Who Wrote the Gospel of John?

November 21, 2014

Recently, I have been studying The Gospel of John using a two volume translation with extensive commentary by Raymond Brown – part of The Anchor Yale Bible. I see John as a man who had a profound relationship not only with the historical Jesus, but with the inward Christ, the spirit of God within himself. It is this Spirit that I sense as I read the Gospel – and this is in full harmony with my own Quaker tradition, which looks not to scripture as authority, but to the Spirit through which Scripture was created.

Brown, according to the notes on the book’s jacket, is “internationally regarded as the dean of New Testament scholars.” As a scholar, he is surely familiar with William of Occam, a fourteenth century philosopher best known for the principle of “Occam’s razor” which states “that the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable.” Brown doesn’t follow this principle. He postulates an original author, who probably was John, but then thinks that the gospel went through several revisions and finally was placed in its present form by an anonymous editor. He has examined the ancient documents relating to this Gospel far more thoroughly than I. Still, I feel drawn to stating my own theory.

There are only a few references to John in Acts – and in one he is described as “unlearned and ignorant” (Acts 4:13). Like Peter, John was a fishermen when Jesus called him to be an apostles. A scribe was needed to write down what he said. Furthermore, Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, while the New Testament as we have it, was written in Greek.

It would appear that John did not travel widely, but may have settled in Ephesus or another community in the Near East There he ministered to a flock that was probably mostly Jewish believers in Jesus. He would recount episodes in Jesus life that would be orally translated into the Greek. There is a reference in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel, “Now among those who had come up to worship at the feast there were some Greeks.” (John 12:20) We know that in Egypt, Judaism enjoyed some popularity, and its scriptures were translated into Greek about a century before the birth of Jesus. Philo of Alexandria was a Jewish contemporary of Jesus heavily influenced by Greek thought, and reference to “the Word,” in the first chapter of the Gospel, shows an influence of Hellenistic Judaism that has parallels in the work of Philo. The Greeks mentioned here may have become members of John’s flock.

John’s community came to be in strong conflict with the established Jewish institutions. Those who would follow Jesus were expelled from the synagogue and disowned by their own people. Because of this, the emphasis on the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees became a conflict between him and “the Jews.” That conflict was probably in full swing at the time John died.

After his death – maybe immediately after, maybe after a number of years – members of his flock came together, and had a scribe write down the words that they had heard repeated many times. Those who told the words of John didn’t have the sense of time and place that John himself might have had, just as parishioners in a church who had never had a college class in the Bible would know the stories of the life of Jesus but not know the order. That several speakers were involved may account for stylistic variations in the passages. They also may have added some commentary to their accounts. An example of this: in the twelfth chapter, versus 20-22 recount an incident between Peter and Jesus where John was present:

Then Peter turned around and noticed that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following …. Seeing him, Peter was prompted to ask Jesus, “But Lord, what about him?”

“Suppose I would like him to remain until I come,” Jesus replied, “how does that concern you? Your concern is to follow me.”

Verse 23 appears to be a comment by those who were putting the Gospel into written form:

This is how the word got around among all the brothers that this disciple was not going to die. As a matter of fact, Jesus never told him that he was not going to die; all he said was: “Suppose I would like him to remain until I come.”

The death of John must have had a profoundly negative impact on those expecting an immanent return of Jesus, so this passage seems to have been added for “damage control.”

As I continue to study the Gospel of John, I expect I’ll have other insights to write about in this blog.

In less than one week we will have elections. I don’t expect the gubernatorial candidate I vote for on November 4 will win, because I can’t bring myself to vote for either the Republican Party’s candidate or the Democratic Party’s candidate. I will vote for the Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins, and my hope is that he will get enough votes that it will show the major parties that environment and climate change is the issue of the twenty-first century. If we don’t have a planet to live on, nothing else matters.

