My doctoral thesis at Durham University focuses on narrative and theology in the Gospel of John. For the past decade I have been reading Johannine scholarship and attending the sections on the Fourth Gospel at SBL. For the past few days, I have been reading through essays in What We Have Heard From the Beginning: The Past, Present and Future of Johannine Studies, edited by Tom Thatcher and published by Baylor University Press.
This is a rare book.
Wayne Meeks captures its rarity by describing the book in his endorsement as “a unique composite of two disparate genres: the history of research and the professional memoir” (from the back cover).
What Thatcher has done with this book is to collect essays from senior scholars in the field of Johannine research to which younger (though strongly established) Johannine scholars have been allowed to make brief responses. These senior experts (gargantuan leaders in the field like D. Moody Smith, J. Louis Martyn, Raymond Culpepper, and Francis Moloney) seem to have been asked to provide an aerial view of sorts of their own experiences as students and teachers of John’s Gospel and the Johannine Epistles. As any aspiring scholar knows, entering into the guild of biblical studies is enormously intimidating. When you brush past such eminent scholars in the bookstalls at SBL, there is a rush of excitement, but also dread! What I appreciate so much about Thatcher’s volume is that these men and women who I have been reading for so long now have been permitted to get personal with their own labors in the field, admitting shortcomings, changes of mind, and sharing how their insights arose and were perhaps even crushed.
I remember D. Moody Smith referring to the gathering of John scholars at an SBL session as “the Johannine community.” There really does seem to be a sense of community among these researchers (in spite of intense disagreements!), and What We Have Heard From the Beginning allows readers to enter their ongoing dialogue.
Something else I appreciate it is that there really is a strong sense of responsibility for posterity in the field. The book is an inter-generational exchange of the tradents of the discipline. Three generations are included when I read those essays—the generation of those eminent, and mostly retired (at least officially) scholars, their younger respondents whose works are filling the pages of Johannine scholarship, and then there is me, representative of other aspiring Johannine specialists who have much to learn… and who may want to add a few pages themselves one day. Biblical studies is a field that truly requires the mentor-apprentice relationship for the responsible maintenance of the craft. You can see that dynamic at work in this book.
So from one of the apprentice-types: thank you very much, Dr. Thatcher and company….