Insights into the Gospel of St John

Thomas

So it goes ...
Veteran Member
Messages
14,277
Reaction score
4,186
Points
108
Location
London UK
One of the most striking finds in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, found at Qumran and attributed to an Essence sect which flourished there, was that the language of the Gospel of St John, so often thought to be Greek if not Gnostic, has now been shown to be in line with Semitic speculative thought in the 1st century.

The Gospel is not gnostic, nor Hellenic, but Hebrew in foundation.

The term 'Logos' is found to have correlation in the Judaic 'Memra' — the Word of God (Genesis 7:16, 17:2, 21:20 ... ) and the idea of the Word or Wisdom of God being with God is evident in the Book of Wisdom.

Another assumed sign were the dualist pairings, eg light/darkness, truth/lie, spirit/flesh. The DSS also use these selfsame terms, showing that such ideas were not alien to Hebraic speculation. Far from it.

The assumption that they were a sure marker of gnostic ideas was mistaken.

Within the text itself, of course, a profound knowledge of Judaic belief is explicit, moreso now that scholars are recovering data of 1st century Judaism.

The famous 'I am' statements have been argued by C.H. Dodd, among others, to be a translation of the Hebrew 'ani hu' (Isaiah 43:10), the secret Divine Name.

On the other hand, continuing research into gnostic documents, such as the Nag Hamadi finds, posts the question of whether the documents show that gnosticism influenced Christianity, or that Christianity influenced gnosticism.

As many of the significant texts post-date the Gospels, it is as likely, if not moreso, that they have incorporated Christian images, ideas and motifs into their own documents, as gnostics generally tended to do.

One of the most famous, Valentinus, was at one time a Christian, and a theologian. Here we meet the problem of 'retro-fitting' — the interpetation of data according to certain presuppositions.

The assumption of gnostic or Greek influence is nowhere as certain as once it was, whereas the idea of John drawing on theological currents of the contemporary Judaic world is nigh-on proven.

Thomas
 
There is clearly a lot to study about the Gospel of John, and historical context is often essential to fleshing out the ambiguities.

I am particularly interested in the Essenes. There is evidence and speculation that Jesus was, Himself, an Essene, and used the group to "set up" his entrance into Jerusalem on the foal. I have heard that the Last Supper took place in the Essene quarter.

Much of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other records found at Qumran were Messianic writings, and the Essenes seemed quite preoccupied with this topic.

n what way is the Gospel of John particularly gnostic? With the rejection of gnosticism so evident in the writings of Paul, it surprises me that what some consider the most theological and mystical of the gospels would have made the cut and been cannonized.
 
Hi Xavier Breath, and greetings.

I am particularly interested in the Essenes. There is evidence and speculation that Jesus was, Himself, an Essene, and used the group to "set up" his entrance into Jerusalem on the foal. I have heard that the Last Supper took place in the Essene quarter.

I'd be interested in your evidence for the last bit.

But the Essenes were there, and John the Baptist was operating not far from their Dead Sea community, and indeed there is no reason to suppose that Jesus was unaware of their teachings ... but there is no doubt that Jesus would have horrified the Essenes as much as He did the orthodox Judaism, perhaps moreso when you consider how strict the Essenes were on ritual purity. And the Dead Sea Scrolls show, whilst there are superficial similarities, there are also significant differences. One would be hard pushed, I think, to suggest Jesus was teaching a version of the Essene doctrine.

I have heard an argument that Jesus came from Pharisaic stock. The many confrontations with the Pharisees are read to show a certain closeness — like a family argument — you argue more with those closer to you, than those far away. Or put another way, Jesus' interpretation of the Law was closer in many ways to the Pharisaic view than any other.

Much of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other records found at Qumran were Messianic writings, and the Essenes seemed quite preoccupied with this topic.
Indeed so, but I think recent archeological research into Judaism of the day indicates such an emphasis was not uncommon.

In what way is the Gospel of John particularly gnostic?
I think it's the other way round. I think gnostics picked up on the Gospel of John.

As I said above, critics believed the language of John to show a greater influence of Greek rather than Jewish thought, and the argument was put forward that John drew on Greek and gnostic sources to compose his gospel. The Dead Sea Scrolls showed that this was not the case.

Another argument, for example, was that a poor Galilean fisherman would not have had the insight or education to compose such a magnificent text ... but there is nothing to say that John was not the son of an affluent Galilean fisherman, and incidental mentions in the text seem to support this. He was known in high priestly circles, and his mother (Salome) might well have been one of the women who supported Jesus' ministry, there is no reason to assume he was ill-educated.

