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Did Some *One* Forge the Writings of “John”? Guest Post by Hugo Mendez

Here my colleague Hugo Mendez wraps up his discussion of the writings of “John” — the Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John — and he does so with a BANG.  I hope you can see both the quality and significance of these conclusions.  This is very serious and persuasive scholarship put at a level that even non-scholars can understand, with huge implications for understanding four of the important writings of the New Testament but also for rethinking questions of authorship of the early Christian writings and the history of our earliest Christian communities.  It’s easy for scholars to see these implications (mainly because the conclusions he reaches are contrary to what most critical scholars actually teach their students all the time), which is why Hugo has stirred up a bit of a hornets’ nest.  I hope it’s possible for you to both appreciate and enjoy the argument as well.

There is only one point on which he and I probably disagree, and it has to do with the authorship of the Gospel of John: Is it a forgery by someone intentionally trying to make his readers think he is someone other than he is?  He thinks yes, I think no.  Hugo and I may have a back-and-forth on the question on the blog, just for the heck of it, so you can see the young guy take the old fellow down…..  🙂

 

Please Note: I’ve made this post available to the public.  Most posts are available only to blog members.  But it can’t be easier to join: we have free memberships for a while longer, during our crisis, and anyone who would like a more permanent membership only needs to pay a small fee.  Every last drachma of it goes to charities to help the needy.  So in either event, join!

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The Authors of the Johannine Forgeries

Most scholars believe the authors of John, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John were all members of a single network of ancient churches: the “Johannine Community.” They imagine that these authors probably knew one another and even collaborated on literary works.

In a recent article, however, I argue that the Gospel and Epistles of John may be a series of literary forgeries. If this is true, this changes how we think of the Johannine authors and their relationship with one another. Forgery was typically an individual, secretive enterprise in the ancient world—one in which writers took pains to conceal their identity and activities from others. In this case, it’s likely the Johannine authors didn’t directly know one another except as they read (and imitated) one another’s literary works. They might also have lived in different contexts or settings.

So who were these authors? In the closing section of my paper, I offer a different vision of Johannine origins—one that I think makes better sense of the authors as forgers. In this post, I’d like to walk you through that alternative.

That alternative unfolds in two stages.

 

Stage 1: The Gospel

Sometime around the end of the first century CE, someone drafted (most of) the Gospel of John we know today. We don’t know much about this author, except that he was educated, probably male, and that he spoke Greek.

There’s good evidence this writer drew on a variety of materials at his disposal when constructing his gospel—perhaps oral traditions or a written source like the hypothetical “Signs Source.” Over the past decade, an increasing number of scholars have concluded that the author probably knew one or more Synoptic gospels as well (at least Mark, but possibly also Matthew and/or Luke). But our author was also creative, inventing large amounts of his material (dialogues, scenes, individual details, etc.).

The gospel he produced has various seams and gaps (aporias). These may reflect the difficulty the author faced reconciling his various sources, or they may indicate that he wrote his text over an extended period of time in several passes, writing, rewriting, editing, and reediting a draft until he forgot to tie up loose ends (“editorial fatigue”).

So why did this author write a gospel? As John 20:31 suggests, he wrote to persuade his readers that they can receive “eternal life” now—an experience he compares to a spiritual resurrection (e.g., 3.36; 5.24-25). The idea of a spiritual resurrection was a controversial one in early Christianity. It appears in two forgeries in Paul’s name (Col. 3.1-3; Eph. 2.1-7), but it’s condemned in other works (2 Tim. 2.17-18; possibly 1 Cor. 15.12). Our author hoped to advance the idea by placing it on the lips of Jesus—a technique later used by the authors of Thomas, Mary, and Judas.

We don’t know where this author lived, though his text contains some possible clues. For instance, he seems to know the geography of Jerusalem (5:2) and he’s also aware that some Christians were being expelled from synagogues (16:2). (Just because a “Johannine Christianity” didn’t exist doesn’t mean we can’t make educated guesses about the author’s actual social context from the same details.) It’s certainly safe to assume that our author was connected to a Christian house-church, but we have no way of knowing how typical his views were within that church. Perhaps his ideas were held only by a smaller circle within the church. Or perhaps these views were unique to him—shaped by his private reading or his contact with other educated elites. Given how controversial his views were, it’s entirely possible his views were the focus of debate in his social circles (near or far, friends or family, church, or other groups).

