Thursday, December 11, 2014

Discovery and the Beloved Disciple

John 9 tells a story of a man born blind, a story of discovery, a story of not seeing and seeing, a story of the seen and unseen. Elsewhere, I have written about the special case of the man born blind (MBB), not only because his was the first case of someone being 'born' blind and then given sight, but because he is the only other character apart from God in scripture to use the divine signature, ego eimi (ἐγώ εἰμι): I Am . Though no historical critical scholar has suggested it, I would fancy the MBB to be not only the 'beloved disciple' but also Jesus himself. This kind of discovery is the grammar of apocalypsis in the 4th Gospel.

That the MBB is Jesus himself (or at least a profound reflection of him) hangs on the purloined signature, ego eimi. It is a provocative phrase in the mouth of the MBB, and in the hand of the 4th evangelist. Unlike those hearing Jesus himself utter the phrase in the previous chapter (8:58), the MBB's audience misses it, as they are more interested in some detective work of a different sort. The MBB's sight is given in short order, but the crowd and the Pharisees undergo a slower process of discovery, of finding something out, finding a truth: the 'light of the world' [9:5]. Who is this light? Jesus has just said it is he, but, narratologically, the MMB, in a Jesus-like manner, opens the eyes [9:10;17;21;26;30;32] of the Pharisees, though they refuse to see, despite their reluctant acknowledgement that the man was indeed born blind.

Interestingly, this eye-opening pericope is the only instance in the NT where both parents of someone given a sign by Jesus appear, and here, as witnesses. They testify to their son's history, but take flight in Egypt: they defer to their son to tell his story. In the face of the Pharisees, the MBB tells them how amazed he is that he now sees and they still cannot see whence Jesus came [9:30]. That remark is nearly as biting as Jesus's own account of the Pharisees whose sin remains because they will not see [9:41].

This ironic merging of Jesus and the MBB is perhaps something of a Johannine 'infancy narrative.' It is the 4th evangelist's account of Jesus's own emergence, his coming into his own as the 'lamb of God' [1:29-36], taking on his mission: seeing all that must come to pass, and what must become of him, as the Baptist saw of himself before Jesus came to fulfill his own ministry of signs. The Johannine Jesus is a remarkable figure, one very different from the Synoptic Jesus (the 3 synoptics in the 4th Gospel are, of course, Jesus, the MBB, and the evangelist himself). There is never really any question about how the Logos operates in the 4th Gospel. Whatever it does not imbue with itself it brings to itself. Ego eimi, the shape of the Logos in Jhn. 9, is the light and lens, sound and sense of the Johannine literary project. "I Am" informs every trope, every image in this narrative. Indeed, the Gospel itself is system of surfaces and predicates in liminal interface, its logic that of borders grazing and tracing each other (cf. Mark C. Taylor's Erring: A Postmodern A/Theology, especially pp. 116-118 , where he characterizes all of scripture as a "divine milieu" of time-space bending, liminal logic).

Could the evangelist have manipulated time and space in Chapter 9 as I have suggested here? Do Taylor's remarks on the divinity of scripture apply here? I think so;  the evangelist seems to have no difficulty using time and terrain in his service of his community (e.g., the Lazarus pericope). If so, there would be no better candidate for the Beloved Disciple than the MBB. That would put a wrinkle in Beloved Disciple investigations, and would go a long way in explaining the stunning visuals in the 4th Gospel, especially in the passion narrative, where every visual sensation is shocking and new to recently opened eyes.

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