With the rejection of gnosticism so evident in the writings of Paul, it surprises me that what some consider the most theological and mystical of the gospels would have made the cut and been cannonized.
There was a few who spoke out against it, and the fact that the gnostics favoured it was one of the reasons against it. Irenaeus, on the other hand — from whom we get most of our information on the gnostics in his studied refutation of their theories — endorsed John's Gospel as fully canonical.

I have read scholars who insist that Paul himself was gnostic!

I have always looked at the 'big picture' — gnosticism treats the world and the flesh as essentially evil, which is not the case in Jewish or Christian thought; gnosticism places innumerable barriers between God and man, whereas Judaism and Christianity seeks to remove them, gnosticism is essentially dualistic, whereas Judaism and Christianity are holistic. The fundamental differences are greater than any superficial similarity.

The Christians were not alone in condemning gnosticism — the Greek philosophers, notably Stoics, wrote them off as terrible philosophers. I think gnosticism was the 'pop religion' of its day — very attractive, but does not stand up to rigorous examination.

The Fathers regard John's Gospel as being a mature and illumined reflection upon the life of Christ, thus bringing out elements implicit in the Synoptics. Whether John knew of the Synoptics we do not know, but he would have been aware of the Church's teaching, and the Synoptics reflect that. What we do know is that although written last, it was not that long after ... indeed it might well have been a close contemporary with them.

One point of interest is that Jean Danielou has suggested that the early church structure of deacon-presbyter-bishop was copied from the Essenes, and that converts from Essene communities supplied the Ecclesial and administrational structure on which the Church was built. There is some argument that Ananias, who took Paul in after his epiphany, might himself had once been an Essene.

Thomas
 
I think you're reaching Thomas.

First of all, where does one draw the line between what is strictly Jewish or Greek in the first century? If you know where that rubicon lies please enlighten me because from what I can see Christianity, at it's core, is a product of inter-penetrative traditions.

Chris
 
Kindest Regards, Thomas!

But the Essenes were there, and John the Baptist was operating not far from their Dead Sea community, and indeed there is no reason to suppose that Jesus was unaware of their teachings ... but there is no doubt that Jesus would have horrified the Essenes as much as He did the orthodox Judaism, perhaps moreso when you consider how strict the Essenes were on ritual purity. And the Dead Sea Scrolls show, whilst there are superficial similarities, there are also significant differences. One would be hard pushed, I think, to suggest Jesus was teaching a version of the Essene doctrine.
From what little I have seen, I would agree.

I have heard an argument that Jesus came from Pharisaic stock. The many confrontations with the Pharisees are read to show a certain closeness — like a family argument — you argue more with those closer to you, than those far away. Or put another way, Jesus' interpretation of the Law was closer in many ways to the Pharisaic view than any other.
I am inclined to agree with this as well.


Indeed so, but I think recent archeological research into Judaism of the day indicates such an emphasis (*Messianic writings*) was not uncommon.
At the risk of overstepping my bounds, I might suggest the emphasis on Messiah still exists. The problem central to the question revolves around what precisely is meant by the term "Messiah." Apparently, the Jewish definition contrasts with the Christian definition in distinct ways.


I think it's the other way round. I think gnostics picked up on the Gospel of John.
Here is where it would be nice if Abogado were still around.

As I said above, critics believed the language of John to show a greater influence of Greek rather than Jewish thought, and the argument was put forward that John drew on Greek and gnostic sources to compose his gospel. The Dead Sea Scrolls showed that this was not the case.
I would dearly love to see the passages you are referencing. If this is so, it would truly be an exciting discovery.

Another argument, for example, was that a poor Galilean fisherman would not have had the insight or education to compose such a magnificent text ... there is no reason to assume he was ill-educated.
I can understand such a consideration, it makes as much sense as other suppositions I have heard.


There was a few who spoke out against it, and the fact that the gnostics favoured it was one of the reasons against it. Irenaeus, on the other hand — from whom we get most of our information on the gnostics in his studied refutation of their theories — endorsed John's Gospel as fully canonical.

I have read scholars who insist that Paul himself was gnostic!
I get quite dizzy very quickly watching the ping-pong match arguments over these things.

