Beloved Disciple

These pages will be devoted to a draft copy of my book on the disciple Jesus loved, the source of the Johannine tradition…


by Ken Durkin on Sunday, 16 January 2011 at 12:48

Christianity before the Gospels, mysterious and fascinating. After the brutal execution of Jesus, a rabbi from Nazareth, by the occupying power, the religious movement started by Jesus in Galilee continued. An early leader in Jerusalem was James, described as “the brother of the Lord”. It appears therefore that Jesus’s younger brother carried on the movement, typical of family involvement in Jewish religious and political movements. The group continued to worship at the Jerusalem Temple and would probably be prominent in local synagogues.

The movement must have acquired property owning and wealthy patrons to become securely established in Jerusalem.

The best source for Christianity before the Gospels is Paul’s surviving letters, but these letters do not tell us much about the situation in Jerusalem between the death of Jesus and Paul’s conversion. Paul refers to “three pillars” of the Church at Jerusalem – Cephas, James and John. There is some ambiguity about “James”. It is not necessarily James the son of Zebedee and brother of John. 

Paul refers to a Church Council in Jerusalem. The leaders are astonished at Paul’s insistence that male Gentiles can enter the religious movement without being circumcised; without therefore becoming Jewish first. Why then we must ask did Paul want to kill followers of this movement before his conversion? They observed the Law, they worshipped in the Temple – what was the problem?


by Ken Durkin on Sunday, 23 January 2011 at 17:02

For St Paul, the General Resurrection of the dead has already begun…

Paul is proud of the fact that he received his apostolic authority directly from the Risen Lord. He did not possess letters of apostolic authority from the leader of the Jerusalem church, James the brother of Jesus. Presumably the church in Jerusalem, established after the death of Jesus, the church’s first leader, saw itself as continuing the same type of ministry as that introduced by Jesus, a radical ethicism. It is uncertain as to what degree Jesus himself became the subject of the proclamation apart from the insistence that he was the Jewish Messiah. It is unlikely that there developed a high Christology in the Jerusalem church at this time – a Christology that would be immediately recognizable as a precursor to the Christological dogma of the later church. If that had been the case it is difficult to imagine how such a church could have survived under James’ leadership within the Jewish law for Jewish people. The same religious authorities that were involved in the execution of Jesus would surely not have allowed such a church to continue unmolested.

Paul writes of conflict and compromises with the church leadership at Jerusalem. He clears with them the gospel he is preaching, and agrees with them that he should continue his work proclaiming his gospel to Gentiles. Peter, Paul writes, had agreed with James to proclaim the gospel to those of the circumcision, that is, diaspora Jews.

We can learn quite a bit about the set up in Jerusalem from Paul’s references and inferences, and I will study this later. For now though I want to concentrate on the essence of Paul’s gospel proclamation. Paul is barely interested in the ministry of the historical Jesus. He believed that he was called by the Risen Lord to preach the Risen Lord, not preach about what the historical Jesus did during his short ministry before his brutal execution.

The essence of Paul’s gospel is this: Jesus, the rabbi from Nazareth, was executed by being nailed to a tree (cross). Jesus was then raised to life by God. In the context of Paul’s pharisaic apocalyptic conceptual framework this confirms for him that the general resurrection of the dead, perceived as an end-time event, has in fact already begun. For Paul, physical bodily death becomes merely a stage in a process that ends in the general resurrection. The general resurrection of the dead has already begun, seeded as it were, by the resurrection of Jesus. We are no longer defined by death when we cease to be a person. No, we are defined as creatures that will be raised to life.


by Ken Durkin on Monday, 31 January 2011 at 19:23

 “Woman, behold your son!” These words, according to the Gospel of John, were spoken by Jesus while he was nailed onto a wooden crossbeam and stake. The writer of these words also affirms the eyewitness testimony – “he who saw it has borne witness”. The writer knows that the person, the witness, who saw the crucifixion and heard Jesus speak these words gives a “true testimony”.

Jesus then said to a disciple, “Behold your mother”.

Who wrote these words? Who was the disciple who heard them?

The writer adds further puzzling information. After hearing the words of Jesus, the disciple took the Mother of Jesus to his own home.

More questions. Why did the Mother of Jesus move in with this disciple? Why would she need to if Jesus had younger brothers and sisters? Jesus first informs his mother that the disciple is her son. Is this because the disciple was young and needed a mother? Or was it that Jesus’s mother needed a son to look after her in her old age, perhaps because she had no family, no home even? How can we unravel this mystery?

Can we be sure these words were actually spoken? The confirmation of eyewitness testimony refers primarily to the fact that one of the soldiers plunged his sword into Jesus’s side because he was already dead and blood and water gushed out of the wound. The information about Jesus’s mother and disciple could have been added at a later stage in the transmission of the material.

