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Are the Gospel and Epistles of John *Forgeries*?? Guest Post by Hugo Mendez

Whoa! Forgeries? That seems a bit extreme! Right? Forgeries???

Hugo Mendez continues his discussion, and I have to say, it’s pretty convincing. He and I may disagree on a couple of things about the Gospel of John — I haven’t decided yet 🙂 — but on the epistles I’m gettin’ there and am open to persuasion on the entire case.

What do you think? The hardest part for most of us is preventing the knee that is jerking from controlling our brain that is judging. So read what he has to say, ponder it, and see what you think — no matter how out of control the knee is. And if you see flaws in what he’s saying, free to tell him (and me, and everyone else!) why.

Here’s his fourth post.


The Johannine Texts as Literary Forgeries

The primary reason why scholars believe a “Johannine community” once existed is that we possess not only a Johannine Gospel (John) but also three Johannine Epistles/Letters (1, 2, and 3 John). Those letters seem to actually describe the inner workings of what Raymond Brown called “the community of the beloved disciple,” including its conflicts and leadership struggles.

But in my latest article, “Did the Johannine Community Exist?” (Journal for the Study of the New Testament 42 [2020]) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0142064X19890490 I argue that we need to be skeptical of this evidence. The reason is that I believe 1, 2, and 3 John are a chain of literary forgeries—a world of invented characters and situations.

In this post, I’ll briefly summarize why I think this is the case. If you’re interested in this issue, I’d strongly recommend you read my article for the complete arguments.


Literary Contact and Copying

The first thing to understand is that ….

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Literary Contact and Copying

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Problems with Thinking the “Letters of John” in the NT are Forgeries? Guest Post: Hugo Mendez
Was There One Author Behind the Four Johannine Writings? A Community? Guest Post by Hugo Mendez



  1. Avatar
    WhenBeliefDies  May 12, 2020

    Boom – the mic drops and Hugo Mendez walks out of the building.

    I found these guest posts to be really interesting, even if I did try to share the original with my father who told me that the Bible is whole, true, complete and trustworthy as a response… *bangs palm into head*

    Tackling such a massive portion of scripture and asking ‘are these forgeries’ will likely come up against a lot of push back, as I did with my father. Do you think the tides will change to flow in the forgery direction? Or do you think the consense will stick to a conservative interpretation due to historical understandings of the Johannine Community/Communities and conservation beliefs in the ‘truth’ of the NT?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 12, 2020

      That’s a great question. I don’t think my view will ever command quite the majority the Johannine Community hypothesis did. As I noted last time, that hypothesis won wide acceptance because it appeals not only to critical scholars, but conservative scholars too. After all, it relies on a literal, historical reading of the Epistles. By contrast, my view is a non-starter for conservative biblical scholars since it introduces issues like authorial deceit/forgery, invented historical details, late composition, etc.

      The ceiling for my view, then, is lower. My hope would be that over the next several decades, the view wins over a majority of critical scholars. It takes decades since every academic field is built to resist sudden changes in direction, and the idea is a young one that will take some time to elaborate (the idea will be tested, debated, fleshed our further in future books, etc.). But I’m encouraged by the reaction so far. To go one step further—the idea will be successful if, at the very least, it shakes the confidence with which people hold alternative views.

      • Avatar
        WhenBeliefDies  May 13, 2020

        Makes sense – thanks Hugo.

        Do you have a twitter account or website that I could have the link to so that I can keep up with your work?


        • Hugo
          Hugo  May 13, 2020

          Thanks Sam. I’m @drhugomendez on Twitter.

  2. sschullery
    sschullery  May 12, 2020

    Wow! I feel like I’m about to be an eye witness to two big events: somebody change their mind, and a 2000 year old house of cards collapse.

    • Avatar
      Chad Stuart  May 15, 2020

      I believe Christianity is going to face hard times once kids growing up today access the work of today’s Biblical scholars.

  3. Robert
    Robert  May 12, 2020

    At the very end of the current version of the gospel of John, the author of Jn 21,20.24 (ὁ γράψας ταῦτα) implies that at least some version of the immediately preceding events in Jn 21, or perhaps even more of the gospel (20,30-31 γεγραμμένα ἐν τῷ βιβλίῳ τούτῳ· ταῦτα δὲ γέγραπται 21,25 γράφηται), were written by the beloved disciple who had been present during the last supper.