But no matter who is in power, if we as individual citizens do not curb our appetites for fossil fuel, even what the most environmentally friendly government can do will not be enough – but if we can find a way to move to renewable energy, nothing that the most environmentally unfriendly government can do will stop us from building an economy that’s not dependent of fossil fuel – an economy that works for everyone.

On November 17, I will be at the 15th Street Quaker Meeting House in Manhattan, for a workshop on how neighborhoods and small communities, through a series of small group meetings, can learn to reduce their use of fossil fuel and become more resilient. I have more faith in what citizens can do than what the government can do, so for me I expect that November 17 will be the more important day in the process of preserving and renewing economic, social and environmental justice on this planet.

It’s no exaggeration to say that humanity faces the greatest crisis in its history. As a Quaker, I see this as a call equal to that heard in the seventeenth century to resist the tyrannical oppression of church-state alliances – a call that resulted in freedom of religion, first in England and its colonies and then throughout the western world. I see it as a call equal to the one in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to end slavery. Quakers did not achieve religious freedom alone. We did not end slavery alone. We worked with men and women of good will of all faiths to bring revolutionary changes of consciousness in western society.

As I stated in my July 30 post, on September 21 I will participate in the People’s Climate March. I will be marching with men and women of good will to bring about a society which meets the needs of all without degrading the planet . But this march is only one step in this change of consciousness.

Fifteenth Street Meeting in Manhattan has scheduled an evening on what neighborhoods can doto support each other in reducing their energy and water use, building relationships, promoting local food, and strengthening their community’s resilience.” It will take place at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 23, at the Friends Meeting House, 15 Rutherford Place, in Manhattan.

In addition, I am one of seven Friends in the Earthcare Working Group preparing to visit other meetings. Our goal is to help them consider how God is leading us to work for climate justice and the transformation of society.

As I’ve said in many of my postings, a spiritual life must include a concern for the welfare of all creation. Please consider what you are led to do in this regard.

I’ve posted several times in this blog about the Transition movement – a grassroots effort to reduce the use of fossil fuel and create thriving local economies. This movement has generally ignored politics and focussed on individual initiative to bring about change. This made sense to me. However, there are times when it may be appropriate to attempt to change the minds of politicians. I’ve reprinted several of my letters to the President and other government officials in this blog.

I’ve not usually favored demonstrations and direct action, but I’m making an exception. New York City – on Sunday, September 21 – may see a demonstration equal in significance to the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom orchestrated by Martin Luther King and Bayard Rustin. During the week of September 21, the world’s heads of state are going to New York City for a historic summit on climate change. The People’s Climate March will be a demand that these leaders take the action necessary to create a world with an economy that works for all people and for the planet. If you will be anywhere near New York City on September 21, I urge you to be a part of this demonstration.

I was recently at the 319th New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). There I learned that at least one New York City Meeting, probably more, will be offering space in its meetinghouse for Quakers from outside the city who are coming to march.

Next week I’m heading up to Wheelock Mountain Farm in Greensboro Bend, VT, for the Northeast Regional Climate Justice Gathering – three days of workshops and planning for the March. On September 21, I might be marching inside a twelve-foot tall puppet or maybe playing cymbals in a marching band.

Naked Ritual

July 15, 2014

In September of last year I created a meditation and a ritual for the Spiritual Explorers’ Mystery School. It focused on nudity as a symbol of innocence. Since then, the video that I posted on Vimeo to illustrate the meditation has had over a thousand views. However, I’ve had very few people contact me about being part of the ritual.

Recently, I came upon a video of another ritual – this one done in public on a Saturday in April in the small but cosmopolitan city of Biel, Switzerland. The video was entitled “Artwalk with Nude Accents (Documentation)” In this ritual only one of the participants was naked all the time, while others took off and put on clothing during the ritual.

It struck me that both the naked and the clothed participants were equally innocent. This has led me to revise my ritual to allow participants to choose whether to be naked or clothed. A corresponding revision was made to the meditation and the video that supports it. The new video is now referenced on the innocence seminar’s website, and the site itself has been modified to reflect my new understanding.

