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TANATA is devoted to discussing the paradoxes and the mysteries of life, among which is the paradox of the coexistence of good and evil. “God is love,” John tells us. Evil exists, we would suggest, not because God is detached or unconcerned, but because free will exists which is required for true, unforced love to exist. Still, it is painfully hard to reconcile this paradox. We believe that all evil one day will be judged and destroyed, until then we must pray.

DANIEL 7:13-14

13 “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.

14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.

REVELATION 1:7

7 Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.

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Tuesday
Sep012009

Why Don't We Know?

Who was Jesus’ best friend? Why is Jesus’ most devoted disciple and friend, who used his influence with the high priest to argue on Jesus’ behalf after Jesus’ arrest, vaguely referenced as “the other disciple,” “another disciple,” and “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved” in the Gospel of John? We don’t know what should be a most obvious fact in all of the Gospels. For people who love mysteries and turning up clues this one about the identity of Jesus’ most beloved disciple is a verified good one.

Why don’t we know the identity of Jesus’ most beloved disciple and friend? It wasn’t Mary Magdalene, though that has been asserted by some, because in John 20:2 she is described as being in the presence of “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved” along with Peter at the empty tomb of Jesus. Peter’s companion is only referred to as “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.” And this person, we must assume, is the same person who wrote the book of John and perhaps also Revelation, but that is another can of worms. We know so little. About a most fascinating mystery. If we could just know more about the kind of person who would appeal to Jesus’ sensitivities so that Jesus would befriend him, we would know a lot more about the person of Jesus, and, what he looked for in a person.

Who is “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved” … and is he a lawyer, a scribe or a priest, which, if he were, would explain why he knew the high priest, evident in John’s Gospel after Jesus was arrested.

He was fleet of foot, apparently, this other disciple, because he outran Peter to the empty tomb. Presumably he was therefore younger than Peter … and presumably he was a follower of Jesus and a younger friend of Peter. “The other disciple, the one Jesus loved” knew the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, and they knew him, we’re told in John 18: 15-16, so this man must have lived and worked in Jerusalem. This unknown individual had the skills of an attorney (as scribes did), because he defended Jesus before the high priests on the night that Jesus was arrested, to reiterate that point. Would the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, a fisherman who lived in Galilee, likely have been a scribe (and therefore possibly a priest) when none of the other disciples, including his brother James and Peter, were? Would the apostle John have been bold enough to stand before the high priests … while his friend Peter cowered in the shadows?

Also, remind yourself that the apostle John, the son of Zebedee and the brother of James, did in fact flee the garden when Judas arrived with soldiers and a mob besides. So, we know that John did not follow Jesus after Jesus was arrested, but rather “another disciple,” unnamed, followed along with Peter, who followed Jesus and the mob from a distance. If the two men are separated at this point, as the story unfolds, we know that the other disciple and Peter are reunited at the home of the high priest.

Peter did not know the high priest and waited on the other disciple to do whatever he was going to do. The other disciple did know the high priest. This may be the most telling fact in the story, insofar as it points out that the other disciple could not possibly have been one of the twelve. I got an interesting email once from a fellow who pointed out that the word “other” strongly suggests that the other disciple was not one of the twelve disciples. Who is this person?

At Golgotha, would the apostle John have been anywhere near the crucifixion as a disciple of Jesus, if that might have led to his own crucifixion? The Beloved Disciple must have had some clout. If John 19:27 is true, which tells us that the Beloved Disciple took the mother of Jesus to his home at the very hour that Jesus spoke to a man presumably named John and named Mary, and if the apostle John lived in Galilee … could the apostle John have made it back two days later from Galilee to be with Peter at the empty tomb?

And who is “the other Mary,” who is referenced twice in the Gospel of Matthew near the conclusion of that Gospel? Might she be related to “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved,” the Beloved Disciple? Might John the son of Zebedee, along with James, have been her nephew, since Salome, their mother, is believed by some scholars to be the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus? Would Jesus ask one cousin, John, and not the other cousin James — both of whom who fled Gethsemane, to take care of his mother? If all of the disciples were martyred — including John the son of Zebedee according to Papias of the second century — would Jesus have left one of them to care for his mother? (Jesus had half brothers and half sisters who could care for Mary.)

