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 information and order from: amazon.com | * | barnes&noble

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) information and order from: amazon.com | * | barnes&noble  

Schonfield bibliography:

The Mystery of the Messiah Hugh Schonfield Paperback – 160 pages (February 1999) Paul & Co Pub Consortium information and order from: amazon.com | * | barnes&noble

Proclaiming the Messiah : The Life and Letters of Paul of Tarsus, Envoy the Nations Hugh Schonfield Paperback – 256 pages (February 1999) Open Gate Press information and order from: amazon.com | * | barnes&noble

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 information and order from: amazon.com | * | barnes&noble

The Passover Plot : A New Interpretation of the Life and Death of Jesus Hugh Schonfield Mass Market Paperback Reissue edition Element Press (March 1998) information and order from: amazon.com | * | barnes&noble

After the Cross Hugh Schonfield Hardcover Reissue edition (November 1991) Element Press information and order from: amazon.com | * | barnes&noble

Those Incredible Christians Hugh Schonfield Paperback (November 1991) Element Press information and order from: amazon.com | * | barnes&noble

The Pentecost Revolution : The Story of the Jesus Party in Israel AD 36-66 Hugh J. Schonfield Paperback (November 1991) Element Press information and order from: amazon.com | * | barnes&noble

For Christ’s sake : a discussion of the Jesus enigma Hugh Joseph Schonfield information and order from: amazon.com | * | barnes&noble

Politics of God Hugh J. Schonfield information and order from: amazon.com | * | barnes&noble

Popular Dictionary of Judaism Hugh J. Schonfield information and order from: amazon.com| * | barnes&noble