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Johns Gospel: A Two-Level Drama

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  • Tom Butler
    Dear Tobias and Other J-L Listers: Thank you, Tobias, for providing a link to your article, John s Gospel: A Two-Level Drama? I appreciate the opportunity you
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 14, 2005
      Dear Tobias and Other J-L Listers:
      Thank you, Tobias, for providing a link to your
      article, John's Gospel: A Two-Level Drama? I
      appreciate the opportunity you have given me to enter
      into a dialog with you regarding your observations and

      You begin by searching for a genre in ancient
      literature with which the Gospel can be placed. You
      consider apocalyptic literature and biographies,
      concluding that the Gospel does not fit into either

      Most interesting to me is your consideration (with
      Burridge) of ancient biographies (Lives)as a genre.
      You point to Philo's use of writings attributed to
      Moses (the Pentateuch), and conclude that "Philo's
      explicit use of allegory has no counterpart in John's

      I have created a brief concordance of Mosaic
      oracles and Johannine signs to illustrate my theory
      that the Gospel of John is a form of midrash. It uses
      specific Mosaic material (which I call Mosaic oracles)
      as "signs" in order to convey to the informed or
      "intended" reader (that is, persons well acquainted
      with the Septuagint version of the Pentateuch) that
      the Jesus tradition maintains the underlying symbolism
      first provided in the Mosaic system of worship. You
      will find this brief concordance as Appendix C, p. 303
      of Let Her Keep It, which I have sent to you.

      The "parallels" between the Gospel of John and the
      Pentateuch begin "In the beginning..." and continue
      all of the way to the end. I submit that Jewish
      Christians in the first century would have easily
      recognized the "signs" as references to the sacred
      literature with which they were already familiar.

      I have not tried to count all of the "signs" in the
      Gospel According to John, but there are many more than
      the seven most often recognized.

      For example I have shown how the Mosaic material
      makes use of an anthropomorphic pattern of oracles.
      "Head," "Hand," "Body (or side,)" and "Foot" are used
      throughout the Mosaic texts to describe the specific
      components of the "Mosaic system of worship" involving
      the Tabernacle, the Festivals of Sacrifice and the
      Priesthood. This same pattern is carefully followed
      in the Gospel of John.

      Lv. 8:11 with Jn. 12:3;
      Ex. 30:17-21 with Jn. 13:5;
      Lv. 4:8 with Jn. 19:34 & 20:25;
      Gn. 3:22 with Jn. 3:25 & 10:28-29;
      Gn. 3:15 with Jn. 19:26;
      Gn. 28:10-12 with Jn. 2:51 & 20:12

      I am writing a commentary on the Fourth Gospel,
      using this theory and method, relating Mosaic oracles
      to Johannine signs. I believe an entire commentary
      showing a consistent pattern in which Mosaic oracles
      are incorporated into the Fourth Gospel will support
      my theory that the Gospel According to John was
      written (probably by a succession of scholars in a
      first century "seminary" which used the midrash method
      used in rabbinic schools of that period) to educate
      scholars in the art of expounding upon the meaning of
      sacred scriptural tradition, ie: Christian theology.

      You wrote that for the two-level theory to stand,
      "First, there should be literary parallels to such a
      story. If the 'two-level drama' was widely used and
      recognized as a genre, it would be possible for the
      original readers/hearers to perceive not only the
      surface, but also what lies below the surface."

      I believe that the "original readers/hearers" were
      Jewish Christian scholars of the Septuagint version of
      the Pentateuch. When they read language borrowed from
      the Pentateuch in the Gospel, they recognized it, and
      were able to learn how to discern and apply the Mosaic
      meaning to the Johannine context, thus enabling them
      to interpret the Gospel in a profound way.

      The Pentateuch, however, is not the only "cipher"
      for the "signs" in the Fourth Gospel. A similar
      "borrowing" can be shown to have occurred with
      material from other gospels. Note the similarities
      between Luke 16:19-31 and John 11:1-44, especially
      with regard to the identity of Lazarus. Clearly the
      material in the Fourth Gospel has been developed
      beyond the name of the principle character and the
      theme found in Luke. That is consistent with the
      theory that the story in John 11 is the product of a
      midrash method of reflection.

      You wrote, "Second, one would expect to find hints
      of these two levels in the text itself." I submit
      that Jn. 2:18-21 is such a hint. The informed
      (intended) reader is being guided to look beyond the
      obvious to a deeper meaning of "temple" - a meaning
      that is given free of charge in verse 21. The reader
      is being guided to relate that Mosaic symbol with a
      clearly Christian term.

      You have suggested that this passage indicates that
      the author(s) of the text did not distinguish between
      what you consider to be historical material borrowed
      from an older source (quotations from the OT and
      sayings of Jesus from the Synoptic Gospels) and the
      meaning being applied to that material in what was the
      present for the author or authors. I suggest that
      what you are seeing there is the rough outline of a
      midrash commentary.

      Yours in Christ's service,
      Tom Butler
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