What about other conflicting information about the family of Jesus? Take Mark 3:21 for example. The polite translation (RSV for example) reads: And when his friends heard it [that is, Jesus’s teaching], they went out to seize him, for they said, “He is beside himself”. Hoi par’ autou translated as “friends”? Not really. It means those of his household, that is, his family. “Seize”? That captures the force of this verse for kratesai means “arrest”, “take into custody”. Finally, “beside himself”. What does this mean? exeste – that is, out of his mind! The family of Jesus had come to take him away because they feared he had lost it, had gone mad!

To be continued…


by Ken Durkin on Wednesday, 02 February 2011 at 21:37

 “I shot a man in Reno,” sings Johnny Cash, “just to watch him die.” Some of the people present at a public execution are there just to watch someone die. The Rabbi Jesus was publicly executed. People stood around watching him die, some just curious, some gratifying their revenge, some doing a job, some in love with him to the end.


by Ken Durkin on Sunday, 13 February 2011 at 16:06

The storyteller who wrote about people watching Jesus die addresses the reader directly in chapter 19, verse 35 of the Gospel According to John. This is an ubelievably complicated section of the Gospel. It can only be unravelled by references to other parts of what we call the “Johannine Corpus” – Gospel, 3 Letters, and some would include Revelation.

At this point in the story we suddenly realise that the storyteller was not someone who watched Jesus die. So we are confused. Who was “John”? The storyteller or a person in the story?

I have spent more that 30 years thinking about this section, ever since this Gospel was one of my set texts as a London Divinity undergraduate. I don’t know what the degree is like nowadays but in those days you had to pass a three hour exam on the Greek text of the Gospel According to Mark before you were allowed to take any of the final papers. Let’s have a look at what was written.

The RSV translation captures some of the confusion of the Greek text:

“He who saw it has born witness – his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth – that you also may believe.”

Before tackling head on this verse, we ask what is “it” that was seen? Does “it” refer to the whole public exection story or just part of it?

The part that “it” seems to refer to primarily is where a soldier of the occupying Roman army notices that Jesus was already dead. Instead of following orders to smash the shins of Jesus so that he would be unable to support himself and therefore would die quickly through suffocation, he thrusts a spear into his side. The text then says “immediately (euthus) there came out blood and water”. This little word “euthus” tells me that the wound was straight into the heart of Jesus and that for the issue of blood and water to occur “immediately”, the wound was on the left side of Jesus. I have no knowledge of pathology but I’m sure that had the wound been on the right side of Jesus the issue of blood and water would not have been euthus. I draw attention to this because most depictions of the crucifixion have the wound on the right side of Jesus. Furthermore, most crucifixion scenes show the dead Jesus with his head hanging over his right side. In order to exert maximum compression on the heart so that when pierced the issue of blood and water was euthus, the head of Jesus would have sagged over his left side, over his heart.

It is the recording of this incident, the sheer volume of the issue of blood and water, that draws the storyteller out of the shadows. The storyteller has emerged because this detail of the story needs emphasising. It would appear that there have been problems in the past or even concurrent with the writing of the text.

Evidence that this has been a contentious issue in the past is found in the document “The First Letter of John”. In Chapter 5, verse 6 we read: “This is he who came by water and blood. Jesus Christ, not with water only but with water and the blood.” Some have been saying that Jesus did not “come with blood” in addition to “come with water”. The letterwriter is putting them straight – water AND blood! Leaving aside the meaning of this shorthand for the moment and what follows about “borne witness”, “testimony” and “belief”, let us concentrate on the need for the emphasis in this letter. It may shed a little light on John 19:35. 

What is at stake here is the continuation of the true belief in the church of the recipients of 1 John. In 2:19 the letterwriter acknowledges some problems, problems it would seem that have occasioned the letter to the church. John writes: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us, but they went out, that it might be plain that they are all not of us”.

The people who left obviously did not acknowledge the authority and testimony of the letterwriter. Perhaps these were the ones who would not acknowledge “the blood”? The writer does not appeal directly to the crucifixion and what happened there when the side of Jesus was pierced. Instead he appeals to the witness of “the Spirit, the water, and the blood.” Here is the truth he writes. He doesn’t have to say he was there, present, when this took place. Perhaps this is taken for granted. He does confirm in the very first verse by using the authoritative “we” that “we have heard… seen with our eyes and touched with our hands…” that he is an eyewitness of events, or as the writer puts it “concerning the word of life”. “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you”.

The fact that this testimony has been questioned in the church in the past seems to have provoked the storyteller who wrote John 19:35 to step from the shadows to make it clear once and for all, in case any doubt persists, that water and blood poured from the side of Jesus.

Without even attempting to delve into the meaning of these cryptic sayings, clear once to the first audience but now obscure, we can draw some preliminary conclusions. The letterwriter and the witness of the crucifixion referred to by the storyteller are one and the same person. The letterwriter had watched Jesus die.


by Ken Durkin on Saturday, 19 February 2011 at 22:19

The storyteller of the Gospel According to John knew someone who watched Jesus die at his public execution. In 19:35 the writer suspends the flow of the story and addresses the readers he (or she) has in mind. He provides some information to the reader about his source and the reliability of his source. This storyteller intrigues us. It seems as though he is copying from an existing manuscript and after 19:34 decides to make a personal appearance in the text.

