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.