The Gospel of John as Jewish Mystical Work

The Gospel of John as Jewish Mystical Work July 23, 2014

One of the features of the new Bible Odyssey website is that it lets you ask a scholar your questions. Someone submitted the question through the site, “Is the Gospel of John a Jewish mystic work?” I was invited to provide the answer, and here is what I wrote:

It is appropriate to note that there are scholars who would deny that the Gospel of John is Jewish and/or that it is mystical. My own view, however, is that there is good reason to answer the question in the affirmative. The Fourth Gospel has not only the Jewish Scriptures, but Jewish traditions of interpretation, woven into its very fabric, and the Christians by and for whom it was written had previously been expelled from their local synagogue by other Jews who disagreed with their views. The prologue (1:1-18) presents the lens through which the Gospel author wishes Jesus to be viewed, and it shares key concepts with the Jewish mystical philosopher Philo of Alexandria. The Gospel speaks of visions (1:51), which were an important part of mysticism, and emphasizes union with Jesus and ultimately with God through the Spirit. It is possible that Jesus himself is viewed as a mystic, one who speaks with the divine voice because the divine Word/Spirit dwells in him. For all these reasons and more, the Gospel of John seems aptly described as a “Jewish mystical work.”

You can read my recommendations for further reading, as well as othe questions with answers by Nicola Denzey Lewis and Mark Goodacre, on the Bible Odyssey website.



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  • Andrew Dowling

    Completely concur.
    I would think post Dead Sea Scrolls and other studies any crowd still claiming it to be primarily Hellenistic (although it definitely shows some Hellenistic influences . . people didn’t live in insulated caves back then although some scholars seem to suggest as much) to be pretty small.

  • Chris Eyre

    There’s also John Spong’s recent book “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic”, whatever you think of it. I was first pointed at viewing the gospel as mysticism by passages in F.C. Happold’s “Mysticism: a Study and Anthology” something like 45 years ago, though it took me a long time to grasp that the author is talking Christ-mysticism rather than God-mysticism, requiring a shift of focus for God-mystics.

    • I have yet to read Spong’s book, which is why I didn’t mention it.