19:35 indicates then that the storyteller knew the writer of the text he was using. This in turn leads us to suspect that more information about the writer of  the text he was using will have been added at various points in the story. How can we discover this?

Chapter 19 provides a record of the execution. Jesus carries his cross to Golgotha. Hopou auton estaurwsan – there they crucified him. While the reader imagines soldiers hammering nails through hands and feet and the condemned screaming in pain, the writer leaves the scene to present an earlier conversation between the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate and the religious leaders. In order to humiliate the Jewish people, Pilate has insisted against protests that the title King of the Jews, in three languages (to rub it in), will be fastened to the cross. By the time the reader gets back to the scene of the execution the four soldiers have finished their work. Jesus had some wealthy friends in Jerusalem and he must have worn expensive clothing because the solidiers had divided the garments stripped from him – that is except for the seamless cloak. The soldiers draw lots for this, and for the writer this is not outside the plan of the God of Israel because a text of Scipture is brought to mind.

The historical details selected from the execution are those that either continue a particular theme found in the Gospel, such as the identity of Jesus, or details that are understood as within the plan of the God of Israel in that they are conceived as fulfilling particular passages of Scripture. This seems to indicate that any information included about the eyewitness will probably be supplied by the storyteller who revealed himself in 19:35. This, therefore, includes the story about the Mother of Jesus and the Disciple whom Jesus loved. 

[ Draft notes to use later…

One of the witnesses who watched the Rabbi from Nazareth die at his public execution seems to have written an account that is recorded in the Fourth Gospel. The narrator of the Gospel has used this account, and we need to figure out exactly what the witness wrote. The narrator clearly speaks with his own voice in 19:35. There could be two voices here, but we’ll work with one for now. The narrator enters his own text to affirm eywitness testimony fo rhis source. This must have been because we are dealing with a current issue at the time of writing, or something that is powerful and still raw in the memory. It’s as though the matter of claiming that water and blood issued from the side of Jesus has been challenged in the past. We’ll have to come back to this. Right now I am concerned with discovering more about the underlying text.

The interest in the method of capital punishment and any focus on the suffering of the condemned man is pushed into the background. What is uppermost in the writer’s mind is the relationship between the condemned man and the religious and political context. First, attention focuses on the title “King of the Jews”. The identity of “Jews” is confusing. The writer is not consistent. Sometimes it appears to apply only to the religious leaders who collaborated with the occupying forces but on other occasions it appears more embracinng.

The narrator records that  when a a soldier discovered that Jesus was already dead, he stuck a sword into Jesus’s side to make sure he was dead. Because Jesus was already dead, the soldier couldn’t follow orders and extract  more suffering by breaking Jesus’s legs. When the spear entered Jesus’s dead body bodily fluids gushed out of the open wound. Then referring to the piercing of the body instead of breaking legs, the narrator cites the Hebrew (rather than Greek)Scripture, Psalm 34:20 and Zecharia 12:10 to show that these events are in accordance with the divine plan.

Before looking more closely at the reason for the narrator’s selection of material, there are other details presented as occurring according to the divine plan. The public humilation at a public execution is compounded in many ways. First there was the sarcasm of the title. For the reader however, this is irony because the reader understands that the narrator believes the statement “King of the Jews” to be a true statement. “The soldiers… took his garments


by Ken Durkin on Sunday, 20 February 2011 at 16:27

John 19:35 indcates that the storyteller knew the eyewitness of the execution of Jesus and we must suspect that the information about the mother of Jesus and “the disciple whom he loved” was added by the storyteller and is therefore further evidence of the storyteller’s personal knowledge, and that the eyewitness is also identified by the storyteller as the disciple whom Jesus loved. The written text underlying chapter 19 used by the storyteller, we must suppose, moved from one fulfilment of Scripture, dividing and casting lots for the clothing of Jesus, straight to a second fulfilment of Scripture, the drinking of sour wine (Psalm69:21).

We know when we are on the familiar territory of the text underlying the storyteller’s version because the text is either relating to a Johannine theme from the main body of the Gospel, or fulfilling a Scriptural text to indicate coherence with the divine plan, or teasing out the irony of a situation – that is, playing with deeper meanings for those who are familiar with the Johannine church.

The first words of Jesus on the cross in the underlying text are, in the Greek, one word – Dipsw – “I am thirsty”, or “I thirst”. Here is the irony. This is the second time in the Gospel Jesus has needed someone to give him a drink. On the first occasion Jesus, exhausted by travel, was sitting by a well when a woman arrived to draw water from it. “Dos moi pein – Let me have a drink! (4:7)” Jesus says to the woman. In the course of the ensuing conversation Jesus says to the woman: “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In control of the water of eternal life and yet pleading for someone to quench his thirst!


by Ken Durkin on Friday, 25 February 2011 at 10:30

The storyteller who surfaced in chapter 19 verse 35 of the Gospel of John had access, we think, to a written source, a document produced by an eyewitness of the execution of Jesus. However, this written source finished with the words: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book, but these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30,31). The storyteller seems anxious to preserve the words of his source even though this is clearly the end of a book, and he hasn’t finished his own story. Content is more important than style! He has more information on “signs in the presence of the disciples” and they are going to be added to the book!  