The scene in which Jesus speaks from his cross to a man presumably named John and the mother of Jesus has always troubled scholars, because Jesus’ directive to this man presumably named John and Mary to “behold” one another as son and mother is odd, particularly if Jesus is turning over his mother to the care of a disciple, which would be risky, and when the Virgin Mary had numerous sons and daughters, as we’re told several times in the Gospels and in the first chapter of the book of Acts. This Beloved Disciple, a man presumably named John, could have easily been with Peter at the empty tomb with Peter … if he lived in Jerusalem, where Mary the mother of Jesus is believed to have lived (She is buried in Jerusalem). And what if we have a man named John who actually had a mother named Mary, in which case Jesus would have told his friends, a mother and son, to look out for one another? Is John 19:25-27 false because it tells us that the woman named Mary is Jesus’ mother, when she might not have been?

Why don’t we know the identity of this important male figure in Jesus’ life? Has he been intentionally obscured?

What kind of person would Jesus want as a friend? With whom would Jesus have felt a particularly close bond? Would this person have likely been a persecuted, misunderstood man like Jesus? Something of an outsider, an outcast? A man of sorrows, like Jesus?

Do we know that the Beloved Disciple was named John? Did he write the Gospel of John? Early church father Irenaeus, writing in the second century, who received Revelation as an letter from a man named John, tells us this is the case, that a man named John wrote the fourth Gospel, which we call the Gospel According to John. The writer of the Gospel of John in the final chapter identifies himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Wouldn’t “the disciple whom Jesus loved” also be the fleet-footed “other disciple, the one Jesus loved”? Wouldn’t Irenaeus, a bishop of Smyrna, know if he received Revelation from a man named John that this John would also be the man named John who wrote the fourth gospel? Irenaeus does not differentiate, and so we may conclude that the writers of both of the works is the same man named John.

If we know of a man named John Mark whom the apostle Paul places in Ephesus near Patmos in 2 Timothy 4:11, is it likely that this man named John might have written Revelation and therefore also the Gospel of John? He was, after all, according to a Coptic pope’s biography of John Mark, a learned man and a writer (Though scholars, the ones we have consulted, believe this biography to be mere hagiography, not reliable. Why?)

How many men named John do we know of who belonged to Jesus’ inner circle? And among those men which one might Jesus have especially and particularly loved, and why?

Scholars for years have suggested that John, the son of Zebedee, the apostle John is “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.” But other scholars hasten to point out that this man named John, along with Peter, was considered uneducated by the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, as we’re told in Acts 4:13, suggesting that Peter and John may have been illiterate. Could this apostle John therefore have written the Gospel of John and other New Testament works which have been credited to a man named John, namely Revelation and the three letters or epistles of John? It is odd that the apostle John, if he wrote the Gospel of John, does not mention himself until the final chapter of the Gospel, which is chapter 21 — and then this John and his brother James are described as the “two sons of Zebedee,” who are in the company of two unnamed “other disciples,” as well as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Would the apostle John have referred to himself in two different ways, if he was the Beloved Disciple?

Other scholars have suggested that the apostle John, a Galilean and the son of a wealthy fisherman named Zebedee, may have been Jesus’ cousin, along with the apostle James, both of whom Jesus predicted would be martyred. We know that James was, Why don’t we know if the apostle John was also martyred? Some scholars say he was, along with James, on the testimony of Papias of the second century. But this point is often contested. If John survived and lived to an old age, would Jesus have been wrong in his prediction about the apostle John’s martyrdom? Would one brother have lived … and the other one died, particularly if the two brothers were inseparable? Would the disciples have stood for this favoritism?

If the apostle John was Jesus’ cousin, as some scholars suggest, arguably he would not have been “the disciple whom Jesus loved” at the foot of Jesus’ cross when Jesus tells the Beloved Disciple to behold the Virgin Mary as his mother — because the Virgin Mary would have been the apostle John’s aunt. And the apostle John was not a particularly lovable fellow, having been rebuked along with his brother James by Jesus for suggesting that Jesus call down fire to destroy the unbelieving Gentiles in Samaria. Besides that, the apostles John and James often set the other disciples to grumbling by their continual jockeying for a favored position. The apostles John and James wanted to know which of the disciples or apostles would be greatest, deserving of the right to sit by Jesus’ side in heaven. John and James also got their mother Salome involved in this discussion about which of the disciples or apostles would be greatest and earn special privileges in heaven.

