Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Aeon Byte Interview

Miguel Connor of Aeon Byte interviewed me recently about the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas. He has a website where downloads are available HERE. If you scroll down, you will find at the bottom a menu of all his shows and his many guests. This is quite a resource that Mr. Connor has put together over the years! His website contains downloads of shows featuring a variety of well-known scholars discussing their ideas about the ancient world on everything from Hermetism to Gnosticism to Mysticism. Thank you Miguel for caring so much about esotericism in the ancient world, making these interviews available to all.


Liam Madden said...

Dear Dr. DeConick,
Returning to a topic that we exchanged posts about late last year, I was very fortunate to locate the full text of C. Gieschen's ANGELOMORPHIC CHRISTOLOGY online via google books, so I have been enjoying reading that.

The other thread of my recent studies, following your lead, has been to explore the relationship between The Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John. So I was very pleased to read your post about your interview at AeonByte about Thomas and John. However, afer perusing the website for a while, I can't seem to locate the link for the interview. Has it actually been posted there yet? I did find the 10 minute audio clip of your discussion of the Gospel of Judas which I enjoyed very much.


April DeConick said...

I think it will go up this weekend.

So glad that you found Charles' book. It is superb and should help you in your quest.

Liam Madden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liam Madden said...

Dear Dr. DeConick,

I enjoyed the "Gnostic Gospel of John" mini-lecture at Aeon Byte. Your own comments echoed and magnified my own sense that John has become for me a more mysterious text and more problematic, too, the more I have tried to become knowledgable about it.

I've gone through several phases with it:

1) Basic beginner phase: This perspective was shaped by the rather pervasive view (at least in older college courses) of the synoptics as the "historical" gospels and John as the "theological one."

2) The second phase (influenced by Alan Watson's writings) considered the rhetoric and issues in John as being shaped as a response to an anti-Christian possibly Pharisaic/Rabbinical source. This approach had some merits to me.

3) A third phase looked at the presentation of the feasts in John and the teaching that gets done at them and viewed the gospel as liturgical, synched to the Jewish calendar and ritual observances.

Then after a break of several years thinking on it, I started to encounter some new scholars who highlighted some reasons for an "earlier" dating of John and viewing some narrative elements and details has having a stronger "historical" dimension. These include:

1) Details of physical surroundings inside Jerusalem/connections to archaeological finds.

2) Similarities between John's dualistic language/Light and darkness imagery and that found in some Dead Sea Scroll texts.

3) The likelihood that the "three year ministry" model with several visits to Jerusalem is closer to the historical truth of Jesus teaching and itinerant activity.

4) The "Good Thursday" crucifixion with three nights in the tomb. I am interested and somewhat swayed by the argument that John didn't "move" the crucifixion to the day of the Passover for "theological" reasons, but that, in fact, the Thursday crucifixion is probably the way it happened. It's the best way to explain why the "three days" formula does not fit with the timetable of the synoptics.
And now comes your take on John, and I have to consider along with the above material the Gnostic flavoring and themes that are evident in the text.

And the best that I can come up with is that John, as we have it now, must have undergone a process of redaction and reshaping similar to what you propose for the Gospel of Thomas that we have now.

I think John contains some significant "early" material (3 year ministry, Thursday crucifixion, and a few other items I'll discuss below).

I think the idea that John might have been composed as a reponse to an anti-Christian, possibly Pharisaic source still holds, why else all of the legal debates and defense of Jesus against his being demon-possessed and that sort of thing.

But I think at some later stage, the community that inherited proto-John got caught up in, and as you say, put at risk by an incursion of Gnostic thought. This may have had something to do with
the social/philosophical environment or something very specific and personal such as the emergence of a Gnostic leaning teacher or teachers within the community of proto-John. As your lecture indicates, this community more than flirted with Gnosticism (they must have been Hellenistic Jews of good education), so that even though this community that left us John in its current form rejected Docetism, they left for us a gospel that still bears some important traces of the parts of Gnosticism that appealed to and resonated with them, such as the features that you highlighted--the soul's journey into the material world, and the "Ruler" of this world).

As would be obvious, the section on "doubting" Thomas clearly represents a need to stake out a position as rejecting Docetism.

However, viewing those passages not merely in isolation but as a deliberate response to Thomasine community and the gospel of Thomas that was emerging and being re-shaped within it raises important questions for me.

With the Thomasine community, I find your efforts to reconstruct the geographical, cultural, and historical situation of the Thomasine community to be plausible and relatively satisfying.

But I have not yet encoutered a satisfying argument "locating" John and ascribing an authorial situation to John in a similar way.

And I think that the idea of the Gospel of John being in explicit dialogue with Thomasine thought makes the issue of "locating" John even more problematic for me because until now, I never imagined those two communities as having had enough contact with one another or awareness of one another for a dialogue to have been necessitated. I want to understand better how and why that would have been the case.

One interesting topic that you raised, which is a good one to close with, I think, is the way in which more and more careful reflection on these texts really does foreground their heavily redacted nature, which creates at first frustration as one really lets go of modern notions of single authorship/authority, but does open the doors to a stronger understanding of the issues that shaped these texts, and that topic is Lazarus.

I had not considered that the "beloved disciple" of John might be Lazarus. And I want to make sure that I heard you right on that one? The "author" of John and the beloved disciple are typically conflated, but you are saying that they should be seen as separate persons; in other words, there is the narrator of John and also the beloved disciple, Lazarus.

The idea that the death of Lazarus may be the problem alluded to in the final chapters of John is an interesting one. Do you also hold to the genuine existence of Secret Mark? If Secret Mark existed (and the gaps in Mark that we have now make it plausible to accept that it did), what reason do you hold for the redaction of Mark to remove Lazarus from the narrative. Do you see the removal of Lazarus from the story as arising from the same concerns about Lazarus that John expresses or some other set of concerns? (Again, this is a case in which two communities which I had been led to believe had very little connection in terms of the formation of their writings, and yet they seem to both be concerned about Lazarus.
Is it simply that Lazarus represents the embodiment of problems inherent in the delay of the eschaton, or was it something more personal that Lazarus represented that necessitated his total excision from Mark and John's apologia?

At your convenience, I'd love for you to share your entire take on John in terms of its authorship, geographic and cultural situation, and the evolution of its form and content.

All the best,


José Solano said...


Liam Madden said...

Thanks, Jose! I had read some of Ben Witherington's writings before, but hadn't seen the one that you linked to. It was a good article, and I find many of his ideas plausible and appealing.

José Solano said...

You're welcome William. I find it all rather fascinating but of course quite speculative.

Liam Madden said...

Dear April,

I hope that you're still on the hook to give us your take on John's authorship, etc. Pretty please!