by Ken Durkin on Friday, 25 February 2011 at 10:32

” Everyone is free,” writes Pope Benedict XVI in the foreword to his book Jesus of Nazareth, “to contradict me.” Exercising my newfound freedom, let me say that I will have to contradict you Holy Father because I do not agree that the St John of the Fourth Gospel is John, the son of Zebedee. I know you do not commit yourself entirely to this identification, but you lean strongly in that direction. Like many in Christendom you would feel more comfortable if you could rely on centuries of tradition in this matter. But we have to deal with the facts, first of all, as they are presented in the Gospel, and we need to go straight to the point where the storyteller emerges from the shadows to plead with the reader. I am of course referring to chapter 19 verse 35 yet again! The storyteller tells the reader that she can rely on what the storyteller has just said because he knows the person who watched Jesus die and you can rest assured that his testimony is absolutely true. Trust me! Now would that have been necessary if the eywitness was John, the son of Zebedee? Paul knows this “John”. He calls him a “pillar” in his letter to the Galatians. That’s the earliest written evidence of this “John” in the tradition. Then there’s the Second Gospel, and this “John”, one of The Twelve, and one of the inner three together with Peter and James, the brother of John. These three are fishermen, among the first disciples to be called, they witness the raising of Jairus’s daughter, they see Jesus transfigured, they witness his agony before his arrest. They don’t, of course, appear to have witnessed the crucifixion. Some of the women disciples of Jesus did, but no record of any men there! Has any of this found its way into the Fourth Gospel? Transfiguration? Agony in Gethsemane? Jairus’s 12 year old daughter? No. Nothing. Not even a record of the institution of the eucharist. John the son of Zebedee looms large in the tradition. There would have been no need for special pleading about the veracity of the evidence. Besides, the John of the Fourth Gospel lived to a ripe old age. He used to be carried into church by the faithful and he would speak only a few frail words: “My children, LOVE one another.” But John the son of Zebedee was martyred early on. His martyrdom is announced as a prediction on the lips of Jesus in the Second Gospel, and that would not have been published if he had still been alive. Holy Father, I will reflect a little more on this. I have much more to say…


by Ken Durkin on Wednesday, 02 March 2011 at 18:57

“I was certain,” wrote Mr President Bush in Decision Points, “that I had just watched more Americans die than any president in history.” The fascination of watching people die! (BookNotes04) Mr President Bush had been watching intermittent transmission of the twin towers from Airforce One on his way back from visiting Emma E Booker Elementary School, Sarasota, Florida, 9/11. But Mr President Bush had been watching TV. He was watching pictures of people dying. The Fourth Gospel has preserved a report of someone who actually watched Jesus, the Rabbi from Nazareth, die. And while the catastrophic events of 9/11 are firmly etched for the rest of our lives in the minds of of those of us who watched the same pictures as Mr President at the same time, for many in the world the description of the Rabbi from Nazareth dying in the Fourth Gospel is the single most important event in the history of the world. And the importance of it is such that the storyteller, full of agitation and emotion, suspends his report to announce to his readers and the world that the witness’s story is the truth.   


by Ken Durkin on Sunday, 06 March 2011 at 17:20

Why was the Fourth Gospel written and published?  The Gospel was written and published because serious doubts about the integrity of the source of the tradition had arisen. The first hint of a problem is chapter 19 verse 35. Here the reader is surprised by the sudden appearance of the storyteller saying that the eyewitness report of the public exection of Jesus is trustworthy. Evidently, the trustworthiness of this testimony has been questioned. The written testimony that has been questioned ends with chapter 20 verse 31. Here the writer of the text used by the storyteller brings to an end the earlier version of the Gospel with the words that what he has written was written so that the readers of the earlier version would believe that Jesus, the Rabbi from Nazareth, is the Messiah and the Son of God. However, this earlier version and the authority behind it has been challenged. How do we know this?

We know this because the storyteller has added more information about the source of this tradition, the Beloved Disciple, and part of that information discloses that the Beloved Disciple has died and that there has been a misunderstanding about his status in the church. It was widely believed in the early church that the Messiah would return to the world in triumph, and it was widely believed in the Johannine church that this disciple would not die before the return of the Messiah. The Messiah had not returned. The Beloved Disciple was dead. The church that had been proud to be associated with an eyewitness of the public execution of the Rabbi from Nazareth was now discredited!

What could be the origins of this status for the Beloved Disciple, the widely held belief that this disciple would not die before the return of the Risen Lord?  

We can hardly expect the enigmatic words of Jesus to Peter in 21:22 [Jesus said to him (Peter), “If it is my will that he (the Beloved Disciple) remain (menein – remain or abide, that is, “live”) until I come, what is that to you?”]to be the basis of the belief that the disciple would not die before the Lord’s return. This is a private conversation between Jesus and Peter, so how could this be the source of a false story? It is not presented in such a way that the reader immediately concludes that this is the source of the story.