Jesus is not likely, therefore, to have shown favoritism to either John or James.

If Salome, the wife of Zebedee, was Jesus’ aunt, as some scholars believe, she along with her sons John and James might have believed they could trade on their kinship with Jesus. Which raises an important question about the matter of favoritism: Would Jesus have made it apparent that the apostle John, the younger of the two brothers, was Jesus most Beloved Disciple? Particularly if John was also Jesus’ cousin? Wouldn’t Salome have been concerned that one of her sons was going to be honored in heaven, while the other might not? Let us reiterate that point: Even if the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, was not Jesus’ cousin … would Jesus have chosen the brother John over the brother James to be Jesus’ best and most trusted friend? Presumably not if Jesus wished to prevent any further bickering and jockeying for a favored position among the disciples.

What other man named John might have been Jesus’ best friend and the writer of the Gospel of John? Not John the Baptist, who was beheaded by King Herod while Jesus was still alive. The writer of the Gospel of John arguably lived to an advanced age on the island of Patmos near Ephesus, Turkey, where a man named John wrote the book of Revelation, as we have already said. Unlike the Gospel of John, which is anonymous, John identifies himself in the book of Revelation. Scholars believe Revelation was written sometime around 90 A.D., at the end of the first century, which would have made this presumably younger contemporary of Jesus very old indeed.

What person named John was a contemporary of Jesus who would have been young enough to live nearly to the end of the first century A.D. to write Revelation? Are there any candidates — young, fleet-footed ones — named John besides these two other men named John who might have been Jesus’ best friend?

There is one.

Before we offer our suggestion, we would like to call into question several passages in the Gospel of Mark, one of which features unnecessary repetition of a quote from the Hebrew scriptures (Mark 9:46-48) and another passage which concludes only some manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark, a passage which is believed by some scholars to be a forgery, namely Mark 16:9-20. Awkward grammar, teachings uncharacteristic of Jesus and scribal marks in the margin of the best manuscript of Mark suggest that these 12 verses are erroneous. There are also abrupt gaps in Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus is described as leaving Jericho immediately after his arrival. Was the original autograph of the Gospel of Mark tampered with? Is it relevant in asking this question to note that the verses in Mark’s Gospel exactly total 666 verses — a number which appears twice in Revelation?

Is Mark 14:51-52, a passage which describes the apparently irrelevant disrobing of a “certain youth” by “two young men,” believed by some scholars to be the author Mark himself … is this pair of verses in Mark accurate, if Mark continues on as a follower of Jesus to describe the events of Jesus’ trial, sentencing and crucifixion? Mark obviously could not have fled naked and arrived naked at Golgotha. He might have gone home (nearby?) to redress … of Mark 14:51-52 could be erroneous to take John Mark out of the picture, negating him at “the other disciple” in John 18 who spoke to Annas and Caiaphas on Jesus behalf.

Is it significant that Mark identifies in 15:21 Simon of Cyrene, an African, a man with two sons named Rufus and Alexander, who was grabbed and made to help Jesus carry his cross … if Mark was also a Cyrenean, as a Coptic biography by the church’s patriarch claims?

Is it significant that the man with the given name of John referred to by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:11 as a man named Mark … is it significant that Mark is the man named John who is placed in Ephesus in Paul’s letter to Timothy, in which Timothy is instructed to bring John Mark to Rome, because John Mark, perhaps a scribe and an apostle (according to the Coptic patriarch Shenouda III’s 1968 biography of Mark, translated into English in 1997), was useful to Paul’s ministry, which in Rome was limited to writing since Paul was in prison?

Why don’t we know the identity of the Beloved Disciple, a man presumably named John, the writer of the Gospel of John and Revelation?