I’ve had few responses to my call for participants in the ritual, and so have not been able to arrange one — even with just myself and two other people. My sense is that my presentation of the ritual is enough. The message is there. From a spiritual perspective that is sufficient.

 

As I have written in an earlier post, I am working with active imagination and internal dialogue.  Some of this revolves around an explorer.  The following dialogue (really a monologue) is in the words of the medicine man that the explorer visited – part of the active imagination posted on June 30, 2013.

As I read this transcription, and the transcriptions of the active imagination related to it, I try to see how what I’ve written relates to my life.  I’ve had times of purification, and I even remember one time vomiting after drinking an herb tea, though I don’t think that was the intended effect.  I had just completed a two-day fast, and may have eaten something as well as drunk the tea.  A holistic medical advisor said the vomiting was purifying,  The point is that I relate the purification spoken of here with an experience of my life.  As you read the words of this Internal Dialogue, do they remind you of something in your life?  If so, take a moment to journal about what you’ve experienced.

__________________

I was a young man. an apprentice. when the explorer from whom you got that map, that drawing, came to him [my teacher], and I remember talking with my teacher, and his saying,  “This man, this explorer,   he thinks he wants to find answers in the jungle, but he will never find them because he cannot see. What he should be seeing is hidden from him. He does not know how.”

And so this man was given herbs, and the drawing that he did came out of that experience, so it was not a drawing of any place.  But we did go around and maybe some of that influenced him as he was drawing.

I did not ask you to draw because you had a map or you thought you had a map.   it would be ridiculous.  I would not know the words to say, but I would give you some herbs that we use for cleansing – very strong.  I knew I needed something very strong because I saw these spirits in your stomach that had to be vomited out, and they were. They were gone. I knew they were gone; but also. tied to that, connected to that, energies in your fields, spirits in your fields hovering around you – they needed to be gone too if you would have any hope of seeing; and I knew that.  When I was finished, when you had expelled all of the evil spirits and all of the spirits that were in the potions I gave you, they were all gone.

And I told the guide to take you to a place of cleansing,  but not yet – toward the end [of your stay with us].  Many of our tribe go to bathe in the sacred pools; and we did not take you to the to the coldest one; we did not take you to the hottest one; we did not take into ones that our sacred warriors and our women and our children are bathed in – but one of the beginner’s streams, and I do not know if you got anything from that.  That is for you to see and you to decide, but whatever happened there is for good, because I sense that your heart is pure, even with evil spirits, and that you’ve got some kind of purification from [being with us], and that there are others who will work with you and bring you to a new place of understanding.

And so I sit.  As I look into the fire, I visualize you. I imagine you there. No, I don’t really see you, but I know something in the flame connects me with you because the flame was used,  the heat from my flame went into the potion that I gave you; and that medicine. that heat remains inside you and we are connected and I am able to pray for you and I pray for the people in my own tribe.

And you may find others to give you medicine to cleanse you because evil spirits that you’ve had may return. I cannot protect you from them for the rest of your life, though you were protected until the time you left our village.

And something in me is saying this explorer will find his way and will come to a new understanding.

In December, my thoughts returned to the story I had recorded in July, my visit to the Circle of Life. This time, I focused on a dialogue between myself and the spirit I called “Brother.” This is the first time my internal dialogue turned to my personal problems. As I have no wish to discuss private relationships and conflicts concerning people who might not want the details of our relationships and conflicts made public, I’ve edited some sections of this internal dialog.
________________

I have returned to the circle of life. I have stripped naked and entered the circle. I see my brother. He is also naked, and he acknowledges me. He bids me sit there. “Would you like purification?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say, “and I really have come to talk to you.”

“Okay, let’s do a purification and talk,” and he begins to wipe my body with a damp cloth. I know it is moistened with rainwater because he has told me that, and he washes all of my body that he can reach…. He reaches down and washes my feet. He momentarily has me stand up so he can wash my buttocks – part of the body he couldn’t reach while I was sitting – and then he has me sit again.

