Saturday, May 21, 2005

Ave, Dr. Hodges!

Dr. Hodges, whom I've just blogrolled to replace the departing Neil Barker, has a link on his site to a paper he wrote regarding the role of food in the Gospel of John. Excellent, excellent paper. Highly recommended if you're into biblical or religious studies.

A few paragraphs into Dr. Hodges's work, which spends some time focusing on the symbolism of the vinegar given to Jesus on the cross, I started wondering whether he'd hit on the Seder symbolism of vinegar-as-bitterness, and sure enough, he did. That was enough to win me over; I'm easy to please.

Question for the good doctor: Could it be that the writer(s)/redactor(s) of the Fourth Gospel were appropriating Gnostic symbolism and fusing it with Jewish tropes? Maybe I've been reading too much Elaine Pagels, but Gnosticism, it seems, is hard to pin down as an easily definable "-ism." Free-floating Gnostic memes wafting about the Mediterranean could have been picked up by Jewish writers and incorporated into the scriptures. Personally, I'm partial to the notion that the Fourth Gospel is shot through with Gnosticism, even if John's version of Jesus doesn't follow the Gnostic model in crucial ways. There's too much light/dark, spirit/flesh dualism to rule Gnosticism's presence out (not that your paper was doing that, though it seems to imply that scholars reach too quickly for the Gnostic interpretation).

I also tend to think that Jewish thinkers have always been adept at taking surrounding cultural tropes and subverting them-- witness how the Hebrews took Canaanite deities and demonized then, or how Jesus-- very much a Jew-- subverted prevalent Jewish preconceptions about purity, morality, etc. to make his points. I wouldn't put it past a Jewish writer to lift a trope and rework it. My point is that the Gnosticism we might be seeing in the Fourth Gospel is really there, but it's been reappropriated: Judaicized Gnosticism...?


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