Wednesday, April 07, 2021

The Beloved Disciple's Galilean Interests

I recently finished reading Lydia McGrew's The Eye Of The Beholder (Tampa, Florida: DeWard Publishing, 2021). There are portions of the book in which she interacts with Richard Bauckham's arguments that the author of the fourth gospel was a disciple of Jesus named John, but not the son of Zebedee, one who lived in Jerusalem and didn't travel much with Jesus. You can read Lydia's book for a lot of good responses to Bauckham's case. I want to highlight some points here that I don't recall seeing in Lydia's book. But some of my points are closely related to hers, and I may be forgetting some of what she said.

Much is often made, including by Bauckham, of how large a percentage of John's gospel discusses events in and around Jerusalem. But the author of the gospel doesn't have to be discussing events in Galilee in order to show interest in Galilee, a significant amount of knowledge about the region, and so forth.

I've often addressed the importance of John 8:12, for example, a passage telling us what Jesus said on an occasion when he was in Jerusalem, though his comments are largely about Galilee and its significance. See here and the many other posts in our archives in which I discuss John 8:12 and other issues related to Isaiah 9. Jesus' geographical background and Galilee in particular are mentioned multiple times and mentioned prominently in John 7 (including by implication in verse 27, though Galilee and its cities aren't named there). Jesus' initial comments in chapter 8 (starting in verse 12, since the first 11 verses weren't part of the original gospel) are a response to the comments on his background in chapter 7. I've argued that the comments about Jesus' background come up periodically, though not consistently, into chapter 9. But even if I'm wrong, the discussion at least continues into chapter 8. So, we have a large amount of material in chapter 7 and later in which Jesus is in Jerusalem, but attention is being given to his Galilean background. And he's affirming his Galilean background and demonstrating its significance as a fulfillment of Isaiah 9:1-2. So, it's misleading to categorize this material in John 7 and beyond as evidence against authorship by John the son of Zebedee due to the location of the events in Jerusalem. Those events in Jerusalem are partly about Galilee and Jesus' affirmation of the importance of the region and his work there.

I've mentioned elsewhere that Jesus seems to have deliberately placed his comments in John 8:12 against the backdrop of a particular context of the Feast of Tabernacles:

"Every night of the feast, four huge lamps were lit to accompany joyful singing and dancing. On the last night the main candelabrum was deliberately left unlit as a reminder that Israel had not yet experienced full salvation (cf. esp. Sukk. 5.2-4). But Jesus speaks up and declares himself to be that salvation, 'the light of the world'." (Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability Of John's Gospel [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2001], 141)

Craig Keener notes, regarding the reference in 8:20 to how Jesus was in the treasury:

"If the Feast of Tabernacles is at all relevant to the image, as many commentators suggest, light was also associated with the torchlight ceremony in the court of women in the temple during that festival. Jesus apparently uttered this declaration near the court of women, for the temple treasury (8:20) was adjacent to it." (The Gospel Of John: A Commentary, vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], 739)

So, it seems that both Jesus' words and his actions, including his placing himself in a particular location within Jerusalem at a particular time, were largely meant to highlight his Galilean background.

One of Lydia's responses to Bauckham is to cite John's material on Capernaum, which is in Galilee. And as I argued in a post last year, the treatment of Isaiah 9 in the first and fourth gospels, including what they say about Capernaum, makes more sense if the traditional authorship attributions of those gospels are correct. We should notice that it's not just Jesus' view of and comments on Isaiah 9 that are significant here, but also the decision of the first and fourth evangelists to include that material and to do so in such a prominent manner, something that doesn't occur in Mark, Luke, or any other New Testament author.

John includes material in 18:5-7 not found in the Synoptics, and that material mentions Jesus' background in Nazareth. The passage is reminiscent of 8:12 in that it not only has Jesus affirming his Galilean background, but also doing so in a way that portrays it as positive rather than negative. The "Jesus the Nazarene" designation that his opponents considered derogatory is affirmed by Jesus, and the affirmation is accompanied by their falling back against their will, a forced recognition of who he actually is.