We can’t assume that this author first introduced his text to his local congregation. As it stands, ancient forgeries could surface in a variety of locations and ways. Our author could have sent his gospel under false pretenses to one or more individuals able to copy it in a distant city, perhaps claiming he found it in a library or was given it as a gift (see the case of Salvian and Timothei ad Ecclesiam). Or he could have deposited his text in a literary collection or library and waited for it to be discovered (this is probably how the false letters of Plato first emerged).

What does seem clear is that our author envisioned a primarily gentile audience for his work, at least at first. Why else would he feel a need to explain to his readers that “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans” (4:9)? And why else would he gloss “the Passover” as a “festival of the Jews” (6:4)? And yet, he probably assumed his text would circulate even beyond this audience, through secondary copying and sharing. Mark, a template for his project, was already in wide circulation, as were Matthew and Luke. To ensure his gospel would compete with these gospels—none of which claims to have been written by an eyewitness (see, e.g., Luke 1:1–3)—our author presented his text as the memoir of a disciple of Jesus.

The author’s strategy worked. Ancient readers bought the idea that the “disciple whom Jesus loved” was a real person, and the text became popular with a growing number of readers.

 

Stage 2: The Epistles

As it turns out, the text’s popularity had an unintended—if unsurprising—consequence. Once people began accepting the eyewitness disciple of John as a real if unknown person, he became a viable mask for other forgers. Again, literary forgery was rampant in this period. Writers wanting to advance their views often co-opted the identities of Jesus’ earliest followers and wrote letters in their names. And so, we find letters falsely written under Peter’s name (2 Peter, Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter), Thomas’ name (Gospel of Thomas), Paul’s name (e.g., 1 Timothy). It was only a matter of time before forgers turned their attention to the invented eyewitness of John.

Enter 1, 2, and 3 John.

Some scholars (including Bart) think these texts were written by the same author. I suspect there’s more than one author here, but it’s hard to tell since the texts are so short. What is clear is that the author(s) lived in communities that were hotly debating an important question—namely, whether Jesus had actually “come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2; 2 John 1:7). We know from other writers (e.g., Ignatius) that many Christian churches of the period were being torn apart by this issue. It seems the author(s) of 1, 2, and 3 John decided the best way to intervene was to falsify a letter by the eyewitness disciple of John settling the matter once and for all. Who better than an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, who “touched him with [his] hands,” to verify that he was indeed flesh? In these texts, that eyewitness warns his audience—supposedly, the churches he founded—to beware of anyone who claims that Jesus did not come in the flesh.

The subtle differences between these the Gospel and Epistles confirm they were written by different hands. They also suggest that these texts were written in different locations or settings. Nevertheless, by imitating the Gospel’s style and language as closely as possible, the texts convinced readers they were by the same author, at least eventually (as we saw, 2 and 3 John were a tougher sell, perhaps because they were written much later).

 

Not a “community”

So who were the Johannine authors? They were a chain of forgers, no more closely related than the various pens who composed Colossians, Ephesians, the Pastoral epistles, the letters of Paul and Seneca, 3 Corinthians, and the letter to the Laodiceans.

It doesn’t make sense to call them a “community,” “circle,” or “school”—language that suggests interpersonal relationships or the authorization to write. Since they concealed their identities, these authors probably never met, or never met as such.

So no, I don’t think a single, close-knit “Johannine Community” existed. But this doesn’t have to be the end of the “contextual method” in Johannine studies. It can be the beginning of a new, more productive use of the method…

…a search for the multiple Johannine authors and their elusive contexts (plural).

