomas, et al confront a radical
        faith that bears radical witness: one need not see to believe, and one need
        not see to witness. One only need to be 'begotten of God' (cf. 1 John) to
        both believe and to witness. Hence, the evangelist can say he was a witness
        without having seen anything. A witness to Christ is one who fosters a faith
        in him, and this is the evangelist's stated goal for the FG (John 20:31). And
        yet there is nothing simple about any of this.

        >>In this case, the disciple does not see the body of Jesus with her
        eyes.  (As you know, I contend that this disciple is Mary of Bethany.)
        Instead, what she "sees" is a sign in the grave cloths that had been
        used to cover the body and head of Jesus.<<

        I cannot commit to this reading, even though I am comfortable with how you
        arrive at this reading. The narrative admits only that Mary sees two angels
        *en leukois*, and does not represent her seeing the grave cloths at all; yet,
        as I have noted she might possibly be "seeing" more than the burial cloths,
        as she has already understood these cloths as messenger/message, as the
        transformational and generative morpheme that the cloths are--for Mary, the
        burial garments are no longer present, but their meaning, transformed by
        their witness of the resurrection into angels who can speak plainly, is read
        by her. She is moved to turn around where she is about to meet the
        resurrection in the flesh. The "sign" of the burial cloths, whose
        signification had been read by the disciple, has, for Mary, already made the
        paradigm shift to another level of signification--from the fragmented old
        episteme, to the resurrection--she is the first to know, the narrative
        withholds this knowledge from Peter and the disciple, as these characters had
        not understood the scriptures.

        >>In my exegesis of the Lazarus story, the grave cloths are the vestments
        of the temple priesthood, a priesthood which has spiritually died.  The
        removal of those vestments is a sign of the release of those priests from
        the spiritual death to which they have been consigned by the religious
        authorities of their time.  *The (beloved) disciple* (Mary of Bethany)
        *sees* the same sign in the tomb to which the religious / secular
        authorities of the time had attempted to consign Jesus.  Their removal
        means the same thing that the removal of the *grave cloths* from
        Lazarus meant: Jesus is no longer bound by the death imposed upon
        him.<<

        Ours readings complement each other nicely. Jesus' burial cloths are not
        simply removed; they are reconfigured: they are no longer what they were.
        Lazarus is freed from their mantle; Jesus has subverted an entire
        discourse. The Temple priesthood, remains intact for those outside the
        Johannine community; for those within the community this priesthood has been
        transformed (sublimated?) into the structures of the Johannine community.
        Foucault would very likely point out that if the transformation is this
        simple, then the new discourse is complicit with the old, and therefore old
        skins attempting to contain new wine (or ,to maintain a Johannine imagery,
        the best wine at the end of the wedding feast). But I reject any simplicity
        here, as I reject any complicity ( I'm sticking with new wine in new skins
        :-) . But I hold this conviction is very likely because I consciously end my
        reading at the point where the new discourse appears to become unstable. That
        is an entirely different matter, one of ecclesiology: I would like to avoid
        this topic in this context.

        >>However, it is significant that the writer(s) do(es) not use a word
        for *read,* but uses *see and believe.*  I very much appreciate
        your work, but would choose to define what *see and believe*
        mean in the Johannine context rather than require that we
        transform that Johannine category into *read (meaning).*<<

        Fair enough, Tom. 'To witness' is a mode of seeing and believing, as it is of
        not seeing and believing. 'To read,' as I have suggested, is to witness. I do
        not suggest that the evangelist could articulate a post-structuralist sense
        of reading; yet he has taken great pains to keep his readers/hearers from an
        inadequate reading--he forces his hearers/readers into the play between his
        binary oppositions and prods them away from a simple (structuralist, if you
        will) privileging of one term over another, prods then away from a thought
        pattern of "either/or", and toward one of "both/and," toward the dialectical
        play within the conceptual space between the terms (cf. J. Hillis Miller's
        "The Critic as Host" in _Deconstruction and Criticism_ ([1979]). In this
        sense, the fourth evangelist is a postmodern reader indeed.

        Joe C.







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