Monday, August 9, 2010

Book Review: The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple

This is a collection of Richard Bauckham's essays on the gospel of John. At times it is tendentious, but overall it adds up to point out some very provocative details that always tugged on the corner of this reader's consciousness but never really gelled till Bauckham pointed them out. I'm not certain I buy his identification of the author of the gospel as John the Elder rather than John of Zebedee, but he points out that along with the famous seven "I am _____" statements and the famous seven signs in the gospel, there's also seven "I am" statements without a subject that stand out because they're rather difficult to translate. The other "groups of seven" are clearly there, and I can get behind the idea of there being a third group, because John is clearly a highly structured and ordered gospel. Some of the historical ideas are plausible: that Nicodemus was part of a rich Jerusalem family found in Josephus and other sources. Some of the historical ideas are built on what seems sketchy evidence, but I'd prefer to hear arguments that take risks like Bauckham's than to sit through another even sketchier reconstruction of the "Johannine community." The irony is, as sketchy as Bauckham's ideas sometimes are, they're most often firmer than a lot of the speculative reconstructions of the ancient communities. I'm intrigued by the possibility that John was written for a broad/Gentile audience, because that is the way it works today, and also that it may be the one that took cares to get the historiography right, with its specific dates, places, and names. Overall, this book makes me want to return to John in detail and think about what it has to say, because the historical Jesus field focuses so much on the Synoptics that I have the feeling there's a lot in this other "mountain range" (to use N.T. Wright's term) that's being missed.

1 comment:

John said...

Re: I'm not certain I buy his identification of the author of the gospel as John the Elder rather than John of Zebedee...

Ps. 118:8, Pr. 30:5-6 and many other verses warn against putting the authority of God's word in subjection to non-Bible sources. But as the saying goes, one has to take off their own shoes before they can take a walk in someone else's moccasins, and similarly, when it comes to cases of The Bible vs. Tradition, one has to be willing to let go of the traditions of men in order to see the truth that is hidden in plain sight in the text of scripture. has a free eBook that just compares scripture with scripture in order to highlight the facts in the plain text of scripture that are usually overlooked about the “other disciple, whom Jesus loved”. You may want to weigh the testimony of scripture that the study cites regarding the one whom “Jesus loved” and may find it to be helpful as it encourages bible students to take seriously the admonition “prove all things”.

But one thing is for certain, and that is that there is not a single verse of scripture that would justify promoting the idea that the unnamed author of the fourth gospel was John -- not John the apostle or any other John.