    Since critical scholars generally, including Bart, do not believe any of the gospel or its hypothetical sources were actually written by an actual historical disciple of Jesus, I do not see any way around the implication that the author of Jn 21 has used literary deceit to create this false impression.

    Bart does not “think the statement implies the false impression. It only started to do that once interpreters read it that way, but I don’t see any reason to think the author meant it that way.”

    I can’t for the life of me figure out how Bart comes to this position. While the author of Jn 21 may not have fooled the alogi, he certainly seems to have fooled nearly everyone else!

    Perhaps you could discuss this point with your UNC colleague?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 12, 2020

      Yea, we might well discuss it on here later this month!

      Right, I think the book is positioning the disciple as the primary author (see: narrator’s eyewitness claim in 1:14; the parallel between 19:35 and 20:30–31; “ὁ γράψας” in 21:24). Others believe the gospel merely presents itself as an account written by another party (the “we” in 21:24–25). I think that’s what Bart’s referring to when he speaks of “disagree[ing] on a couple of things about the Gospel of John” but being “open to persuasion on the entire case.” I think the balance of evidence tips in my favor, but I respect why people disagree, and I even point out in a footnote (no. 18) that I can live with the opposite possibility.

      • Robert
        Robert  May 12, 2020

        Hugo: “… I even point out in a footnote (no. 18) that I can live with the opposite possibility.”

        I actually quoted the entirety of your Note 18 to Bart just over two months ago, when your article first came out. If one insists that Jn 21 was written by a later author, it’s still a literary deceit in my humble opinion.

        So glad you’re posting here!

        • Hugo
          Hugo  May 12, 2020

          I agree. I think there’s a pretty clear and falsifiable authorial claim in chs. 1–20 alone.

          And thanks! Happy to be here.

  4. Avatar
    AstaKask  May 12, 2020

    So the Gospel and the the Epistles are not written by the same person, but by someone who wished to teach (and perhaps was convinced that) his own theology is what Jesus taught and intended? And he made up the beloved Disciple?
    And the Epistles were not written by the same person as the Gospel? Were the Epistles themselves written by one person or were there two or three different people writing them?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 12, 2020

      I’ll address this directly later this week but: (a) yes, (b) yes, (c) yes, and (d) it’s hard to tell.

  5. Avatar
    flshrP  May 12, 2020

    So if the Gospel of John is a forgery, then the one and only reference to the Trinity in the NT is also a forgery? Wow, will this generate a ton of blowback from the completely indoctrinated members of the fundamentalist Christian persuasion. It looks like you have just removed another brick in the wall of Christian theological orthodoxy.

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 12, 2020

      I think people have different ways of handling this sort of evidence. I approach my work as a historian, and I leave the theological implications aside for specialists in that area to consider. As for the Christian idea of the Trinity—I think it’s more complicated since (in my understanding) theological understandings on the Trinity and/or the divinity of Jesus utilize other texts as well as evidence (divine attributes being applied to Jesus in Rev. 22:12–13; cf. Isa. 44:6; the mention of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” together in Mt 28:19, etc.). Here again, I’ll defer to people who work in theology and know more about how that evidence is assembled.

    • Avatar
      roy  May 12, 2020

      a brick? possibly a supporting column

  6. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  May 12, 2020

    If these authors are emulating Paul as a template, does their context indicate that they are rivals of Paul? That is, are they promulgating an alternate Christology (supported by an imaginary following/community)?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 19, 2020

      I’m sorry I missed this question! (I’m not used to using this website, and I accidentally got locked out of admin privileges over the weekend.)

      I don’t think there’s really evidence that these figures were rivals of Paul per se. Their theology certainly differs from what we think of as Pauline theology (in emphasis, content, etc.), but I don’t see clear signs of a direct polemic against Paul’s sort of Christianity. The Christologiers are different, but many Christians seem to have seen them as more complementary (they were synthesized later into the package we have today). Perhaps one striking difference is that the Gospel seems to be especially wed to the idea that the end-time “judgment” has already come whereas Paul anticipates it as a future reality (John 12:31; cf. for instance, Rom. 14:10), but there’s a certain ambiguity here and once again, a certain compatibility of these different perspectives.