Chapter 21 reads like a dream. In summary, the storyteller is adding more information about the Beloved Disciple and his status. The Beloved Disciple is the first to recognise the Risen Lord after the miraculous catch of fish. We learn that the Disciple has died but his trustworthiness remains intact. We are told yet again that he was a writer and that his testimony is true. It is extremely important for the storyteller to reaffirm positively the status of the Beloved Disciple.


by Ken Durkin on Sunday, 06 March 2011 at 18:38

Chapter 21 of the Fourth Gospel. What is going on? After cooking breakfast for the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius, we read in verse 14 – “This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” Third? Chapter 20. Appearance number 1: Mary Magdalene stands weeping by the empty tomb. Jesus appears to her and engages her in conversation, and then he says “Mary”, and she knows, and says to him “Rabboni”. Jesus then commissions her to announce his resurrection to the others. Appearance number 2: That same evening Jesus stands among the disciples, commissions them to announce his resurrection, breathes on them to gift the Holy Spirit, and gives them power to forgive and retain sins. Appearance number 3: Eight days after appearance number two Jesus appears again and on this occasion Thomas is present. Jesus shows Thomas the wounds caused by his public execution.

Some commentaries suggest the first appearance doesn’t count because appearance number one was only to a woman! She was not a disciple. If I were a woman I would be outraged by these commentaries. If the appearance to Mary Magdalene had not counted as an appearance of the Risen Lord on the grounds that she was not a disciple (mathetes) then the storyteller would have omitted the story. But he chose to include it! It was an important story for the Johannine church. I mean come on! This was the first appearance of the Risen Lord – it is such a beautiful, beautiful story! The best answer I can come up with is that the clue lies in the numbering of the days in appearance 3 – eight days after the first two appearances. The first two appearances occurred on day one. So we are to understand triton ephanerwthe as the third day Jesus appeared to disciples, not the third time.


by Ken Durkin on Tuesday, 08 March 2011 at 10:01

Here’s a summary of BookNotes… An eyewitness of the public execution of  the Rabbi from Nazareth wrote an account based on his own experience and his knowledge of Sacred Scripture. He became the revered and central figure of a church, probably at Ephesus. There was a tradition in that church that this disciple would not die before the return of Jesus as the Messiah. He died and the Messiah had not returned. People began to challenge his authority and interpretation of events and Sacred Scripture. The writer of the Fourth Gospel, the “Storyteller”, attempted to rescue his reputation. He was, after all, the Beloved Disciple. The Storyteller added information about the Beloved Disciple throughout the text of the Gospel. 


by Ken Durkin on Tuesday, 08 March 2011 at 10:44

The earliest manuscripts of the Second Gospel (Mark) do not have an ending. All manuscripts of the Fourth Gospel, and early references to the Gospel, have two endings! It has been proposed from time to time in Johannine scholarship that the second ending – chapter 21 – is the lost ending of the Second Gospel. It is 32 years since London University first examined me on the Greek text of Mark, and 31 years since they examined me on the Greek text of John. Since then I have returned again and again to the study of these texts – it has been a lifelong fascination for me. I am more enthusiastic about this than Professor Brian Cox is about the universe! I am now firmly of the opinion that those scholars who link chapter 21 of the Fourth Gospel with the lost ending of the Second Gospel are correct. Much of the groundwork for my study of the Johannine Corpus was submitted to the University of Lancaster in 1984 and awarded a Masters with Distinction! How the lost ending of Mark surfaced in John 21 fits neatly into the thesis I submitted to Lancaster all those years ago. I didn’t sleep much last night. I was pouring over in my mind how the lost ending of Mark surfaced in John. I was plunged into the Neronic persecution of Christians at Rome and the helpless confusion of the Jewish Diaspora when war broke out for the liberation of Jerusalem… 


by Ken Durkin on Thursday, 10 March 2011 at 14:10

A naked young man running through the night garden! Courting couples in the shadows, watching him sprint by. 16 or17 April 29, Jerusalem (12 or13 Nisan). Gethsemane.

Jerusalem, the great Feast of Passover. Just short of 3 million people and pilgrims in the City. We know this because someone counted the carcasses of the sacrificial lambs and Josephus records the figure. Jerusalem was heaving, and the shadows of Gethsemane would be occupied.

Why has the storyteller of the Second Gospel (Mark) embellished his story with this mysterious detail about a streaker? The disciples fled in panic when Jesus was arrested. But a young man followed the soldiers. They tried to arrest him too, but he left his cloak in their hands and ran off naked. It has been suggested from time to time that this young man was a young Mark, the writer of the Gospel. We have no way of knowing who it was have we? Papias, an early church historian, is quite sure that Mark, the hermeneutes (interpreter?) of Peter, was not a disciple of Jesus. But I have thought about this for a long time and I now believe that the man who sprinted naked through the garden that night was John Mark, and I think that there is some intriguing circumstantial evidence for this identification… 


by Ken Durkin on Sunday, 27 March 2011 at 14:24

How come the lost ending of the Gospel according to Mark finished up as an appendix in the Gospel according to John? This question begs a number of further questions. Was there a lost ending to Mark? Is John 21 an appendix or an integral part of John? If Mark’s ending has been lost how do we know it has surfaced as John 21?