 

 

 


Did Judas Really Betray Jesus? Readers’ Mailbag
Problems with Thinking the “Letters of John” in the NT are Forgeries? Guest Post: Hugo Mendez

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Nichrob  May 19, 2020

    Thank you Bart for introducing us to Dr. Mendez….!! I want to thank you Dr. Mendez for taking the time to post on Bart’s blog and answering (my) our questions. Turn em upside down Hugo…!! Great paradigm shift….!!! Brilliant..!

  2. sschullery
    sschullery  May 19, 2020

    Dr. Mendez,
    Thanks for spending your time doing this for us. I hope your scholastic elders can find it in their hearts to give you well-earned credit in all three of the traditional professorial categories of merit–scholarship, teaching, and service.
    Steve Schullery,
    Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, Eastern Michigan University

  3. Avatar
    WhenBeliefDies  May 19, 2020

    Love it, well done 🙂

  4. Avatar
    melissaashort  May 19, 2020

    Hello Dr. Mendez,
    It’s been a pleasure to read these posts and your original article. I’m not entirely convinced by the idea that the similarities in the gospel and epistles can be boiled down purely to linguistic similarities due to imitation of style. It seems to me that there’s more that links these four texts than vocabulary–the christology, the themes, the focus on love, on the spirit, on truth, it all seems to be of a piece. Regardless of who actually wrote them and in what proximity they lived to one another, if they are all putting forward the same or very similar vision, then would that not still make it a school? Or are there in fact differences in the visions of each that I am missing by viewing it already through a particular lens? Thanks so much for your posts and your engagement here. I’ve really enjoyed it. Really hoping for that back-and-forth with Dr. Ehrman on your point of disagreement too!
    Best,
    Melissa

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 19, 2020

      I’m glad. Thank you so much! As for your points: you’re right that it’s a bit more than the mere imitation of language. Clearly, these later authors also embraced many of these ideas, and incorporated them into their own religious outlook. Subtle differences do appear between the Gospel and Epistles (see my second post), but these authors seem to have been quite receptive to the Gospel.

      Does that make them a “school?” That’s a good question. One of the difficulties when considering what term is appropriate is that we want to be careful that a given term doesn’t connote/suggest more than it should. I think when scholars have applied the term “school” to the Johannine authors, they have done so with images of a teacher with direct contact and extended access to his successor students/pupils/disciples. The analogies Culpepper used to illustrate his idea of the “Johannine school” included Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s lectures at the Lycaeum temple. I think that’s a more direct relationship than the evidence allows us to claim. I think the later authors of the Epistles more likely acquired the same outlook simply by reading the Gospel carefully, and incorporating it into their own religious worldview (especially if the text is pseudepigraphic and the Gospel writer remained hidden/unknown). John shapes the worldview of modern Christians in the same indirect (=textual) way.

      So “school” might work in certain looser senses, but it might also conjure the wrong/overdetermined images.

      • Avatar
        KingJohn  May 20, 2020

        Dr. Mendez, didn’t Raymond Brown also suggest that there may have been more than one author to compose the Book of John?

        • Hugo
          Hugo  May 20, 2020

          Yes. He envisioned a second edition of the Gospel completed by the same author as the Epistles.

  5. Avatar
    AlbertHodges  May 19, 2020

    Thank you for your hard work and for sharing it with us.

    I find your knowledge of the texts superior but your hypothesis about the texts being forgeries seriously lacking.

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 19, 2020

      Thanks! I’m developing this into a book project, and I’m always curious what things need further fleshing out. If you have particular suggestions or perceive particular flaws, feel free to leave them here. (I don’t have to respond to the points if you prefer to just leave them… it’s great to think with!).

  6. Avatar
    alexrankin@cesicgs.com  May 19, 2020

    Bart,
    Dr. Mendez feels 1,2,&3 John were written to speak support Jesus’ bodily resurrection. You have written earlier that Paul was expecting a bodily resurrection and that probably what sold him on Jesus was visiting James and being convinced by the disciples that Jesus was bodily resurrected. Any thoughts on what could have led the disciples to believe Jesus was bodily resurrected? It doesn’t seem like something that would have occurred based on dreams or visions.
    Thanks.
    Alex Rankin

    • Bart
      Bart  May 20, 2020

      I”m confident that it precisely *was* a vision or more. They thought they saw him. That meant his body was alive again. That was consistent with their view that for life to return, it had to return in the body. And with their view that the resurrectino of all the dead was soon to happen. I lay out the logic and evidence that it was based on visions in my book How Jesus Became God.

