January 24th, 2004


Theology Notebook: Prologue to John

I left Fr. Kurz's Johannine Tradition class on Wednesday consumed by excitement. It was great fun comparing notes with the other students as we concluded, but everyone said the same thing: it was one of the most exciting classes we'd ever attended. And we laughed because, although we all derive a lot of pleasure from what we do, "excitement" is not the usual word we use.

We spent the day–it's a once-a-week class–on the Prologue alone. John 1:1-18. I've long said, even in an earlier entry here, that these are the most radical words ever written by a human being. This day did not change my mind.

Lots that I hadn't noticed before. There's a structure to it that had eluded me. It is chiastic and can be broken down into a reasonably logical A-B-C-D-C'-B'-A' arrangement. And the themes! Nate Schmeidicke put together a useful comparison sheet showing similarities with Proverbs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach in their personification of Wisdom, while also acknowledging how far beyond them John develops this insight. Wisdom or the Word. The Logos. The rational principle underlying all of the universe–the logic of gravity, of photosynthesis, of the evaporation of morning dew and the collapse of stars into black holes, of music, of the ordered universe of Newton and the chaotic uncertainty of Heisenberg: this is what became human and dwelt among us.

I suppose that it was the structure that was most electrifying for me to discover in this week's reading and discussion. It set off all sorts of fireworks in my head to see how many themes were being introduced already in the Prologue that would come about later. I was making all sorts of connections to the area that I've started concentrating on for my research: John 7. As I outlined the material–caught up in the excitement after class, I went straight to the library and continued working–I began to see how the Prologue even hinted towards the dialogue in the Temple about who Jesus was. It also began to appear to me that chapters 7 and 8 of John made one, continuous dialogical unit. Once you take out the later insertion of the story of the woman caught in adultery (perhaps my favourite story about Jesus, but not part of the original text and not logically in that location) you see a constant building up of tension in Jesus coming to the Temple in Jerusalem, questions being asked about who he is, and then the building up of questions of whether he could be the Christ, and Jesus even tearing down the way they want to box him into their own conceptions of what that would be, and then finally the utterly audacious and staggering self-identification of Jesus with the Name of God: "I Am."

Oh, this is a good start to the semester!