  7. Avatar
    fishician  May 12, 2020

    Is your thought that the John epistles were meant for general circulation, and not intended for a specific church (or churches), or was the author likely to have sent them to certain churches to influence them, writing with the authority of the supposed author? Hard for me to believe that specific congregations would take them seriously if the author did not clearly identify himself, as Paul did in his letters. But obviously some people took them seriously if they were preserved and eventually incorporated into the canon of Scripture.

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 19, 2020

      Sorry; this was one of the comments that slipped through when I accidentally lost administrative privileges a few days ago.

      I don’t think the texts were ever directly mailed to someone as if from this disciple. Instead, I think the text was planted to look like something this famous disciple had* historically written during his lifetime to some other congregations dealing with related issues. This was usually how it was done (think 1 Timothy, 3 Corinthians, Salvian’s letter of “To the churches”… they’re all written in the names of historical personages, supposedly writing to historical communities in the past, to indirectly* address contemporary issues). Hope this helps!

  8. Avatar
    Ficino  May 12, 2020

    Fascinating, Prof. Mendez! Do you have a hypothesis about the motives of the forger, and about the circumstances surrounding the forged works’ circulation? Who were the consumers of these texts?

  9. Avatar
    MichaelM  May 12, 2020

    So, I understand all your arguments as well as the arguments of other scholars. But these things were written by SOMEBODY. And they seem to represent a particular point of view of christianity held by SOMEBODY. I would define a ‘community’ as being a group who all subscribe to the same thing, more or less, whether or not they are located in one geographical area. Southern Baptists, for example, are not limited to a set few individuals in Georgia, but are spread out over the US. But they overlap in time and space with Methodists and Episcopals and Catholics, each holding different views of christianity. But I would label them as a ‘community’.

    I suppose I just can’t see how there could be a group of writings so clearly related in content, and that was significant enough to make it into the canon a couple of hundred years later, if it didn’t represent a significant body of believers, or ‘community’. Surely that is historical evidence of a ‘community’ in some sense.

    What am I not getting?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 12, 2020

      Thanks Michael! Great points. I’ll address some of these issues in coming posts, but if it helps…

      I definitely think that someone wrote each text, and that each of those someones lived in some concrete social context with readers. But I doubt that all the Johannine writers hailed from the same context/community; the differences in their writings may suggest otherwise. I’m also not sure that the people around these authors were in lockstep with their views. It’s very possible, for instance, that these forgers differed in some respects from the people around them, or even that these forgers wrote to resist* the views of those around them.

      Now, you’re right that the texts found a positive reception—so much so that they found a place in the developing canon. But I don’t think that success is dependent on the existence of a single early Christian movement/group that championed these writings. On the contrary, all our evidence suggests the text was read by many different early Christian movements/groups, and that it found a positive reception across these groups. We know, for instance, that Valentinians, Proto-Orthodox Christians, Montanists, and Sethian Gnostics all consumed the Gospel. Despite their differences, all these groups seem to have gravitated towards the Gospel’s idea of Jesus’ pre-existence and role in creation—ideas spelled out in no other gospel. And so it shouldn’t surprise us that one or more of these groups gradually embraced this text as “scripture.”

  10. Avatar
    mannix  May 12, 2020

    Scripture is the primary tool for Christian homilies. Suppose a given priest/minister fully buys into your thesis. How do you think this might be reflected in his or her weekend sermon if the corresponding gospel and/or epistle is Johannine? IOW would Theology or exegesis be affected? Would the overall message on how to conduct Christian lives be altered? If the effect will be negligible, perhaps the expected blowback will be from scholarly rather than pastoral/laical sources.

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 19, 2020

      That’s a great (and complex!) question. Frankly, it’s a question that’s already pressing since critical scholars agree that at least certain biblical books were written in similar circumstances and under veiled guises (whether my thesis about these particular books is correct or not). I’m not a priest, so I’m not in the ideal spot to think through pastoral implications, but…

      1. I’d like pastors to address the general problem of ancient Christian forgery. We know forgery was rampant among ancient Christians, and I’d like priests and pastors to expose that issue to congregants and think critically with them about it.