The earliest manuscripts of Mark appear to end at 16:8 when three of the women disciples who witnessed Jesus’s execution have discovered the empty tomb, understand that Jesus has been raised, understand that he will appear to his disciples in Galilee, and are too afraid to say anything to anybody. The manuscripts available to Matthew and Luke appear to end at this point. To rectify the omission, two alternative endings have been added to later manuscripts of the earliest Gospel, and these endings suggest familiarity with the other Gospels.

The assertion that Mark’s lost ending appears in John 21 suggests a link between the two Gospels. How do we account for this link?

Without considering theological and verbal similarities between the two Gospels another link between the two has suggested itself to me after re-reading Professor Richard Baukham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”.

Professor Baukham notes that some anonymous characters in Mark are given names in John, and only John: the woman who anoints Jesus is named as Mary, the sister of Martha and sister of Lazarus; the disciple who strikes the high priest’s servant with a sword at the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane is named as Simon Peter; and the high priest’s servant is named as Malchus. Then, under the heading “The Naked Youth”, Professor Baukham makes a few interesting observations. “The young man who fled naked is not even mentioned in the other Gospels.” The story “clearly bears some relationship to the fact that all the others who were with Jesus ‘deserted him and fled’ (14:50) and probably means that this young man was initially an exception to this general dispersion of the disciples… In modern times the idea that the young man was John Mark himself, understood to be the author of the Gospel, has proved very appealing.” Professor Baukham, having first raised our interest in this identification as a possibility he might consider, then concludes that “it seems quite redundant to suppose that he is John Mark’s anonymous presentation of himself.” And then, carrying more weight than it deserves, “Papias… claims that Mark neither heard nor was a disciple of Jesus.”

Let’s reconsider this. First, not all the male disciples fled permanently because at the public execution of Jesus, the Gospel according to John records that the “disciple Jesus loved” was present. Although the man who fled naked is not mentioned in the other Gospels as the man who fled naked, a man who was still there at the execution is mentioned. Could this be, in fact, the same man who had called home for another set of clothes?


by Ken Durkin on Monday, 28 March 2011 at 19:00

The mystery of the Beloved Disciple! Is there a more fascinating mystery in life? I don’t think so! Who WAS the disciple who lay on the breast of Jesus at that final and fateful meal? There are scholars who have named this disciple as John Mark, and I’m with them. But the next question is – Well what about the Second Gospel, the Gospel according to Mark?

Only now, after all these years, do I feel that I’m getting close to an answer. 27 years ago I analysed Mark chapter 13 and found Johannine influences there. I concluded that John Mark had visited the Christians of Rome around the time of the sacking of Jerusalem (CE70) to warn them of people who were spreading a false Gospel, people he had warned about in the document known as the First Letter of John. But now…


BookNotes18 (Mother’s Day in England April 3, 2011)

by Ken Durkin on Sunday, 03 April 2011 at 12:51

Acts of the Apostles chapter 12 is a fascinating chapter because of its faint echo of history about a Mother called Mary. Luke is not a historian because historians do not report conversations with angels. The fascination of Acts 12 is not the Apostle Peter’s conversation with an angel. The fascinating detail in Acts 12 is the way John is introduced into the story in verse 12. The Jerusalem Bible translation completely misses the point. The Greek reads: Iwannou tou epikaloumenou Markou, and the Jerusalem Bible translates this lot as “John Mark”. Luke is however making the point that this John is probably familiar to his Gentile audience with his Roman citizen’s name, Mark. Luke is saying this is John, the one you know as Mark, (and certainly not the one you may recognise as John the son of Zebedee). Although epikalew (w = omega) can be used as a technical term for “surname”, in this context Luke is drawing special attention to John’s familiar identity as Mark. epikalew is used again in verse 35.

In Luke’s source this John is always known as John. Certainly that’s the impression we get when we read the other references in Acts. In 13:5, When they [Barnabas and Saul] arrived at Salamis they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. In Acts 13:13, Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem. And finally, in 15:36-40, And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the work of the Lord, and see how they are.” And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed…

Back to Chapter 12, this John has a mother called “Mary”! They lived in a large house in Jerusalem, a house with a courtyard and a maid. Here we have then a close association of Peter with John, and John with Mary, his “mother”. It would be later, when this John wrote his own Gospel (rather than the Second Gospel, the memoirs of Peter) that he would report how he, as the Beloved Disciple, was told by Jesus from the cross that the mother of Jesus would henceforth become his own mother. 


by Ken Durkin on Wednesday, 06 April 2011 at 18:23

“Do you love me more than these?” This is a strange question. It’s Jesus to Peter. “These – toutwn” could refer to things or people. Breakfast on the shore of Lake Galilee. Jesus has cooked a meal of fish for his disciples They had been out fishing all night. Possible meanings are listed in the commentaries. Did Jesus mean does Peter love Jesus more than he loves his fishing tackle and therefore his everyday working life? Seems highly unlikely given the context. Or does Jesus mean does Peter love Jesus more than Peter loves his colleagues on the fishing trip? Again, highly unlikely. There is really only one possible meaning – Does Peter love Jesus more than his fishing colleagues love Jesus? That seems the most obvious meaning, but it still seems a strange thing to be asking. Perhaps it’s not so strange when we consider the context in more detail. Not only are we on the shore of Lake Galilee early in the morning, we are also in the presence of the Risen Lord. We are experiencing a story of a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples in Galilee. The passage that springs to mind that seems to relate to this question is found in the Second Gospel, Mark chapter 14. 