“Are you sinless?” I ask.

“Of course. So are you.”

“Are you an angel?”

“Some people would call me that because I’m a spiritual being, but I’ve never had wings. Wings are only symbolic, anyway, for spiritual beings. They show that we are not bound by time or space.”

“I can see not being bound by space, but not being bound by time confuses me. “How do you know what you’ve done and what you might have done?”

“We are pure potential. There is no difference. What we do and what we might have done are all the same except when we enter into your world, and we know when we enter into your world we are in time and therefore must react within time.”

“Can you go back in time in our world?”

“No, because that is not part of the reality of your world. So we cannot go back to correct errors back in time to make them nonexistent, but we can help you and help God through the Holy Spirit correct errors that you have made.”

“Do you recognize the errors that I have made?”

“Only if you ask for help in recognizing them.”

“Am I making errors regarding my relationship with R.?”

“Yes, you need to see him as sinless.”

“Is he making mistakes?”

“That is a judgment.”

“Is he being foolish?”

“You are making judgments that you do not need to make.”

“Then I will relinquish those judgments. Help me to relinquish them.”

He picks up the cloth and begins to wash around my face and my chest. “Feel this purification of your heart. Let your heart be part of what is going on….”

“When I see J. having a long conversation with R. and I think they are creating things … [that affect me] it worries me because I feel we don’t have collective wisdom and I feel that there will be duplication of effort.”

And my brother says, “All fear is the opposite of love.”

“The Course in Miracles says, ‘I trust my brothers who are one with me.’ so my lack of trust is a judgment … and I choose to release that fear. Help me to release that fear so that I may be without judgment. This is getting to the crux of the matter,” I say to my brother. I look into his eyes. “Help me. I do not need this judgment. I know I do not need this judgment. I can see him as sinless.”

“But you do need to ask for what you want and clarify what your needs are.?

“We need to have out in the open everything that is done, and I don’t know how to ask for this without putting a judgment on it.”

“Then don’t ask. Simply ask, ‘Is there anything you want to update about discussions you have been having ….?’

“I feel that I have some resolution on this, [and] that I can ask that question without judgment – without putting a judgment on anyone’s behavior…. Help me to live in this world without judgment and still bringing about correction of errors; and that is the miracle that I ask for, to bring a correction of error without judgment.”
____________

The internal dialogue ended at this point, as I felt a resolution of the conflicts I had been having.

Visiting the Circle of Life

February 14, 2014

In my posting of June 30, 2013, I introduced the practices of active imagination and inner dialogue as tools for spiritual development. I have used drawings, paintings and sculpture as starting points for active imagination. In July, I used modeling clay to create a sculpture that I called “The Circle of My Family.”

Clay sculpture of phallos and figure with arch overhead.

Two days later, I sat naked in my cabin and put a lighted candle in the center of the sculpture.

Sculpture with lighted candle

Then I recorded my thoughts, which are transcribed below.
______________

When I reach the Circle of My Family I find that it has a kind of spiral shape, a loose spiral with a large phallus at one end. I see one man inside, and he is naked. And I see an arch overhead with something spiraled around that I recognize as the double helix of DNA.

I stand taking it all in and then very quickly undress and enter the circle – and something very startling happens. The energy and the circle is much stronger. For a moment I’m not sure where I am or what has happened, but this man approaches me, and he is friendly, and he smiles, and he puts his hand on my shoulders and kisses my lips gently and says. “Breathe.”

I consciously take in a deep breath. “Where am I?” I ask.

“This is the Circle of Life.”

“Yes, I feel life.”

