Thursday, December 29, 2016
Befriending the Beloved Disciple
Just this morning I finished Adele Reinhartz's amazing book Befriending the Beloved Disciple. I received this book as a Christmas gift and finished it in under 10 days. I'm pretty sure that is a record for me v. scholarship. This fact alone proves that A) it's good content B) it's well written C) I'm improving as a thinker/reader.
Reinhartz is Jewish and a professor of New Testament studies. The subtitle of the book is A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John. I honestly didn't know what to expect, but people I trust got excited when I said I was going to read it and I heard her name mentioned a lot at SBL so that lit a fire under me.
She introduces the content of her book by telling who she is and why approaching the Fourth Gospel has been difficult. (John actually can be read as"Jesus and His Followers v. the Jews." ) She also describes how in teaching the gospel, she became so good at neutrality, that her students mistook her for a Catholic nun. #overachiever
Reinhartz talks about developing a relationship with the Beloved Disciple (the author) and the basic outline of the book follows her approach to this relationship. She first elaborates on the three different types of stories that the book can be read as: a historical tale, an ecclesiologic tale and a cosmologic tale. She then takes four different approaches to these three readings: a compliant reading, a resistant reading, a sympathetic reading and an engaged reading. As a result you get these very unique and enlightening perspectives on the gospel and it's author.
So that's to outline her method. There was so much to take away from this book- I'm not even sure where to begin. She talks about feminism:
"The situation of women in the Jewish community, and in other religious systems, is a matter of urgency not only for women but also for men, and not only for humans but for the divine as well. We cannot know precisely what the role of women was in the Johannine community, nor can we rewrite history to shape that role into one that we ourselves would like to see. But both Jews and Christians have the power, and in my view, the responsibility to think critically about the sources that have been used to relegate women to a secondary role and keep them there."
She briefly discusses the translation of the Greek term hoi Ioudaioi, referencing studies done by Raymond Brown and Urban C. von Wahlde that suggest that it could be translated as "Jewish Authorities" and "the Judaeans" respectively, but rules those out as unsupported by evidence in the gospel. (Personally, this is a topic on which I need to do more reading.)
In her conclusion of the section "An Engaged Reading of the Cosmological Tale" she states:
But our knowledge of the variety of Jewish groups and theologies in the first century suggests that insofar as there was an overall Jewish macro-metaphor, it was one that differed from that of the Beloved Disciple in that it placed less emphasis on a system of belief, beyond the fundamental adherence to monotheism and covenantal relationship between God and Israel, than on a system of behavior. This meant that messianism and soteriology, that is, a doctrine of salvation, were not at the core of the Jewish macro-metaphor as they were for the Beloved Disciple. To put the matter more provocatively, we may entertain the possibility that the polarized conflict between Jesus and the Jews in this Gospel may in fact concern the place of messianism within the overal understanding of the covenantal relationship between God and humankind.
To pursue this matter further we must ponder, yet again, the relationship between a hypothetical Johannine community and it's Jewish neighbors. In other words, we must reconsider the ecclesiological tale.
Then she launches into "An Engaged Reading of the Ecclesiological Tale."
So there is a ton of food for thought. I do wish I had read this book before SBL in November, but am so glad I waited to read it after I had read other books on the Fourth Gospel. It goes super deep and I'm pretty sure I would have drowned if I had attempted it before becoming a stronger swimmer.
Thank God, we learn. Thank God for thinkers and teachers.