Discourses on the Logos


The Discourses of the Logos

Preface to John  ( 1985
)

by Hugh Joseph Schonfield

Jewish Historian of Christian Beginnings

What are known as the Johannine writings in the New
Testament consist of a Gospel, a Tract, two Letters, and a Book of Visions.
They are a puzzling collection, especially the Gospel. The first is anonymous,
but is stated to contain the reminiscences of someone described as the
‘Dear Disciple’ of Jesus. The tract (I John) is also anonymous, but appears
to be by the same writer as the two letters (II and III John), the author
of which calls himself ‘the Elder’ or ‘Presbyter’. It is only the book
of visions (Revelation) that is actually stated to have been recorded by
a person of the name of John. On linguistic grounds alone it is almost
certain that this John was not identical with the Elder, or with the author
of the Gospel in its present form; yet the Revelation is not wholly unrelated
to the other documents.

What is said in the Gospel about Jesus, and the sentiments
in it expressed by him, have made this work the most treasured document
in the New Testament for orthodox Christians, and helped to give rise to
the belief that the ‘Dear Disciple’ was in fact one of the Twelve Apostles,
namely John the son of Zebedee. The evidences which exist, however, are
totally against this view. We shall, of course, be examining these evidences,
both in the Gospel and in surviving traditions and sources. But one point
may be represented immediately. John the son of Zebedee was a rough uncouth
Galilean fisherman, whereas the Gospel is from a source or sources highly
literate and intellectual.

The investigation of the Johannine problem calls for
a fully open and uncommitted mind, capacity for research, and literary
and linguistic equipment.

A large part of the Gospel consists of discourses of
Jesus. Where these run to some length they are dealt with in the Greek
manner, where the audience (in this case the Jews or the disciples) interject
questions or comments, which keep the discourse going. When we compare
these discourses and other statements with Jesus’s manner of speech in
the other Gospels it is very clear that it is not the same man speaking.

The Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels speaks in a Jewish
manner, both in theme and construction, as may be noted in the Sermon on
the Mount. The Jesus of John’s Gospel, however, largely speaks in a quite
different idiom, and as a non-Jew, and often in a pretentious alien manner.
He speaks of the Law given to Moses as “your Law”, instead of “our Law”,
and declares that “all who came before me were thieves and robbers”. He
even refers to God after himself, in saying, “I and my Father are one”.

It is evident that such material has been composed
for Jesus by a Greek Christian, and by comparison of the language and style
there is a strong case for claiming that he was the author of the First
Epistle of lohn (John the Elder). This John was still living around AD
140 in the region of Asia Minor, and is referred by Papias of Hierapolis
as one in a position to relate things said and done by Jesus. This date
is obviously too late for any immediate disciple of Jesus to have still
been living. To whose recollections, then, did this John have access?

The answer is that a direct disciple of Jesus is known
to have been living at Ephesus down to the beginning of the second century,
where John the Elder could have had contact with him. This disciple was
also called John. Eusebius in his Ecclesiasticnl History reports that at
Ephesus were to be found the tombs of both Johns. His information came
from a letter written by Polycrates bishop of Ephesus to Victor of Rome.
Polycrates had made this important statement:

“Moreover, John that rested on the bosom of
our Lord, who was a priest that wore the sacerdotal plate, witness and
teacher, he, also, rests at Ephesus.”

The ‘Dear Disciple’ is disclosed as a Jewish priest, and
this is wholly consistent with what is said in the Fourth Gospel. He betrays
his priestly office in the reminiscences which form part of the text. He
makes exact referencs to Jewish ritual and Temple worship, and when he
speaks of the priests not going into Pilate’s praetorium to avoid defilement.
He himself will not enter the tomb in which Jesus had been laid until he
knows there is no corpse there. He is of a distinguished Jewish sacerdotal
family and was personally known to the High Priest. He has a house in Jerusalem,
and after the crucifixion gave hospitality there to the mother of Jesus.
Naturally he knows the topography of Jerusalem well, and he also introduces
and explains Aramaic words. It is to be inferred that it was John the Priest’s
house, with the large upper room, that was the scene of the Passover Supper,
where the ‘Dear Disciple’ as master of the house had the seat of honour
next to that of Jesus, leaning on the breast of the Messiah, as related
in the Gospel. There were thus fourteen persons present.

Tradition records that the ‘Dear Disciple’ lived finally
at Ephesus to extreme old age (John 21:22-23), and was eventually persuaded
to dictate his recollections of Jesus. These would appear to have been
drawn upon in the Fourth Gospel, taking the form of a series of signs which
establish that Jesus was the Messiah, introduced by the formula, “After
this”, or “After these events”, a design which is preserved down to 7:1
and is then abandoned until 19:38. Early patristic quotations, and even
fragments of an unknown Gospel (Egerton Papyrus 1), reveal a form of certain
sayings in the Fourth Gospel much closer in style and character to what
we find in the Synoptics. It is also now known that certain passages are
reflective of the Essene Dead Sea Scrolls, and the story of the woman taken
in adultery (Jn 8) was also to be found in the Gospel of the Hebrews.

We thus face the evidence that John’s Gospel as we
have it is a composite document. Its basis is the memoirs of John the Priest,
who is encountered initially as a disciple of John the Baptist, an Essene
link. The fact that John the Priest was an advanced student of Jewish mysticism
may help to explain the attraction of his work for the Greek Elder. The
Gospel contains in the narrative portions a great deal that is characteristic
of the author of the Revelation, while the Revelation, in the Messages
to the Seven Communities, and some other passages, contains material which
is typical of the author of a large part of the present Gospel. See the
Prefaces to the Letters and the Revelation.

