Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Michael Martin: Two endings of John

In a recent article in Biblica entitled 'A note on the two endings of John' Michael Martin argues that the Fourth Gospel contains two epilogues (20:30-31 and 21:25) and concludes that therefore the second was added later. I am not sure that the link between premiss and conclusion is so tight. Even if we grant that John has two epilogues it does not follow that one was added later since he has not explored possible subversion of literary convention within the Gospel.


  1. There are lots of parallels to this in contemporary writing - at least at the beginnings of books: many books will have both a "preface" and an "introduction". (Or in the rather pretentious case of Jacques Derrida, an "exergue".)

    I wonder if people have any thoughts about possible ancient analogies, specifically in narrative literature? The first example that sprang to my mind was - perhaps predictably - Tobit.

    Tobit (14 chapters in total) has quite a climax at the end of chapter 12 - it's a bit like the end of Luke's Gospel. In fact, one ms. of Tob., Sangermanensis 15, ends at ch. 13.2, though there haven't been any fruitcakes who've argued that 13.2 is the original ending, I'm happy to say. Then Tob. 14.2 is again a rather terminal statement, but the narrative goes on another 13 verses. People interested in the "ending of John" issue, now enlivened by the recent Schenke publication, should perhaps check it out.

  2. You are right to point to possible "subversion" occuring with the "double-ending" in John. Bauckham, Tovey, Brody, and Kysar all argue that the Gospel concludes in a series of stages that have been finely crafted by the author of John, and our confusion regarding the apparent conclusiveness of 20:30-31 is a vestige of classic redactional-critical readings of John that tend to isolate these texts from each other.

    I don't think the "two or three staged conclusion" reading of John is without its problems, but it is much closer to the spirit of the creative literary artifice of John 21. Some of these apparent "problems" raised by John 20:30-31 fail to take into account that we have few attempts in early Greco-Roman and Jewish literature to write the conclusion of a biography in which the person in question comes back to life. Burridge and Segovia both catalog a convention in Greco-Roman biography in which they typically conclude with a narrative of the death and a discourse on the "lasting significance" of a historical figure.

    This convention seems to be taking place in John, but it is subverted by the fact that Jesus' "lasting significance" has to do with the fact that he continues to live in some respect. John 21 participates in a give-and-take between this biographical convention and the unprecedented narrative particulars of Jesus' life.