      2. That being said, I think pastors should be more invested in addressing the general problem than necessarily gesturing it particular cases. Some of these debates are ongoing. We know forgery existed, but were not sure whether—for instance—Acts falls into that category (Bart thinks so; others don’t). Same with John and 1, 2, 3 John. My thesis is new and should be tested in the academic community before it “leaks down” to the congregation, if that makes sense.

      3. When it does “leak down,” I think pastors and theologians should find the resources to think through those implications in a Christian framework. That’ll differ community by community (Catholic, Lutheran, etc.), but I do think the resources are there.

  11. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  May 12, 2020

    I’m getting the impression that even if an eye witness existed, and the testimony of that eye witness appears in some form or forms scattered through the new testament, that testimony would be worthless– buried in the noise, buried beneath forgeries and inventions, and anonymous authors having various agendas. If there is a genuine signal, by this time it would be impossible to discern. You’d think an Almighty God would do better than that. If the mighty architect of the universe can’t convey a clear and unambiguous message across a couple of thousand years– well, we can draw our own conclusions.

  12. Avatar
    justyn  May 12, 2020

    These posts (and Bart’s primers beforehand) have been really fascinating, thank you!

  13. Avatar
    brenmcg  May 12, 2020

    I don’t see why any late 1st or early 2nd century christian or otherwise would care about convincing anyone that 3 John is written by the writer of the 4th gospel. He’s not going to make any money off it, there’s no controversial theological opinions.

    Even if it was by the that author nobody would bother to copy his letter about invented characters like Gauis, Diotrephes, Demetrius.

    Why would the forger go to such ridiculously subtle lengths to try to convince people – just a reference to walking in the truth and “you know our testimony is true”. How many other christians would us the same terms.

    This would all make sense for a 19th or 20th century forger trying to convince skeptical historians but no sense for the time it was actually written.

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 13, 2020

      I understand that difficulty. It’s not always clear what the motivations of an individual forger were, especially when we know so little about his/her context.

      In the case of 3 John I can think of a few possible explanations. If the text was written by the same hand as 2 John, for instance, it might have been meant to supplement and support that text. If it was written independently, perhaps its key intervention is to stress the need to support itinerant preachers (“we ought to support such people”; vv. 5–8); this is an emphasis unique to 3 John.

      But all that we don’t know shouldn’t outweigh what we do know. I think we have solid evidence of literary copying and suspect authorial claims in these texts. I recommend we start from there.

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  May 13, 2020

        Yeah difficult to be certain about any of it but if the ability to write really was confined to the elite of society its difficult to see them using this skill to forge a letter promoting the needs of itinerant preachers.

  14. Avatar
    Poohbear  May 12, 2020

    Quote, “abide in” him, walk in the light,” be “children of the light,” “overcome the world,” be “born from above,” and “do the truth.” If these concepts were central to Jesus’ teaching as John presents them, why are they entirely absent from other gospels?

    Just one, the light.

    Matthew speaks of those who are the “light of the world.” Mark speaks of coming to the light. Luke speaks of the children of light, the burning light, light to the Gentiles, light to the Jews etc.. Paul speaks of the “armor of light” and the Lord “bringing light.” Peter speaks of a “light shining in a dark place.” And all this reminds me of Isaiah speaking of the coming Messiah in terms of light.

    The same applies to “abide” and “overcoming the world” and “the truth.” Only “born from above” is unique, but it is the symbol of all baptism narratives – the start of a new life.

  15. Avatar
    jscheller  May 12, 2020

    Thank you for a very informative and invigorating take on this matter. I have a couple of questions about the Gospel, based on your analysis:

    1) Is the author claiming to be the disciple who Jesus loves? I don’t get that impression when reading it. When I read John 19:35 and 21:24, it sounds to me like the author is talking about someone that has testified and written formerly, whose input the author has used. Why would the author talk about this witness in the third person?

    2) What about the seams in the gospel? If the gospel was sourced by one source alone, why would these seams exist? Would the author really have been duplicitous and foresightful enough to deliberately build them in in order to create the impression that several sources were used at the expense of compromising continuity?