The second work, which has so largely been imposed
on and has superseded the other, is a dialogue document in the Greek Platonic
tradition. It is in two parts. The first is a discourse of Jesus to the
Jews, and the second a discourse to the apostles. The first part has been
chopped up, and most unskilfully inserted at different points, often months
apart and quite inappropriately, and out of the dialogue’s natural order.
The second part, also to some extent in disarray, occupies in 13-17, section
6 of the present translation. Scholars have long recognised, even when
regarding the Gospel as a unity, that there have been a number of displacements.
These can only be represented tentatively, and those which the present
editor has proposed do not in all cases coincide with the proposals of
others. The changes can be followed by the student by means of the footnotes.

It may well be that in the heading of I John, a tract
which it has been held was meant to introduce the Gospel, we have the actual
title of the dialogue document, namely “On the Theme (or Message) of Life”,
in Greek Peri tou Logou tes Zoes, or in the briefer form of the Latin Vulgate,
De Verbo Vitae. In the discour ses of Jesus in the Gospel he largely speaks
in the manner the author of I John writes.

The author of the Gospel, as we now have it, clearly
in two footnotes John 19:35 and 21:24) distinguishes himself from the ‘Dear
Disciple’ of whose reminiscences he has availed himself. These footnotes
are in the characteristic style of the Elder who is the author of I John
(John 21:24 with I John 12). The last chapter of the Gospel also confirms
the tradition that the ‘Dear Disciple’ lived to a very great age.

The Prologue to the Fourth Gospel is of some service
both in locating and dating the book in its present form. This Prologue
is an antiphonal chant or hymn, which could well be the very same that
is mentioned by Pliny the Younger in his letter to the Emperor Trajan about
the Christians (c AD 112) sent when he was Governor of Bithynia. The ‘Dear
Disciple’ is said to have died in Trajan’s reign and to have been buried
at Ephesus. These links with Asia Minor are reinforced by the prominence
given to the Apostle Philip in the Gospel. He is stated to have been buried
at Hierapolis. Andrew and Thomas also, who are specially mentioned in the
Gospel, are quoted in apostolic sources used by Papias of Hierapolis. The
traditions would therefore appear to be authentic which make Asia Minor
the region of publication of the Fourth Gospel; and since Trajan became
emperor in AD 98 the book in its present form may approximately be dated
about the end of the first decade of the second century.

It was the Emperor Domitian, the predecessor of Trajan,
a great persecutor of the Christians, who banished the ‘Dear Disciple’
to the island of Patmos, where the Revelation was received. This was a
Roman punishment of eminent persons. Incidentally it was Domitian who insisted
on being addressed as ‘Our Lord and God’ (see Suetonius, Dom 8), words
put into the mouth of Thomas with reference to Jesus John 20:28).

Finally, to make it very clear that John the son of
Zebedee was not the ‘Dear Disciple’, we have the statement in Luke that
Peter and John the son of Zebedee were the two whom Jesus sent to the master
of the house where Jesus would eat the passover. Also the ‘Dear Disciple’
is distinguished from the fisherman John in the story in John 21 (see verses
2 and 7).

The closing chapter of the Fourth Gospel conveys further
that the ‘Dear Disciple’ would live to a great age, which was true of John
the Priest. Peter is represented as somewhat jealous of “this man”, which
he had no cause to be if the son of Zebedee was concerned. Peter and the
two sons of Zebedee were on equal intimacy with Jesus, sharing specially
in his experiences. It is the eminent ‘outsider’ from Jerusalem, whose
influence on Jesus Peter resents.


© 1985 Hugh J. Schonfield

The Original New Testament

Harper & Row

Hardcover, 594 pages

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new edition in 1998:

The Original New Testament :

The First Definitive Translation of the New Testament in 2000 Years

by Hugh Joseph Schonfield (Editor)

Paperback – 640 pages

Element, (March 1998)

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Schonfield bibliography:

The Mystery of the Messiah

Hugh Schonfield

Paperback – 160 pages (February 1999)

Paul & Co Pub Consortium

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Proclaiming the Messiah :

The Life and Letters of Paul of Tarsus, Envoy the Nations

Hugh Schonfield

Paperback – 256 pages (February 1999)

Open Gate Press

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The Essene Odyssey :

The Mystery of the True Teacher and the

Essene Impact on the Shaping of Human Destiny

Hugh J. Schonfield

Paperback – 192 pages

1 edition (February 1998)

Element Press

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The Passover Plot :

A New Interpretation of the Life and Death of Jesus

Hugh Schonfield

Mass Market Paperback Reissue edition

Element Press (March 1998)

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After the Cross

Hugh Schonfield

Hardcover Reissue edition (November 1991)

Element Press

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Those Incredible Christians

Hugh Schonfield

Paperback (November 1991)

Element Press

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The Pentecost Revolution :

The Story of the Jesus Party in Israel AD 36-66

Hugh J. Schonfield

Paperback (November 1991)

Element Press

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For Christ’s sake :

a discussion of the Jesus enigma

Hugh Joseph Schonfield

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Politics of God

Hugh J. Schonfield

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Popular Dictionary of Judaism

Hugh J. Schonfield

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