Lydia mentions (86) that John's gospel is the only one that makes reference to Nazareth on the inscription on the cross (19:19). That point should be highlighted in this context. The crucifixion occurred outside of Galilee, but John goes out of his way to include a reference to Galilee that the other gospels don't include.

Jesus' entrusting Mary to the Beloved Disciple in 19:25-27 makes more sense if that disciple was the son of Zebedee rather than Bauckham's alternative. That's especially true if the son of Zebedee lived in Capernaum, where Jesus lived, which seems likely. Even if he just lived near Capernaum, that would be significant. See a post I linked earlier regarding the son of Zebedee's relationship with the city. Bauckham refers to the son of Zebedee as a fisherman of Capernaum (at 43:52 here). If the son of Zebedee lived in the same city as Jesus or nearby and traveled with him more than Bauckham's other John would have, then it makes more sense for Jesus to entrust his mother to the son of Zebedee. Not only would Jesus be likely to have had a closer relationship with the son of Zebedee than with Bauckham's John, but Mary also probably would have known the son of Zebedee better. Mary had been to Capernaum before (John 2:12) and could easily have visited Jesus there on occasion. Since the son of Zebedee traveled with Jesus more than Bauckham's John would have, Mary probably would have encountered the son of Zebedee more often when visiting Jesus accordingly. So, she probably would have known the son of Zebedee better than she knew Bauckham's John for that reason as well. Having her live with the Beloved Disciple in or near Capernaum would be easier both for her and for the Beloved Disciple, given the geographical proximity to wherever Mary was in Galilee at the time and her greater familiarity with the region of Galilee than the region of Jerusalem. For all of these reasons, the son of Zebedee is a much better candidate than Bauckham's John for being entrusted with Jesus' mother. Even though John 19:25-27 happened in the area of Jerusalem, it has implications supporting a Galilean location for the Beloved Disciple.

And some of what I just said about that passage in John 19 can be applied more broadly to the Beloved Disciple's relationship with Jesus. Though a more geographically distant disciple who didn't travel as much with Jesus could be as relationally close to Jesus as the fourth gospel suggests the Beloved Disciple was, a better candidate would be a disciple who was geographically closer to Jesus, probably even living in the same city (Capernaum), and traveled with him more than Bauckham's other John would have. In the fourth gospel, Jesus assigns a lot of significance to being "with me from the beginning" (15:27, 16:4) and "with me" more broadly (17:24), themes that were much more applicable to the son of Zebedee than to Bauckham's John. The larger context makes much of how Jesus will be with his disciples, they won't be left as orphans, the Holy Spirit will come, and so forth (e.g., 14:18, 16:7). It makes more sense for such comments to be directed to somebody like the son of Zebedee and to be so emphasized in a document written by him. If the gospel was written by a disciple who lived so far from Jesus and was with him so much less, then the material under consideration makes less sense. It's probably not just a coincidence that the named disciples who speak to Jesus in these contexts are all members of the Twelve (14:5, 14:8, 14:22).

You can read Lydia's book for a discussion of a lot of other problems with Bauckham's view and more arguments in support of the traditional view of the gospel's authorship. And see here for a response I wrote to Bauckham a few years ago. That post, this one, and Lydia's book have some overlap, but also make points that the other two don't, so there's reason to consult all three.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Jason!

    I'm struck by the fact that Bauckham suggests Nathanael was the source of the story of the marriage at Cana. Of course a story can come secondhand. All of Luke's in his Gospel probably did. But given that Bauckham things the author of the 4th Gospel was the BD, why hypothesize this? Apparently it's an add-on to account for the inclusion of a unique Galilee story when Bauckham thinks that the BD was non-itinerant. So this is multiplying links in the chain to the story to save the theory that the BD was non-itinerant. In point of fact, the 4th Gospel records more journeys back and forth from Galilee to Jerusalem and vice versa than any other Gospel, so in terms of perspective, it has a very itinerant feel to it. For example, the journey north to Galilee is recorded in stages in John 4, because it includes the story of the woman at the well in Samaria.

    Bauckham has many virtues as a scholar, but one of his weaknesses is that he treats certain premises as proved (such as the premise that the BD was not from Galilee and did not travel with Jesus and the 12 to Galilee) and then just adds auxiliaries as needed to retain them once he has settled on them.