    Thank you.

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 13, 2020

      Thanks! In answer to your question:

      1) The use of the third-person narration doesn’t necessarily exclude the idea that the narrator is one of the characters. Take, for instance, the opening section of 2nd c. Apocryphon/Secret Book of John… notice how it refers to John in the 3rd person for a short while before suddenly dropping cues that the narrator is John:

      “And it happened one day, when John, the brother of James – who are the sons of Zebedee – had come up to the temple, that a Pharisee named Arimanius approached him and said to him, ‘Where is your master whom you followed?’ And he said to him, ‘He has gone to the place from which he came.” The Pharisee said to him, “With deception did this Nazarene deceive you, and he filled your ears with lies, and closed your hearts (and) turned you from the traditions of your fathers.’ When I, John, heard these things I turned away from the temple to a desert place.”

      2) As for the seams, those are complex since we know so little, and one solution may not fit all the cases. Some seams may indicate his use of real sources. Some may indicate that the author edited his own work in several passes, tinkering around with a draft, and leaving some mistakes in later edits. Some may merely be his own sloppiness; ancient authors talk about unfinished or less polished works. It’s also possible that another hand (an associate?) edited the gospel (you don’t need a whole community… just a single editor).

  16. Avatar
    Jross  May 13, 2020

    Since presumably, the apostle John was the last of the apostles to die do you think he had significant influence in the Church in the early days?
    Do you think it’s possible a disciple of his might’ve written it(Luke and Mark disciples not apostles)?
    I would assume John still had significant influence in the early church though and possibly knew of the circulation of the Gospels written?
    I would see it as odd if the church did not look for the direction of the last apostle still alive in such matters especially because the Gospel Of John does seem to discuss the matter of Christ’s nature. And possibly John would’ve condemned such if he disagreed.
    What about his disciples that he appointed (Ignatius, Polycarp) do you think he really appointed them? As I Believe they do quote from the Gospel of John.
    I’ve also heard the idea that Bishops of Asia Minor asked him to possible write a gospel on the nature of christ is this totally not even true?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 13, 2020

      This is a complex question—probably one too complex to answer in so short of space, but…

      – I’m highly skeptical that the historical John was an influence on what we now call the “Johannine” tradition. I think it’s more likely that these texts were merely attributed to him in the early 2nd c. as people tried to deduce the identity of the (invented/literary) beloved disciple.

      – I’m also skeptical of much of what we read about the apostle John in early sources for one reason: it’s confusing and at times contradictory. Again, it’s a fairly large issue to explore, involving multiple early sources, but suffice it to say, those early traditions are very difficult to tease out. I briefly deal with some part of this in a reply to a scholar’s discussion of my article… that discussion may interest you.

      • Avatar
        Jross  May 13, 2020

        Hi Dr. Mendez,
        Thanks for your response. Do you think it was written specifically by those who believed in Christ’s divinity? Do you know if any of his *supposed disciples* every quoted the GJohn (or the earliest mention of this Gospel)? Kind of unrelated but if it is a forgery do you think this undermines the Church’s teachings? If I was a bishop during that time I feel like I would definitely turn to John as he *was supposed* the last of 12 to die. Would’ve definitely turned to the one who saw Jesus.
        A time machine would be greatly handy.

        • Hugo
          Hugo  May 14, 2020

          1) I think the author believed in something approaching later Christian concepts of the divinity of Christ. Certainly, his text played an influential role in later debates over that issue.

          2) Our earliest allusions to John appear in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch and Justin Martyr. A citation of 1 John appears in the Epistle to the Philippians, which is attributed to Polycarp. I suspect Papias knew John, though Steve Carlson (who just did a series of posts about Papias, and is far more the expert) disagrees.

          3) Faith is a complex, personal issue, and I respect that people reach different conclusions. I’m not a theologian, but as a practicing Catholic, I see no reason why God couldn’t also reveal himself in and through the messiness of a literary forgery. I think everything about the Christian faith suggests that God works with humanity in all its messiness—an idea at the core of the incarnation.

          4) Yes! Time machines!