  7. Avatar
    AstaKask  May 19, 2020

    What about the Revelation of John?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 19, 2020

      Great question. Despite the fact that ancient Christians eventually identified the Gospel and Epistles as the work of the same author as Revelation, critical scholars almost universally dismiss a connection between them. Revelation lacks most of the language and ideas distinctive to the Gospel and Epistles (“abide” language, to be “of the world” to “do the truth,” “conquer the world,” “Spirit of Truth,” “joy fulfilled,” “Paraclete/Comforter,” etc.).

      So why were the two identified? Revelation says it was written by someone named “John” (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8), and early Christians mistakenly identified the beloved disciple with John, the Son of Zebedee. From then on, they attributed all these writings to the same author.

  8. Avatar
    brenmcg  May 19, 2020

    How do you see chapter 21 of John? Written by the same author as 1-20 or someone else?

    And whats the idea of saying there was a rumor the Beloved Disciple would never die?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 19, 2020

      Biblical scholars are increasingly split on this question, but I, like Bart, tend to think that ch. 21 is a later appendix. The fact is, 20:30–31 looks like a convincing ending. In fact, here’s how convincing it is as an ending: the gospel we have today has a nearly identical ending(!), clearly patterned after it (21:24–25). I think the text originally ended at the end of ch. 20. Also, it’s worth noting that the style of21:1 feels* a bit different from the style of transitions in previous chapters (“Jesus showed himself… and he showed himself in this way”), and the line feels out-of-place after the author just implied he had no more “signs” to relate (20:30).

      As for why the disciple would never die… that’s a complex issue in general. One reason I haven’t gone into this is that I’m working on a separate piece treating this verse for entirely different reasons. Clearly, the author wants to indicate that the disciple character was not extraordinarily immune from physical death (the false claim is that “this disciple would not die”). In this case, it’s interesting that the language here answers to other parts of the text. In earlier chapters, Jesus claims that those who believe “will never die” (3:16, 8:51; 11:26) and the crowds misunderstand his words as if they imply immunity from physical death (8:52–53, possibly 11:21, 37). Is the author of ch. 21 trying to correct or clarify this point again or more concretely—guiding the reader away from a misinterpretation of Jesus’ sayings? Another author (cited in my paper under no. 29) has speculated that the allusion may actually be to Mark 9:1 since the linguistic similarities may even be closer: “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come” (cf. the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die…. yet Jesus said, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’). He suggests that the author is trying to clarify a different kind of misunderstanding… a misunderstanding of Mark.

      I think there’s plenty of room for debate. By the way, this is a debate that’s worth having even if you believe the disciple is historical. You still have to explain why the author cares to include this detail at all. (Why was it worth relating? Why was it important to his audience? One of the solutions above may hold the answer.)

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  May 19, 2020

        Yes it’s a strange detail but I think it suggests that the rumor that the disciple will never die was in fact a real rumor about a real person.

        Also thanks overall for the series and responses, very interesting.

  9. Avatar
    piyaren  May 19, 2020

    I’d like to add my thanks for your writing. I also have a question that may or may not be so obvious that none of the other commenters have seen fit to bother with it.
    Considering that these writings of “John” are attributed to a “Beloved Disciple” it strikes me as curious that etymologically, “John” comes from something like “favored by YHWH”. Do you think this is worth commenting on or that it’s more likely just a completely random, phantom, coincidental “connection”?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 19, 2020

      Thanks! I don’t think that’s a meaningful part of the first-century puzzle. I think it’s more the “random, phantom, or coincidental” since the attribution to “John” was imposed on the text only later and from an incorrect inference. But(!) in telling the story of the text’s afterlife, so to speak, it would be interesting if that was ever something ancient, medieval, or modern commentators made note of. No idea!