In Mk14:27 after Jesus’s final meal with his disciples he makes a prediciton that they will “all lose faith” (Jerusalem Bible) or “fall away” (RSV). The meaning of skandalisthesesthe is that the disciples will fall short of what is required of them. Peter speaks out: “Even though they all fall away, I will not!” So when Jesus, after his resurrection, says to Peter “Do you love me more than these?” he is reminding Peter of his promise that even if the others would show a lack of love, Peter would not.

There are more references to this section of Mark’s Gospel.Jesus predicts his death: “It is written, ‘I will strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered’.” So Jesus, on hearing Peter’s confession of love, says “Feed my lambs”. In Mark14:30 Jesus predicts Peter will deny knowing him three times before morning. In reponse to this threefold denial we have the threefold questioning and confessions of love followed by commands to feed my lambs, feed my sheep, feed my lambs. The Shepherd has been struck, the sheep have been scattered, but now a new Shepherd has been appointed to sustain the sheep once more, one who loves Jesus more than the other disciples!

Back to Mark14:28. Jesus predicts that after his death he will be raised to life and he will go ahead of his disciples to Galilee. And here he is, in Galilee with his disciples, as predicted and promised.

Astute readers will have recognised that this resurrection story belongs to the Fourth Gospel, not the Second Gospel. The story was published in John Chapter 21. What is the ending of Mark’s Gospel doing at the end of John? How and why did it get in the wrong place? 


by Ken Durkin on Wednesday, 06 April 2011 at 22:54

In John 13:23-25 at Jesus’s final meal with his disciples, the Beloved Disciple is not only in the seat of honour next to Jesus, he is also portrayed as reclining on the breast of Jesus. In English, the older translations are more faithful to the original sense as expressed in the Greek language. In verse 23 the disciple is described as en anakeimenos, that is “reclining”. In classical Greek the word was used in connection with laying down a votive offering at an altar, and came to be associated with being dedicated. In the Fourth Gospel and elsewhere in the New Testament, the word is a technical term for a position adopted for eating. In 6:11 the crowd waiting to be fed by Jesus were “reclining” on the ground, and in 12:2 Lazarus was one of those “reclining” at supper with Jesus. Here then in 13:23 it means no more than reclining at table. But the writer then describes the disciple’s position as en to kolpw tou Iesou, “in the bosom of Jesus”. This could be interpreted figuratively as being “close” or “close by” except for the fact that the writer has already used this expression for describing the intimacy between the Son and the Father in 1:18. So the writer understands the position of the disciple as being one of visible intimacy with Jesus. He is not just close to Jesus, or next to Jesus, he is reclining on the breast of Jesus. And if there were any doubts about the intimacy of this position and hence relationship, the writer makes this clear in two more ways. First, having described the disciple’s position, he clarifies that this position can be understood because we are dealing with the Beloved Disciple, on agapa o Isous. Second, the writer repeats the reference to this intimate closeness of the Beloved Disciple by using another tender expression. The disciple, reclining on the bosom (kolpw) of Jesus, lets his head fall back (anapeson) on the breast (stethos) of Jesus. Summing up, to emphasise the intimacy of the occasion then, there are a number of features used here. There are two different words used to make it clear the disciple is on the breast of Jesus. One of the expressions has been used earlier in the Gospel to express divine intimacy. The disciple then holds his head back and we have a tender image of the disciple staring right into the face of Jesus. And this is the occasion when the disciple is introduced as the Beloved Disciple. In the original language nothing could be clearer than the tender and intense physical relationship that exists between Jesus and this disciple. This is the Beloved Disciple, as close to Jesus as the Son is to the Father.