“Your family is part of this circle, so is every family in the universe, whether it be an Earth family or a spiritual family or a family on some planet that you do not even know of.” I look up at the helix and realize that that is the source of the power. “Sit for a moment,” and he shows me a place to sit right on the edge of the circle with one leg out and one leg in, and he says “Here is your place to sit, so that you can be connected with your own personal world and with the world of life. This is the place to be,” and he shows me a small model that he has made of clay and I see this figure sitting on the edge, one leg out and one leg in; and he says, “That’s you. You need to realize that you must have one leg in time, one leg in eternity.”

I’m not sure what he means by this, but it seems right. So I let myself sit there, and he takes a cloth that’s damp and washes over my whole body, every part that he can reach; and I don’t resist him doing anything, for I trust that this is a purification; and we hear some thunder in the distance; and he says, “Do not fear. If there’s rain it will be purifying. This is rainwater that I have collected because it is the right water for washing you.”

And I suddenly sort of worry. My clothes are outside the circle there in the grass. Somehow that seems insignificant, but he seems to understand my concern. “You can leave anytime you want,” he says, “and come back anytime you want,” and I look at him. I know that this is true. So again I breathe in deeply this energy, and he helps me to stand up on the outside of the circle. I’m a little reluctant to leave but for that crazy thought of having wet clothes. So I turn away, and with my physical eyes I don’t look back, but in my mind I see him standing there inside the circle filled with that energy, and I know he is a guiding spirit, and I know I will return to him. I didn’t even ask his name, but something tells me his name is “Brother.”

Poor Uncle Harry, having become a missionary,
Found the natives’ morals rather crude.
He and dear Aunt Mary swiftly imposed an                arbitrary
Ban upon them shopping in the nude.

Now they all considered this silly
And didn’t take it well.
They burnt his boots and several suits
And wrecked the mission hotel.
They also burnt his mackintosh,
Which made a disgusting smell.

These lines are from “Uncle Harry,” by Noel Coward. While the treatment is humorous, the story, about a family that “loved to go off on missions to rather peculiar climes and lead the wretched heathen to the light,” illustrates something serious about conflict. Both sides believed they were right. Uncle Harry and Aunt Mary knew how the natives should live. And the natives resisted their correction.

In the story of Adam and Eve, after eating the forbidden fruit, Adam hides because he is ashamed to be seen by God naked. But God is his father. Who would be ashamed to be see naked by his father? Possibly this story is a myth attempting to show that the evil in this world comes from people being taught or convincing themselves of false standards of morality. The “knowledge of good and evil” that Adam and Eve supposedly gained by eating the forbidden fruit, was in reality a false knowledge. Did the writer of Genesis intend this meaning? I have no way of knowing.

But it is apparent that when the Nazis murdered four million Jews, they thought the were doing something good. Does this excuse their acts? Certainly not. But when Jesus hung on the cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” and I, as his follower, must say this same prayer for all those I perceive as doing evil in the world.

The Administration maintains a website where questions may be asked and comments made to the President and his staff:

whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments

I have used this website to ask two questions:

  1. In an address to Congress you stated “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America one hundred years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.”  If this energy can be developed “safely”, as you have stated, why is hydrofracking – the process current used on most natural gas wells – exempt from all clean-air and clean-water regulations?
  2. In your oath of office, you promised to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”.  Why then are you supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement, which would allow foreign corporations to sue governments directly–for unlimited cash compensation in foreign tribunals—over almost any domestic environmental or other law that the corporation believes is hurting its ability to profit; a pact that thus takes away the local and state governments’ Constitutional right and even your own Constitutional right to protect our environment with appropriate legislation and regulations?

I closed my letter to the President by adding, “The technology for safe, renewable energy is available.  Why are we threatening the health of every citizen in the country with hydrofracking?”

Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, whether you voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, or even if you didn’t vote at all, you need to know that the health and well-being of every American is at stake.  Even if you don’t live in an area where natural gas is being extracted through hydrofracking, the resultant environmental damage can hurt water supplies in your area, especially if you live in a large city.

It is my hope that every reader of this blog – even those who are not American citizens – will ask these questions of President Obama.

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