  10. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 19, 2020

    Dr. Mendez: The more historical Biblical criticism I have learned over decades of study, the less sense Christianity makes to me. What is legend and what is historical? This has been very difficult for me because I was raised on Christianity. So, here is my big question, maybe the biggest question of them all: Knowing all that you obviously know about historical Biblical criticism, how have you remained a Christian and found acceptance for your views In a Christian community? In other words, how would you summarize, maybe in a post or two, the case for God and the case for Christianity? Thanks so much.
    P.S. I, of course, realize that this is quite a question, but I ask it because of my age. I am running out of time to get this figured out, .

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 19, 2020

      Thanks Ronald… Questions of faith are very complex, very personal, and I doubt I will ever secure my own “answer” to these questions in my life… I have more to learn from you or Bart than to share. But I’ll honor your very heartfelt question with my own feelings, as personal and tentative as they might be. Since you were raised as a Christian, I’ll also encounter your question as a Christian.

      The tensions you describe—between believer and critic/skeptic—are real.. I try to find authenticity, balance, and peace within those tensions… I’m a Christian—a Catholic—because my faith is the most beautiful and moving constant in my life. I can’t imagine my life without it… it’s my architecture. But I have no certainties about it and claim none… I try to practice a humility in the face of all I can’t know. I try to practice the courage to ask the penetrating/difficult question every day. Above all, I try to have a deep, deep respect for the fact that others will reach different conclusions than I will, and that I have something to learn from them—that it’s worth listening to others. I’d like to think that I can close my eyes at the twilight of my life and whisper the simple words, “Lord, have mercy,” and (to use the Catholic expression) “offer up” all of these tensions.

      This isn’t a solution; it’s simply my very human response to a very human set of questions. We all live in this state.

      • Avatar
        turbopro  May 19, 2020

        I admire and appreciate your candour and honesty; nonetheless, I beg:

        “We all live in this state.”

        All of us?

        • Hugo
          Hugo  May 20, 2020

          To clarify, I meant that we’re all humans responding in individual human ways. But yes, some responses are… healthier.. and more honest… than others….

          • Avatar
            MichaelM  May 20, 2020

            In other words, you are saying “We are all Jock Tamson’s bairns”, right?

          • Hugo
            Hugo  May 20, 2020

            After a Google search… yes, haha.

      • Avatar
        jscheller  May 20, 2020

        Hello Hugo and Ronald,

        I hope you don’t mind me interjecting my 2 cents worth in here, since it is a topic very near and dear to my heart as well, and, in understanding your delimma, Ronald, as I have wrestled myself and dealt with the question from many parishioners, I always long to help support those who want to believe, but feel the evidence against belief to be overwhelming.
        I am a pastor of two UMC churches in Texas. I would say that a strong focus in my ministry is to encourage believers to be open to deeper understandings of scripture based on scholastic work available to us now. I definitely want to free believers from the misconception that God the Bible is the fourth person in the Godhead.
        I remain a believer for two reasons:

        1) The resurrection experience of the earliest disciples and then of Paul. Considering that this has been historically established and that its unfolding effects were counter productive for its proponents, I find that powerful.

        2) The best alternative. When Christianity is stripped of human-made control mechanisms, for me it boils down to faith, hope, and love. It doesn’t deal comprehensively with suffering, but what does?

        • Avatar
          RICHWEN90  May 21, 2020

          I hope you don’t mind this interjection from an ex-Catholic: for various reasons I’ve reduced it all to hope and love; faith, after Jonestown and Waco and some other instances, appears very dangerous and very toxic, at least potentially.