It is interesting to note how various biblical translations have handled this tender moment of physical intimacy in the gospel story. The Douay (1609) and the Authorized (1611) versions are sensitive to the tenderness of the original:

Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him: Who is it of whom he speaketh? He therefore, leaning on the breast of Jesus, saith to him, “Lord…

Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, “Lord…

Moffatt’s translation is interesting. He conveys tenderness, but instead of the title of the disciple, this information is added like an editor’s explanation for the intimacy. In the present writer’s view, this information was added by an editor, but as a title:

As one of his disciples was reclining on his breast – he was the favourite of Jesus – Peter nodded to him saying, “Tell us who he means.” The disciple just leant back on the breast of Jesus and said, “Lord…

It is too much for the Revised Standard Version, and the intimacy of the occasion is lost:

One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was laying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.” So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord…

The New English Bible seems self-conscious and anxious to remove any offence close physical contact with another man might cause:

One of them, the disciple he loved, was reclining close beside Jesus. So Simon Peter nodded to him and said, “Ask who it is he means.” That disciple, as he reclined, leaned back close to Jesus and asked, “Lord…

The Jerusalem Bible is tentative. It removes physical contact in the first part, but cannot see how it can be avoided when translating the second part:

The disciple Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus. Simon Peter signed to him and said, Ask who it is he means, so leaning back on Jesus’ breast he said, “Who is it Lord…

And the Good News Bible has the opinion that such close physical contact of Jesus with another man should be censored:

One of the disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was sitting next to Jesus. Simon Peter motioned to him and said, “Ask him who he is talking about.” So that disciple moved closer to Jesus side and asked, “Who is it Lord…


by Ken Durkin on Friday, 08 April 2011 at 11:38

How did the lost ending of the Gospel According to Mark find its way into chapter 21 of the Gospel According to John?  The answer to this question lies with John who, according to St Luke, was also known as Mark. The biblical scholar John Charlesworth has drawn up a list of scholars who maintain that the Beloved Disciple is this John, also known as Mark (The Beloved Disciple, 1995). Here is Charlesworth’s list: Daniel Volter, Julius Wellhausen, Johannes Weiss, Pierson Parker, Lewis Johnson, John Marsh, and Wolfgang Eckle. There is one notable absence from this list. Me. My thesis, submitted to the University of Lancaster in 1984 and retained in the University Library, makes a strong case for identifying the Beloved Disciple as the John of Acts of the Apostles, also know as Mark. He was the Beloved Disciple. He was the author of the three canonical letters ascribed to “John”. He lived in Ephesus into old age. He wrote much of the Gospel According to John. He was at one time a fellow apostle with Paul and Barnabas, Peter describes him as “my son”, his home was in Jerusalem, quite a large house, his ‘mother’ was called Mary, he moved in priestly circles, his cousin Barnabas was a Cypriot Levite, he has links with Rome and Alexandria as well as Jerusalem and Ephesus, he was quite young when he met Jesus, early teens perhaps, he was possibly a follower of John the Baptist before he met Jesus, his home could have been the venue for the Last Supper and there, he reclined on the breast of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel that bears his name.  

In my Lancaster thesis however I had not considered that Mark’s lost ending can be found in John. I owe my decision to rethink this possibility to a book I came across recently, Evan Powell’s 1995 publication, The Unfinished Gospel.

John Charlesworth did not find my thesis, and even if he had I doubt he would have been deflected from his own identification of Thomas as the Beloved Disciple. On p195f Charlesworth writes: “Goguel (Le Quatrieme Evangile p346) argued that if John Mark is the Beloved Disciple of the Gospel of John, it is difficult to comprehend the ancient tradition that Mark is the author of “the Gospel According to Mark,” which is so different from the Gospel of John. Advocates of John Mark as the Beloved Disciple were aware of this criticism; usually they deny that the Gospel of Mark was composed by John Mark. Actually, there is in my judgement, no compelling reason to suggest that John Mark wrote anything, either within or without the New Testament.”

We need to attend to this problem. John Mark and the Second Gospel – I shall revisit this…

BookNotes22: Why? When? Where?

by Ken Durkin on Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 19:11

Why is the ending of the Gospel According to Mark missing? When was the ending removed?  Where did it go? The source of the problem seems to have something to do in the early tradition with the location of resurrection appearances and the personnel involved in meeting with the Risen Lord – a competition bewtween Jerusalem and Galilee for the location, and between the women and the men for the first encounter with the Risen Lord. The original ending would have had a resurrection appearance in Galilee. This ending, I have suggested in an earlier BookNotes, can be found in the Gospel According to John, chapter 21. The original text, which, after the death of John Mark, has been rewritten by the final editor of the Fourth Gospel, gives due prominence to Galilee and Peter, and presupposes the absence of any appearances in Jersualem. If the writer of the Gospel According to Mark was John Mark, conveying the preaching and teaching of Peter as suggested in the tradition, then he must not have approved this ending given to him by Peter partly because he had access to conflicting information – his own eyewitness testimony. After the execution of Peter in Rome around AD 64, and possibly after the start of the Jewish war, John Mark must have published the Gospel According to Mark without the resurrection appearance in Galilee. Perhaps he left Rome in a hurry and travelled to Alexandria. The Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, records that John Mark came to town after his sojourn in Rome. He came with writings that he had not published. Clement’s descriptions sound as though he is referring to what would later become Johannine material. The description of how Mark came to write his Gospel bears some similarity with the description in the Muratorian Canon of how John came to write his Gospel. Both had to be persuaded by colleagues – implying knowledge and modesty. Well, we are arguing that they are one and the same person – John Mark. This does help to explain how the lost ending found its way to the Gospel According to John. It was added after the death of John Mark from unpublished material avaialbe to the editor of the Gospel in Ephesus. More later…

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