I started Lee Harmon's John's Gospel: The Way It Happened. I'd like to thank Lee for sending me my Advanced Reader Copy.
This book is a sequel to another book that Lee wrote, Revelation: The Way It Happened. I have not read all of that particular book, but I read parts of it on Google Books (see here), and I found the prose to be quite gripping.
Lee includes a summary of his Revelation book in John's Gospel: The Way It Happened.
Essentially, what I got out of that summary was that Christians during
the first century were expecting for the end to come very soon, but that
did not happen, and life just kept on going on. In John's Gospel,
the characters are trying to cope with that disappointment as well as
other problems that Christians were experiencing, such as economic
marginalization by pagans in Asia Minor and marginalization within
The book alternates between fiction and
non-fiction, even as the fictional parts manifest the author's awareness
of issues within biblical studies. In my latest reading, the prophet
John is dictating his Gospel to a lady named Ruth, while Matthew
expresses his sarcasm. Matthew was a character in Lee's Revelation
book, and he is the author of the Gospel of Matthew (but my impression
is that Lee does not equate him with Matthew the tax-collector and
disciple of Jesus). Matthew is bitter because the end did not
come, and he and his father gave up so much because they expected for
Jesus to return soon. Moreover, in my latest reading, Matthew, John,
and Ruth debate about who exactly Jesus is. Matthew believes that Jesus
originated at the virgin birth, whereas John is proposing the radical
idea that Jesus pre-existed and actually is God. The Epistle
to the Colossians comes into their discussion, since Colossians portrays
Jesus as pre-existent wisdom, and Matthew expresses skepticism that
Paul wrote that epistle.
Lee returns to this story, while he also
has non-fictional sections that go into the historical background behind
the Gospel of John. For example, Lee has a section on the Greco-Roman
conceptions of the logos, which are important to know in interpreting
Lee draws from biblical scholarship in this book. Unlike
Lee, I wouldn't call John Shelby Spong "one of our foremost Jesus
scholars" (page 10), as quotable and insightful as Bishop Spong may be.
But Lee does demonstrate a grasp of scholarly debates in a footnote on
the curse of the heretics in synagogues. Although Lee views the
curse to be present in the late first century and part of the
controversy between Jews and Christians, he's aware of the scholarly
arguments that it has a later date and was directed towards heretics in
general, not Christians, specifically. I tend to agree with
Lee that, since there was controversy between Christians and mainstream
Judaism in the late first century, as we see in the Gospel of John,
there is a strong possibility that the curse of the heretics was
directed against Christians.
I found something that Lee says on
page 26 to be particularly interesting: "[The Gospel of John's]
incarnation theme reminds us of Caesar Augustus, who, as the incarnation
of the god Mercury, 'became visible' and whose birthday became 'for the
whole world the beginning of the gospel.' [(In a footnote, Lee refers
to a resolution from the Provincial Assembly of Asia Minor that made
these claims about Caesar Augustus.)] Its descent and ascent theme
brings to mind how the incarnated Mercury descended as the son of a god
for the atonement of humans before ascending back to heaven. While rich
in Jewish symbolism, John's Gospel nevertheless makes the Christ story
available to any reader living in Asia Minor or educated in Hellenistic
This passage in Lee's book made me think about scholarly arguments about divine kings in Greco-Roman conceptualization (see here, here, and here).
There is nuance in terms of this issue, but I did a search, and
apparently Horace had a poem about how Augustus was an incarnation of
Mercury (see here).
While I have questions about the extent to which Greco-Roman
conceptions of divine rulers overlapped with the Christian doctrine of
the incarnation, Lee mentions things that are certainly relevant to this