      • Avatar
        veritas  May 20, 2020

        Hello Hugo, after reading your response to a personal belief question you were proposed, I must say I felt a sincere tone in your words and a vigor of a young man that is sticking to his guns (upbringing) for now. A few bloggers have acknowledged your humble beginnings and pursuit of an intense scholarly degree. Reading what Bart has said of such endeavours is excruciatingly difficult for me, so I admire your pursuit. Now In my latter years, born into a Catholic home as well, I have learned more today than the past. My hope and wish for you is this. That you can sustain your faith in a forum of continuous discoveries, new revelation, and lots of opposition/controversy where *faith* is not a considering factor in History but only Theological. Dinesh D’Souza said it best when debating a non-believer. ” We both don’t know, but what bridges a believer between belief and knowledge is faith”. And Nietzsche concluded,” There are no facts only interpretations”. All the best young man!!!!!

        • Hugo
          Hugo  May 20, 2020

          I appreciate that. And I honestly will take that to heart. Thank you!

  11. Avatar
    fishician  May 19, 2020

    Fascinating info, thanks for the posts!

  12. Avatar
    Poohbear  May 19, 2020

    Ah yes, “teams of forgers.” I encounter them often on forums and blogs.
    Why do we flog the dead horse? We “know” Ireaneas and St. Justin were on that forgery team. We “know” Matthew didn’t write Matthew. We “know” the beloved physician didn’t write Acts and Luke. We “know” the Jesus narrative these men died for was just a myth. So why try to prove John is a forgery too?
    We can see how the entire Gospel story was based upon fables like David’s rejected and crucified king, and Isaiah’s virgin birth, miracles, death and resurrection fables. Only, of course, we “know” these are forgers too, and it’s just typos in any case. And Jacob, Job, Solomon, David, Moses, Daniel, Malachi, Elisha etc are all mythic figures, crafted by teams of forgers as well.

  13. Steven
    Steven  May 19, 2020

    I have quite enjoyed this thread – thank you for sharing.

  14. stevedemarco
    stevedemarco  May 19, 2020

    First thing I like to say is thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas on the New Testament. It’s great to get another perspective. Just like my other post I asked, when asking about the letters and John, I originally asked Dr. Ehrman this question in another blog he did on John that I like to ask you and know what you have to say. Is it possible that a man named John wrote the “Gospel of John” and later assumed to be the apostle John? Just like in the book of “Revelation” it is written by a man named John of Patmos only to be assumed to be the apostle John. Most scholars today believe that the apostle John could not have written that book and that it is a mistaken identity. A different John wrote the book of “Revelation”. So my question to you is could it be possible that the same mistake happened here with the “Gospel of John”? That a man named John wrote it and later to be assumed to be the apostle.

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 20, 2020

      Actually, you’ll find some company in this suspicion. A book just came out arguing that an actual “John”—John the Elder—wrote the Gospel and was later confused with John the Son of Zebedee (Dean Furlong, “The Identity of John the Evangelist”).

      Now mind you… (and I’m sorry to disappoint) I don’t subscribe to this theory. I think there’s a much simpler explanation for why the book got called John, one Bart shares. The Gospel claims to have been written by the Beloved Disciple. This disciple is one of Jesus’ most intimate disciples, seated closer to Jesus than Peter himself (13:23–24). Of course, Matthew, Mark, and Luke inform us that Jesus had three inner disciples: Peter, James, and John. The Beloved Disciple could not have been Peter since Peter appears beside the disciple (13:23–24; 20:2–3). He also was unlikely to be James, who, according to Acts, was killed only a few years after Jesus was killed (Acts 12:1–2). That leaves John as the only disciple who could have written a gospel later in life. This inference succeeded (a) in the absence of a serious alternative and (b) because it was popularized by early writers.

      • stevedemarco
        stevedemarco  May 20, 2020

        In regards to the Beloved disciple, two scenarios come to mind on random, to who it could be.

        First Scenario: Andrew the brother of Peter. It has been written that Andrew had accompanied at times with Peter, James, and John. Andrew was younger than Peter so he could have lived up to the time of the Johannine community. The community maybe made the claim that this was his testimony.

        Second Scenario: It may have been Lazarus. It was written in “Signs” that said, “Master, the one you love is sick” Jn 11:3. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Could it be that it was Lazarus the one to wait for Jesus’s second coming as implied in John 21:22? Could it be that the Johannine community saw Lazarus as the Beloved disciple when they read Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in “Signs” and used him as a source to convey their message?