I have always looked at the 'big picture' — gnosticism treats the world and the flesh as essentially evil, which is not the case in Jewish or Christian thought; gnosticism places innumerable barriers between God and man, whereas Judaism and Christianity seeks to remove them, gnosticism is essentially dualistic, whereas Judaism and Christianity are holistic. The fundamental differences are greater than any superficial similarity.
Here you lost me a little bit...I have seen some pretty staunch Christians who are convinced flesh is evil, and contort that teaching to its fullest. I would have to say that Catholics in my experience are every bit as guilty in this regard as any other denomination, even if the outward manifestation is somewhat different. Flogging oneself is but one example, perhaps explained away as some type of pennance, but at root it stems from a deeply ingrained sense that flesh is evil and must be atoned for. I am not certain quite what you mean by "holistic," but if by "dualistic" you mean *good and evil, light and darkness, G-d and the devil,* then Christianity in particular is quite dualistic.

The Fathers regard John's Gospel as being a mature and illumined reflection upon the life of Christ, thus bringing out elements implicit in the Synoptics.
John's Gospel *is* a beautiful literary piece on its own merits.

One point of interest is that Jean Danielou has suggested that the early church structure of deacon-presbyter-bishop was copied from the Essenes,
Here I agree with China Cat, I think this is a reach. Hierarchical orders can be found all around...one could conceivably look to the local secular or religious political structures and find similar.

... from what I can see Christianity, at it's core, is a product of inter-penetrative traditions.
I'm inclined to agree, however reluctantly. It can be difficult to swallow, but modern Christianity seems to be a fascade of Messianic Judaism layered over a Pagan framework. Into that is merged a wisdom tradition from one of the world's greatest moral teachers. I would say greatest moral teacher, but I don't wish to flaunt my bias.

The challenge in my mind is in distinguishing what is most important out of all of this...the symbols, or the message.
 
Last edited:
Hi Chris —

I think you're reaching Thomas
Quite the reverse ... I'm saying, according to recent scholarship, that the Dead Sea Scrolls show that it's a greater reach to argue for Greek (and even moreso, gnostic) influence behind the Gospel of St John. The Historical Critical argument assumed that John was unquestionably Greek in ideas and inspiration because there was no equivalent in the Judaic world, based on its style and its lexicon. Then the Scrolls turned up and the evidence was there that Judaic speculation shared a similar lexicon, even though a markedly different theological vision. More recent research still is unveiling a richer, more profound and more diverse Judaic speculation than was assumed. Sober scholarship now agree that the theological (and eschatalogical) vision that was attributed to Greek thought in John could be, and indeed was more probably, Jewish.

First of all, where does one draw the line between what is strictly Jewish or Greek in the first century?
I'd simply say a few minutes conversation about theology and you'd know whether you were talking to a Jew or a Gentile. In such cases context is everything.

If you know where that rubicon lies please enlighten me because from what I can see Christianity, at it's core, is a product of inter-penetrative traditions.
In its unfolding, yes, but I would argue not at its core.

The Christian heritage is twofold, the Salvation History of Israel, and reflection upon revelation in the Greek philosophical tradition, which for the first few centuries was by majority Platonist. Stoicism had an influence on morality, but limited on philosophical speculation. Aristotle was considered pagan in the East, although the Western Fathers (eg Augustine) were more forgiving. But philosophy was determined first and foremost by the data of Scripture, not the other way round. In Platonism, for example, any notion of a Personal God is subsequent to the principle of The Good ... whereas in Christianity, what is good is dependent upon the Will of God. In Stoicism the logos can be read as somewhat pantheistic, whereas in Christianity it was transcendant first, but immanently present.

And, of course, the created order is essentially good, whereas for the Greeks it was a shadow, for the gnostic it was evil.

+++

Hi juantoo3 —

At the risk of overstepping my bounds, I might suggest the emphasis on Messiah still exists. The problem central to the question revolves around what precisely is meant by the term "Messiah." Apparently, the Jewish definition contrasts with the Christian definition in distinct ways.
Agreed.


I would dearly love to see the passages you are referencing. If this is so, it would truly be an exciting discovery.
I'll dig out some references.


... I have seen some pretty staunch Christians who are convinced flesh is evil, and contort that teaching to its fullest. I would have to say that Catholics in my experience are every bit as guilty in this regard as any other denomination, even if the outward manifestation is somewhat different.
And I am obliged to agree. My loss of faith in my youth was on just this point. In my experience Catholicism has moved away from this, and many of the critics I face have never set foot in a Catholic Church, let alone listened to a Homily. The common notion of Catholicism is largely out of date, but that's understandable, when there's no real dialogue.

