Read almost any commentary on the Gospel of John and one learns that the conventional wisdom is that this Gospel is littered with sure signs that it has been pieced together over time by several authors, revisers or editors. One of the most obvious indicators of this strikes most readers when they read the speeches of Jesus at the Last Supper. He interrupts himself to say, “Arise, let us go from here”, but instead of going anywhere he merely continues with another lengthy monologue. “No doubt” we are reading the results of clumsy editing.
Look at the exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus. Surely here we see another indication of an editor clumsily stitching a speech about being born again into pre-existing scene between Jesus and the Pharisee. Nicodemus starts the conversation easily enough but then Jesus appears rudely to ignore his words and launches immediately into a jarring proclamation about his need to be born again.
And what are readers to make of that apparently meaningless reference to the time of day — “it was about the tenth hour” — when the first disciples of Jesus are said to go to the place where Jesus was staying?
One moment Jesus is in Jerusalem, and the next, without any explanation, he is suddenly in Galilee again.
Surely only a committee of editors working independently over time could have produced such a disjointed work.
Not every scholar thinks it is silly to read Paul’s letters without bringing to them assumptions from later documents like the Gospels. Some think it is a sounder method to interpret the later literature in the light of what we can understand from what went before it — and not the reverse.
Associate Professor William Arnal is one scholar who does know how to avoid bringing Gospel presuppositions into his reading of Paul’s letters. What he does in “Major Episodes in the Biography of Jesus: An Assessment of the Historicity of the Narrative Tradition” (Toronto Journal of Theology, 13/2, 1997, pp. 201-226) is use earlier sources to try to shed light on how the Gospel narrative came about.
Paul’s famous passage in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 about the Last Supper saying of Jesus is often pulled out as evidence that Paul knew about the scene we read in the Gospels of Jesus having a final meal with his disciples just prior to being betrayed by Judas. But that is reading the evidence backwards, Arnal rightly argues. First we need to understand what Paul does say, and then compare with the later narrative in the Gospels, and ask what evidence we have to explain the relationship between the two. Continue reading “A scholar reads Paul without Gospel presuppositions”
I have been rethinking Mark’s Last Passover scene in the light of:
the obligations guests have towards their host at a meal
the two earlier feedings of the 5000 and the 4000
other themes found in common between Mark’s gospel and the Gospel of Judas
and the inclusio structure in which the eucharist is narrated
the original meaning of the (Pauline) eucharist underlying 1 Corinthians 10-11
#3 — my recent reading of DeConick’s The Thirteenth Apostle — kicked me into bringing together other perspectives on the eucharist I had been playing with for some time. It was as if the Gospel of Judas as translated by DeConick is the final licence to run with my suspicions that Mark, too, was attacking the eucharist ritual as savagely as he was the Twelve themselves.