        Now I am not saying that these scenarios are true. But what I am saying is that there could be many candidates that could qualify to be the beloved disciple. Which brings me to this question why would the Johanine community make the beloved disciple anonymous?

        • Hugo
          Hugo  May 20, 2020

          Thanks Steve. You may have come to the series late, but I don’t believe the Johannine community existed, so it’s hard to answer your question as worded. More broadly, you might check out my posts last week to see why I suspect the disciple is invented. (In fact, I deal with the Lazarus possibility in one of the comments.)

          • stevedemarco
            stevedemarco  May 21, 2020

            I did read your previous post. Regardless, of the three letters of John that theorize the existence of the Johannine community, I still believe there was a community behind the Gospel of John. Maybe Johannine is not the right word to describe this community but there had to been a community or gathering of people behind this gospel. Just like I said with Luke-Acts it was too large of a book for one person or a few people it was meant for a gathering of people. Same I feel with John. When you read John 15: 18-21, it sounds as though this was a community and not just a community but a community going through a persecution.

  15. Avatar
    stephan  May 19, 2020

    What do you make of the Acts of Timothy which along with other related sources says that John forged gospels in the name of Matthew, Mark and Luke first and then wrote John after?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 20, 2020

      Thanks Stephan! My understanding is that Acts of Timothy says that John, while he lived in Ephesus, compiled Matthew, Mark, and Luke from a scattered body of notes because only he could put them in their proper order. Then he wrote his own gospel to complement them.

      I don’t think there’s any historical validity to the story. If you’re interested, there’s a good essay by Meira Kensky (“Ephesus, Loca Sancta: The Acts of Timothy and Religious Travel in Late Antiquity”) that argues that the Acts of Timothy was “written in the fifth century CE as part of an attempt… to revitalize” the waning fortunes of the city of Ephesus and encourage pilgrimage to the city. Essentially, the story may have been invented to rebrand Ephesus as “the birthplace of the Gospels” and get people into the gift shop, if you will.

  16. Avatar
    meltuck  May 20, 2020

    I have heard many people, from fundamentalists to agnostics, say that the writer of the fourth gospel claims to be “the beloved disciple.” Although I can only read this gospel in English translations, I don’t read John 21:24 that way. I read him saying that he got his information from that disciple. Perhaps he had read what that disciple had written. I don’t think he would have said “we know that his testimony is true” if he were writing about himself.

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 20, 2020

      Yes! This is a point Bart and I disagree on and will likely be debating in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

    • Robert
      Robert  May 20, 2020

      Hi, meltuck.

      John 21 is an epilogue, many believe added by a later writer. If that is the case, this later writer is claiming that this beloved disciple wrote at least a version of the events just recounted in Chapter 21. If that claim is not true, this later writer may be making this false claim to give this gospel greater authority in that it reports events as vouchsafed by an eyewitness and very close companion of Jesus.

      Some scholars (eg, Frans Neirynck) even go so far as to see the author of John 21 as the very same author of all of the preceding gospel. He would be writing Chapter 21 as part of an even greater deception and may even imply that this fictional eyewitness, now deceased, was responsible for all of the gospel.

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    rborges  May 21, 2020

    Dr. Mendez,

    Thank you for your very interesting and compelling theory. I am now convinced that it is very plausible that the Johannine letters are forgeries. Regarding the gospel, I have a question: you said that “our author envisioned a primarily gentile audience for his work, at least at first”. However, Dr. Ehrman has made a convincing argument in his NT textbook (which I believe is shared by many scholars) that one can identify a “Jewish” core of sorts in the gospel of John, which would later be massively edited and expanded, and would turn to a more pagan audience as the hypothetical community was kicked out of the synagogue. Regardless of the (non)existence of such a community, to me it seems that in some parts/chapters the text has more Aramaic and Jewish terms than others, which seems to imply that parts of the text had a more Jewish audience in mind. What’s your take on this?