Flogging oneself is but one example, perhaps explained away as some type of pennance, but at root it stems from a deeply ingrained sense that flesh is evil and must be atoned for.
Again agreed. And there is evidence of other, perhaps more suspicions motives (masochism, for one). The tendency is global, and East and West we see exponents of 'self mortification' or 'spiritual athleticism' although I have always failed to see what it's supposed to achieve. Whether its a Western flagellant, or an Eastern fakir, I find both dubious.

I am not certain quite what you mean by "holistic," but if by "dualistic" you mean *good and evil, light and darkness, G-d and the devil,* then Christianity in particular is quite dualistic.
Yes and no (sorry — couldn't help it). Man was not born into a dualistic world, he made it so. But the Abrahamic Traditions are not Manichean, for example, or Zoroastrian, who posit a dualist structure in opposition from the top down, as it were, two streams from two distinct and equal sources that introduce conflict into the world. The Abrahamic traditions see one stream that has become corrupted/polluted.

I would say Christianity is triune (or rather, we say it is Trinitarian), but the activity of the Holy Spirit has been increasingly sidelined from the Reformation on, and only since Vatican II has He made a 'reappearance' in the West. In the East, of course, it's a different matter. But even in the West today, with a tendency towards ethical humanism focussed on the man Jesus, rather than an engagement in a Mystery through the Holy Spirit, there is much ground to be recovered. I know in my conversations with non-Catholics, questions about the Holy Spirit rarely if ever figure.

The work of the Holy Spirit is replaced by the 'work of me' — people decide what they want Christianity to be, rather than seek what it is.

John's Gospel *is* a beautiful literary piece on its own merits.
Rich beyond our imaginings.

Are you aware of the current scholarly idea of its structure ... Prologue, the Book of Signs, the Book of Glory, the Epilogue?

One point of interest is that Jean Danielou has suggested that the early church structure of deacon-presbyter-bishop was copied from the Essenes, Here I agree with China Cat, I think this is a reach. Hierarchical orders can be found all around ... one could conceivably look to the local secular or religious political structures and find similar.
Yes, but don't forget human nature. One would look to what is familiar, and the early church would be far more likely to model themselves on an existing religious structure than a secular one. What appeal has the secular over the spiritual? Likewise, the early Christians would choose a Judaic model rather than any other, in the same way they worshipped the God of 'Abraham, Isaac and Jacob', not the gods of the Greeks. It's common sense really. If the God one worships has shaped the nature of that worship, then why assume a model that has no Divine association is better? If one comes with a Divine 'seal of approval', why choose something that, previously, has attracted the wrath of God?

Thomas
 
i'll tell you why *i* think you might be reaching a bit, thomas; you're kind of making a fairly major assumption if you're considering the DSS to be representative of the "judaic" mainstream. as far as i'm aware, nobody jewish considers the qumran sect to be such, as it didn't evolve into the normative rabbinic tradition, but was a sort of ascetic dead end. as such it may be in line with "semitic speculative thought", but not necessarily "judaic". in addition, i certainly don't see the word "memra" in the places you quote - for a start, this sounds like aramaic rather than hebrew to me, so perhaps you should be looking in the peshitta or the targumim, rather than the masoretic OT. also, i wouldn't say that the mishnaic sages (C1-2) gave any credence these dualistic pairing; leastways i have found little evidence of them speaking in the terms you suggest, let alone them displaying "profound knowledge" of this set of dualist oppositions.

Thomas said:
Jesus' interpretation of the Law was closer in many ways to the Pharisaic view than any other.
now there i'd tend to agree, as i've previously shown in my analysis of the parable of the "good samaritan", which takes on a completely different and, dare i say it, "pharisaic" interpretation when you consider what the operating halakhah underlying this particular case would have been. on the other hand, when the tannaim and amoraim criticise "minim" or "sectarians" (ie christians), they tend to do so in terms of both theological and practical heresy.

as CCS points out, it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between greek and jewish in the C1st, more so between greek, gnostic and syriac/samaritan heresies of various sorts. all we can really say with any sort of certainty is what ended up being part of the normative rabbinic tradition and what (e.g. sadduceeism, essenes, gnostics, etc) didn't.

b'shalom

bananabrain
 
Back
Top