Jesus in Johannine Tradition (Westminster John Knox, 2001). Arthur Dewey's essay, "The Eyewitness of History: Visionary Consciousness in the Fourth Gospel" (pp. 59–70) is causing some problems for me, and I thought I'd throw those up on this particular wall and see if anyone here has any comment.
Dewey's essay strikes me as at the same time deeply insightful and deeply flawed. I will try to lay out the issue I'm highlighting quickly and then explain what I think about it. Dewey makes the following claims about John's "historical interest" (which he helpfully differentiates from FG's "historicity") and the notion of "the eyewitness" in FG:
FE [the Fourth Evangelist] was creatively engaged in what should be called a "visionary consciousness." An "eyewitness" for FE is not a simple observer of raw data. Rather, through enlisting the symbolic presence of the Paraclete (Spirit), FE provides the means for every reader to become an active participant in the epiphany of the death of Jesus. . . . (59–60)There's a lot that's helpful here, I think. I agree with Dewey that, for FE, the status of "eyewitness" depends on more than simply having seen or heard something. In John 2, for example, when the disciples see and hear the events of Jesus in the Temple, they are not yet "eyewitnesses" of the Temple incident because they do not yet understand what they have seen and heard. Rather, as John explains in a narrative aside, "When, therefore, he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had been saying this, and they believed the Scripture as well as the word which Jesus spoke" (John 2:22). It was not until after Jesus' resurrection and the bestowal of the Spirit/Paraclete (20:22) that the disciples were empowered by the Spirit to properly understand what they had seen and heard and, therefore, be eyewitnesses. So I strongly agree with Dewey: "An 'eyewitness' for FE is not a simple observer of raw data." (For more on memory and the Spirit and the question of eyewitness testimony in John, see Tom Thatcher's essay, "Why John Wrote a Gospel: Memory and History in an Early Christian Community," in Memory, Tradition, and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity, edited by Alan Kirk and Tom Thatcher; SemeiaSt 52 [Atlanta: SBL Press, 2005], 79–97.)
As for the identity of the "one who saw this [and] has testified," "that one" is not the Beloved Disciple found in 19:25–27. Rather, "that one" must be the Paraclete, who arrives at the moment of Jesus' glorification and reminds the reader of the truth of revelation. The text, in effect, mirrors the creative recollection of scene and scripture in the mind of the audience. It deliberately delivers a mimetic presentation: anyone who closely follows the text can do what the text is doing. Each reader can connect these things in memory and become, thereby, a "witness" to Jesus. . . . (67–68)
"[H]istory" becomes meaningful when the deeds of Jesus (in this case, his death) and scripture come together in remembrance. The one who "sees" the events is the Paraclete, not the Beloved Disciple (perhaps that is the cautionary note of John 20:9?). The recollection or rehearing of all the echoes in FG helps the reader/listener understand the message. Thus, the eyewitness account is not a simple report given by an individual. Rather, it is a revision through memory, enlisting both the Gospel story and the resources of Jewish scripture. The effect of this is that the eyewitness to the past is happening now. It is an ongoing eye witnessing—open to all who come to share FE's collaborative vision. (68; emphasis in the original)
But he and I draw strikingly different conclusions from his insight on the more complex notion of eyewitness in FG. I use this as a limiting principle that excludes some witness to Jesus' actual life and teachings. That is, some people witnessed the events of Jesus' life but were not eyewitnesses because they were not empowered by the Spirit to offer proper testimony to those events. Dewey, on the other hand, uses this insight as an enabling principle that broadens the scope of Jesus' eyewitnesses to include everyone empowered by the Spirit, whether or not they actually witnessed Jesus' actual life and teachings. In theory, the status of eyewitness—in this proposed Johannine sense—is still open today; it certainly was at the end of the first century CE.
As I see it, the Johannine author stressed rather than marginalized the physical senses in his view of eyewitness-hood. "And the Word became flesh and took up his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory" (John 1:14). "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, with we have beheld and our hands have touched concerning the word of life" (1 John 1:1; see vv. 1–4). Moreover, he strongly differentiates those who have actually seen from those who haven't, and he portrays Jesus pronouncing blessing over those who have faith despite not having actually been an eyewitness to Jesus' resurrection: "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and nevertheless believe" (John 20:29). Finally, the strong affirmation of FG's link with eyewitness testimony in John 21 makes a comparable distinction: "This is the disciple who testifies about these things and who has written them. And we know that his testimony is true" (John 21:24). The editor/redactor responsible for John 21 does not include himself among those who are offering testimony; the status of "eyewitness" is closed to him because he has not seen, he has not heard, he has not touched the things which are recounted in FG.
Those of you more familiar than I am with the stream of Johannine scholarship: What would you say about these things? And those of you who are more interested in John's Gospel than I am (whatever your scholarly credentials): What say ye?