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 22, 2020

      Great question and suggestion. I suspect the Aramaic glosses, like the very specific Jerusalem geographical details, suggest an author with a closer connection to Palestine. Was he personally a Palestinian Jew? Or did he have direct access to older Palestinian traditions? I’m not sure. But you might be right that including these glosses suggests he expected parts of his audiences knew the region well enough to know place names by their Aramaic titles.

      On the other hand, it’s possible that including these details served a different function—a means of bolstering the text’s (false) eyewitness claim. Paul Anderson has observed that “John has more archaeological, topographical, sensory-empirical, personal knowledge and first-hand information than all of the other gospels combined.” But David Litwa suggests that this overproduction and “vividness of the details and speeches” may have been meant to enhance the text’s eyewitness flavor, if you will. There’s a good analogy for this in 4th-5th c. traditions claiming the sudden, miraculous discovery of lost relics. One thing that characterizes many such stories are mentions that the bones were found beside X Aramaic inscription or in X appropriately Aramaic-named place to enhance the supposed authenticity of the bones.

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    rich-ilm  May 21, 2020

    What a fascinating thread! Thanks for sharing, Hugo!
    Dr. E (and Dr. Mendez if you’re game) – It wasn’t the main focus of the posts, but Hugo seems to be casting some serious question on the Criterion of Independent Attestation between ‘John’ and the Synoptics. Hugo – any other thoughts to add on this? Dr.E – do you agree, and if so, with what you’ve said about Paul saying so little about Jesus’ life, are we basically down to one primary document that was modified and expanded by multiple other authors?!

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    GeoffClifton  May 21, 2020

    Thank you Dr Mendez for a fascinating series of posts. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them and, although at the outset I didn’t think I’d be saying this, I’m 99.99% convinced by your persuasive arguments (sorry Professor Ehrman). There have certainly been modern examples of invented myths which have been embraced and extended by others, unconnected to the original inventor (e.g. the Angel of Mons and the Priory of Sion). Although I have a nagging doubt that maybe one or two of the ‘forgers’ were members of small ‘teams’, if not fully fledged ‘communities’, but it makes sense that such people would generally speaking have preferred to function as ‘lone wolves’. Thank you again and I look forward to reading your further publications on this subject.

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    adriantilley  May 24, 2020

    Hugo, Bart- What do you think of the idea that the writer of the Gospel of John intended to suggest Lazarus as its author? Lazarus who had temporarily been raised from the dead but who, the author assures us, may well die again before Christ’s return. Lazarus whom Jesus loved.

    • Hugo
      Hugo  May 25, 2020

      Thanks! One person brought this up in a comment on a previous post. Personally, I think it’s an unlikely reading since (a) Lazarus is never called a “disciple”; (b) Lazarus is not the only figure whom Jesus is said to “love” (cf. 11:5); (c) why isn’t the disciple simply called “Lazarus,” even once interchangeably after his first appearance? The fact that Lazarus rose from the dead is one way of understanding why the disciple would never die, but in context, the idea is presented more as a simple misunderstanding* of what Jesus’ rebuke to Peter (21:23). Hope that helps!

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        RichardFellows  May 27, 2020

        Hugo, Jesus in John explicitly loves only one male disciple (Lazarus), and the beloved disciple is clearly male. Your three objections to the Lazarus theory assume that the writer would have wanted to make the identification Lazarus=beloved disciple clear, but read Baum Nov.Test. (2018). He argues that the gospel writers chose anonymity for the same reason that they used first person reference sparingly: they wanted to avoid distracting from the subject matter of their texts. Other ancient writers frequently referred to themselves at the “narrator level”. So if John and Luke, for examples, tried to avoid first person reference at the narrator level, we should fully expect them to try to avoid first person reference at the “event level” (to use Campbell’s terms (JBL 2010)). That is to say, we should expect them to avoid making it obvious that they are in the story. Luke does this by preferring the first person plural, which is less egotistical than the first person singular. John’s gospel avoids the perpendicular pronoun by using the device “beloved disciple”. If the author had said “I am Lazarus and the beloved disciple” he would have failed to satisfy the convention of modest anonymity.

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