          • Avatar
            Jross  May 15, 2020

            Hi Dr. Mendez
            Thanks for your reply. I especially agree with your third point. Often times people would not turn to think about these things as they would see it as totally *detrimental* to their faith and on the other hand people would use these to prove such religion would be false. But as you said,” I see no reason why God couldn’t also reveal himself in and through the messiness of a literary forgery. I think everything about the Christian faith suggests that God works with humanity in all its messiness—an idea at the core of the incarnation.” Sums it up perfectly

  17. Avatar
    GeoffClifton  May 13, 2020

    Thank you Dr Mendez for an absolutely fascinating series of posts (and more to come). I take the point about forgery but wonder if we are just replacing a ‘community of the beloved disciple’ with a ‘community’ of like-minded forgers? Or will you tackle that point later?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 13, 2020

      That’s a great question. I brush by this in an upcoming post, but it may help to do it in one sentence:

      I think instead of a single “community of the beloved disciple,” we’re looking at the multiple* social contexts of multiple* forgers, who probably did not know one another or have any personal contact.

  18. Avatar
    CFSmith  May 13, 2020

    A forger expects his forgery to be believed. It’s easy to understand why “John” would expect fictitious stories about Jesus to be believed. The events happened 60+ years earlier and his audience would have no direct knowledge of them. But his audience would or could have direct knowledge of the contemporary church. Why would the author expect his readers to believe in a Johannine community that did not exist?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 13, 2020

      Almost nothing in these writings is actually traceable or concrete, since everything is veiled in anonymity or unspecificity—e.g., the identity of the beloved disciple, his location, the “little children” of 1 John, the “elect lady” of 2 John (is it a church? where?). The texts also provide no clear indication as to the time they were written. An ancient audience wouldn’t have been able to rule out the existence of such a community at sometime, somewhere, since they couldn’t locate or verify it either.

  19. Avatar
    RichardFellows  May 14, 2020

    I’m not a John specialist, but I have a few questions.
    1. John 7:8, according to 01 and 05, has Jesus telling a lie. If these manuscripts have the original reading then the author of John’s gospel was probably comfortable with telling lies. Why do you not appeal to 7:8 to support your case? Because the combined weight of 01 and 05 is not strong enough?
    2. Are you suggesting that the authors of the Johannine epistles did not know who wrote the gospel of John and that this explains the anonymity of the epistles? Have you compiled any statistics on how often genuine letters were anonymous?
    3. If there was no Johannine community, how did the author of the gospel acquire his/her ideas?
    4. Could the writers of the synoptics have omitted mention of the beloved disciple precisely because he led a rival Christianity?
    5. Does John’s gospel indicate (or dishonestly imply that) the beloved disciple was Lazarus?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 14, 2020

      1) It’s a thought, but I have my own way of understanding the problem of Jesus’ apparent lie (that I really ought to take to print).

      2) I think the Epistles are anonymous since they are trying to take over the persona of the Gospel narrator, who leaves himself anonymous.

      3) I’ll deal with this in a future post, but his views could have been shaped by various influences. I hinted at this in my post on “Gospel Communities” a few days ago.

      4) That’s theoretically possible, but at some point, you have to wonder if the explanation becomes too complex and too convenient!

      5) Some people make that argument (Ben Witherington comes to mind). I’m skeptical though. The strongest evidence is that Jesus is said to “love” Lazarus (John 11:36), but the same chapter says he also “loves” Martha and Mary. People who defend this view also have trouble explaining why the name “Lazarus” drops out suddenly after the author was perfectly comfortable referring to him as such in chs. 11–12. Something more seems to be at work.

      • Avatar
        RichardFellows  May 14, 2020

        Thanks. I remain undecided.
        4. What is it that you find “complex” about the idea that “the writers of the synoptics have omitted mention of the beloved disciple precisely because he led a rival Christianity”? Dismissing something as “convenient” is more of a rhetorical trick than a logical argument.

        5. John 21:22-23 is normally understood to mean that Christians had believed that the beloved disciple would not die. This makes perfect sense if the beloved disciple was Lazarus: If Lazarus was thought to have been raised from the dead, people might wonder whether he would die again (see Witherington). How is this text explained on your hypothesis? It seems a strange text for an author to make up about a character that he has just invented.
        In the ancient world it was common for writers to refer to the same person (including themselves) by more than one name/designation in the same text. I counted 312 cases in Cicero alone. See my 2016 Tyndale Bulletin paper. Lazarus may have called himself “Lazarus” and then switched to “beloved disciple” to satisfy the convention of modest anonymity (on which see Baum) while showing his audience that he was delivering eyewitness testimony for the key events.

