I have read the Gospel according to John twice before. Once, six years ago, it hit me in the gut during my read-through of the Bible. The religious lecture is perhaps the most cutting example of epic theater I have ever encountered:
“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you.
I was less impressed with Michael Pakaluk’s translation, Mary’s Voice in the Gospel of John, that I felt unfairly flattened the cosmology of the work to view anything “feminine” as a direct reflection of Mary’s testimony.
This is my third read-through and the first aloud. As with Luke, I read this gospel to another out loud, which forced real-time attention to how to emphasize and enunciate the text and how the words sound to someone without deep prior experience.
So, my thoughts:
First, it’s striking how much repetition is in John. These are included both in specific scenes,
Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her,
“Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them,
“Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him**.”
Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her,
“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him,
“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Jesus said to her,
“Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,
(which means Teacher). Jesus said to her,
“Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord”;
and she told them that he had said these things to her.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them,
“Peace be with you.”
According to Robert Alter, in Genesis and elsewhere, repetition (with variation or not) is a sign of the accuracy of the speaker. But something else seems to be going on here, including repetition of themes. For instance, repetition about comparative greatness of fatherhood:
Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?”
Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you claim to be?”
You heard me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.
Repetition of course is a way of emphasizing themes, and it would be interesting to understand more systemically how
Second, John is much more explicit and bracing about the theological implications of Christ than Luke was. A patient reader (such as Rabbi Jacob Nesner ) would note that Christ’s statement of being the Lord of the Sabbath, and explicitly not resting in imitation of God on the Sabbath, implies that Christ is rally and truly God. Likewise, I think Luke can ebe read in the context of wisdom, and the implications of the Son of Man an incarnation of Wisdom can be eased into (or not, as the Qur’an makes clear). Certainly, the scribes and Pharisees in Luke* pick up on this. But John is more explicit about this, both in the introduction:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John feels more intended to be read by an audience specifically curious about the claim that Jesus is Christ, rather than an audience sympathetic to the Jewish religion and ready to explore Christ’s message.
This was also the first time I read John since Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth, where he in an aside suggests the author of John is “John the Presbyter,” the apostle’s personal secretary. Under this interpretation, there is an interesting dramatic tension of which “John,” John the Baptist or John the Apostle, is described here:
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Especially considering the matching almost-conclusion, with an almost identified John, at the end:
Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said,
“Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”
When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus,
“Lord, what about this man?”
Jesus said to him,
“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”
The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but,
“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.
The experience of reading aloud the Gospels to a listener is exceptional. There is perhaps less focus on intertextual connections but much more on clarity of delivery, vocabulary, and message.