Novak (novak) wrote,

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Personal/Theological Notebook: Late-Night Conversation, Prologue to John

The cool thing about having moved to the Ardmore is having Mike Harris as my building's live-in manager. Mike is one of my frequent classmates, being a Patristics scholar, so we've been in all of Michel Barnes' stuff together, and we're part of Barnes' movie posse. One cool aspect of Mike living in the building is when he's doing the evening rounds that he or his wife Donna have to do, if Donna's already gone to bed, Mike will swing by for a bit of late-night conversation. I miss that aspect of living in a dorm in college where you could leave your door open and people would just drop by your room. I think that that easy social contact is the best part of being an undergraduate. So tonight talk ranged all over the place from the place of comic books in the arts to the U.S. foreign policy of the last 25 years; from metanarratives in Christian historiography (the hot topic of the Directed Readings Mike and Dan are doing with Barnes this fall--so jealous!) to teaching in Religious Studies programs as opposed to Theology ones--all good fun, while drinking cold drinks and trying to wait out the heat of the last few days.

I've begun moving beyond the Ethics topic for my exams--the one on religious discourse in the public sphere--and am going to my second "hardest" ("hard" in this case meaning the one that I think I have the least background in) which is my Biblical question on the Prologue to the Gospel of John. Now, frankly, I think that the Prologue is the most radical thing ever written by a human being. Bar none. And the most important thing. And if you read it in Greek, it's even more electrifying, because if you know the "loadedness" of the words John is using, it's all the more radical. (I can remember reading it in my Greek class my 2nd Senior year of undergrad, and an agnostic philosopher who was taking the course reading the passage--after the end of the session, he was standing outside, trembling as he tried to smoke, whispering "Oh, Fuck! Oh, Fuck!" over and over to himself. When I ran into him again years later in his doctoral studies, he had become a Christian, so I guess I saw the start of that.) Now, although the terminology is in Greek, and is loaded with Hellenistic conceptual content, I've decided to go a different tack and study the Prologue in the light of Jewish mystical and apocalyptic influences behind the text. Now this is much more theoretical: when I try to figure what Jewish concepts, texts, or stories might have been "behind" the casting of John's language in a Greek mode, I can't offer direct, conclusive proof for anything. What I can do is to try to see what ideas or narratives might "line up" with what John is saying. For example, when John describes Jesus as being the Logos--the "Word"--of God, what Jewish concept, like "Name," might lie in the back of John's thinking? So I'm looking for harmonies and continuities, rather than making conclusive arguments.

It should be fun: a lot more has been written on the Greek stuff, and this is a fairly new area of research, so it's a bigger opportunity for me to work on this angle under the guidance of a scholar of Apocalyptic Literature like my friend André Orlov, who hatched up the idea with me. Today I picked up with a book I read and reviewed for André's seminar last fall, The Image of the Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology by Jarl Fossum, the essays in which I thought split pretty evenly: half were brilliant and half were loopy. Good fun. I hope that I can move faster with this than I did with the Ethics stuff: that was all new, and if I can't do better in these areas where I've actually done work, then things are going to get hair-raising for the exams.
Tags: apocalyptic literature, dqes, friends-marquette era, jewish mysticism, johannine literature, personal, prologue to john, theological notebook

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