        • Hugo
          Hugo  May 14, 2020

          You’re fine! To clarify: I’m thinking Occam’s razor here. As I see it, there’s a simplicity in saying one gospel invented a figure (John) than that 3+ gospels—with very different backgrounds/extractions and viewpoints—all consciously worked to exclude a figure (gentile-oriented Mark; Jewish Christian Matthew; probably gentile Luke; but also texts like Thomas). If the beloved disciple was a real person—arguably Jesus’ closest disciple and one of the most prominent (13:23)—can we really imagine he would have left no trace in so many other texts, and that so many authors were independently invested in suppressing his memory? The improbabilities start to stack up author by author, text by text, story by story.

          As for Lazarus…. I definitely think that the Lazarus identification has more to commend it than the view that John was the disciple. Regarding the detail that people though the disciple would die, you’re right that it could* fit Lazarus (at least in one interpretation of why the disciples ask this question). I’m also fine with the idea that the author could switch off from using “Lazarus” after a certain point. I respect that it works as a cumulative case. But I hope we don’t also lose sight that even then the identification isn’t completely obvious either (Lazarus is not the only one who is “loved”; Lazarus is never called a “disciple”). It wasn’t obvious to early Christians, none of whom made the connection.

          I will note, the idea that the disciple is Lazarus is the beloved disciple could* co-exist with my thesis since, as I’m sure you’re aware, the figure Lazarus has not been above suspicion in historical Jesus research (he’s never mentioned in any other gospels, where he should be—e.g., the teaching of Mary and Martha, the anointing of Jesus’ the feet; also, his resurrection—the climactic miracle of Jesus’ ministry in John—is never mentioned elsewhere). I’m not going to insist here that he is an invented figure, but it’s interesting that Lazarus is a problematic figure in ways that are actually evocative* of/similar to* the disciple (another argument for the cumulative pile I’m sure nobody wants!).

          Also, if it helps, I deal with John 21:22-23 in footnote 29 of my paper.

          • Avatar
            RichardFellows  May 15, 2020

            The synoptics may have failed to mention the beloved disciple and Lazarus because he was a “mere” youth. Lazarus’s young age would explain why Martha is oddly defined as Mary’s sister rather than as Lazarus’s sister in John 11:1. It was normal for women to be defined by their relationship to a prominent male relative. Some copyists had a problem with 11:1 and changed the pronoun from feminine to masculine. Also Lazarus is named after Martha and Mary in John 11:5 and name order was important.

            Adults are often reluctant to reveal their ignorance, and sometimes rely on the young to ask the questions they are embarrassed to ask (John 13:24-25). Children and youths need mothers more than adult men do (John 19:26-27). The beloved disciple shows youthful timidity at 20:5. Those who were children when they knew Jesus would have been the last surviving eyewitness of his life, and their accounts would indeed have had an audience.

            So I am wondering whether youthfulness further ties Lazarus and the beloved disciple together. In any case, perhaps youthfulness, rather than fictionality, explains why the synoptics do not mention them. We need not suppose that the beloved disciple was prominent.


  20. Avatar
    Riverking  May 14, 2020

    The identity of the author of John has deliberately been left a mystery. Arguably, Jesus loves all His disciples. It appears the eyewitness claims without revealing clear authorship of each claim is a concern. But, you also use the term fabrication vaguely. So, I’m not sure I understand your particular definition of a forger or a forgery.

    Clearly the author of John had a purpose for presenting the material in a creative manner. As most scholars and historians agree, this Gospel is not like the others. I think the difference in purpose not only explains the intent to leave the authorship vague, but also explains some of the (~40%?) added material.

    I appreciate your post. I understand why you don’t think we should try to reconstruct the external world of the Johannines from their narrative worlds and why you think an alternate history of these texts could be considered. But I do not see new support for your conclusion about the Gospel of John. Thank you Hugo.

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