***

NEW MATERIAL AS OF OCT. 5, 2009

A biography of John Mark (see the link in the pink “skybox” on page one of our journal) written and published in 1968 by a still-living Coptic patriarch Pope Shenouda III has been called by some scholars we have contacted worthless “hagiography” — i.e. unreliable, self-serving, biased praise for a “favorite son” or “saint.” But the biography, The Beholder of God, serves a crucial purpose. It happens to provide us with new information as this biography was not translated from Coptic into English until 1996. In the absence of other similar biographical materials about Jesus’ disciples, this biography is therefore greatly relevant, serving to identify one of Jesus‘ disciples — not one of the twelve — as an African scholar. While that may seem to be fairly rudimentary information, not particularly noteworthy and hagiographic, it is nonetheless a very important claim by virtue of the absence of anything else we have.

On the basis of the important gaps which this information fills in and that it might help us determine who may have written the first and fourth Gospels, the Gospels of Mark and John, it ought to be seriously considered as something more than mere hagiography, to reiterate; it’s integrity ought to be seriously noted, more so than any other presumed form of hagiography, on the basis of the points which the biography makes — which are points having to do with an educated disciple, a founder of the Coptic church and of a university, reportedly, something we have never had to tell us which disciple might have been capable of writing any of the Gospels or more. Regardless of whether The Beholder of God should ultimately be cast off as unreliable, for now, it’s better than nothing.

Why is this biography of John Mark not worth at least glancing at? What if it is not hagiography? What if it is reliable? What if it can be proved to be reliable? So far, no takers, and we continue to grapple with the idea of engaging further in a campaign to send out more email and PDF documents of our work, which we do in lieu of having a printer to send out letters and manuscripts. We shouldn’t give up so easily. But we’ve been busy writing other things.

In the meantime where the identity of the mysterious Beloved Disciple is concerned, a man presumably named John who wrote the Gospel of John and perhaps Revelation, we, scholars (though I am not one), continue to run around like chickens with our heads cut off. Clueless. With nothing definitive to help us reach a better conclusion about the identity of Jesus’ best friend. The Beholder of God gives us new facets to study and consider, which, as my father was fond of saying, is better than being hit in the face with a shovel.

The claim that John Mark was an African alone makes this biography worthy of consideration, because whom else might Jesus have specially loved and felt compassion for than a man with dark skin who may have been viewed as an outsider, i.e. “the other disciple”? And, if Jesus felt compassion for a man with dark skin, what might that say about Jesus’ own racial identity, which may have been the thing which most put him at odds with the religious leaders and others of his day? It has often left me baffled that Jesus could have entered Jerusalem triumphantly, being hailed as a Solomonic king (which itself may be telling, given that Solomon’s mother may have been Ethiopian), only within a week’s time to find himself selected for crucifixion over a murderer Barabbas. What about Jesus made him so easy to hate in the eyes of the people of Jerusalem, the common folk, the sort of people whom Jesus had healed? Only the religious leaders, the Pharisees, had drawn Jesus’ ire and ridicule. Everyone else was a potential recipient of a blessing from Jesus.

Could the hatred of Jesus been racially motivated?

The obvious hypothetical question which is then raised is if Jesus was unique racially in comparison to the people of Jerusalem in his day … why don’t we know that? Is it important? Has it been important enough to enemies of Christianity to hide the truth about Jesus’ unique racial identity from us, if it was unique and if it has been hidden (because it would have been)? Of course, it is all conjecture which grows out of such a hypothetical. But it doesn’t hurt to speculate about the only complete biography which we have of a writer-disciple, who may have written at least one of the Gospels. What we stand to discover encourages us, compels us, to do at least that.

We have submitted a paper on this topic to the Journal of Biblical Studies with no response. We have emailed notable scholars on our speculation which has grown out of this biography of John Mark, and thoughtful Bible study, with no success; the only responses back we have received have come from university-based scholars who have written off Shenouda’s work as biased and unreliable hagiography. Perhaps it is, or, perhaps it is not and a closer look at Shenouda’s sources (Coptic and Arabic historians) in the libraries he may have accessed in Alexandria, Egypt and elsewhere are worth investigating. If we had the funds, we would be in Alexandria doing just that, striving also to have an audience with Pope Shenouda, who is very old.

Alas, we are sitting on a possible explanation for the confusion, with no takers.