Solidarity against the World Order

A Political Reading of the Gospel of John about Yeshua Messiah of all Israel.

The English translation of Ton Veerkamp’s interpretation is here combined with a colometrical English translation of the Gospel of John also based on publications by Ton Veerkamp and on the “Complete Jewish Bible” (Copyright Dr. David H. Stern. Used with Permission from Messianic Jewish Publishers, www.messianicjewish.net). (1)

Depiction of a palm tree with a Roman with sword an shield standing next to it on the left and a Jewish woman holding cut chains in hand on the right. Below the Hebrew inscription: Yehuda hamishtachreret.

Yehuda hamishtachreret, “liberating Judea”: Ceramic tile in Tel Aviv-Yaffo, alluding to the overcoming of Rome—a counter-image to the “Judaea Capta” coin of 70 CE (Image: Talmoryair, Beit Bialik00381, CC BY 3.0)

Contents

Introduction

Who, when, where?

Text and Context

Contradictions

Messiah

The language of John and our language

The other culture

On the translation of John

House of Study

Acknowledgment

 

The Farewell of the Messiah. A Reading of the Gospel of John

The Preface, 1:1-18

1. The Word and the life, 1:1-3

2. The life and the light, 1:4-5

3. The witness, 1:6-8

4. The light and the world order, 1:9-11

5. Birth, 1:12-13

6. The Word and human reality, 1:14

7. A postscript, 1:15-18

 

PART I: THE MANIFEST MESSIAH, 1:19-4:54

A preliminary remark

1. Introduction: The Baptist, the Messiah, and the disciples, 1:19-51

1.1. The first day. The interrogation, 1:19-28

1.2. The second day. Someone like God, 1:29-34

1.3. The third day. The Messiah, 1:35-42

1.4. The fourth day. The Human 1:43-51

2. The beginning of the signs in Cana, Galilee. The Messianic wedding, 2:1-12

2.1. Messianic wedding, 2:1-11

2.2. Messianic community, 2:12

Scholion 1: What’s so reprehensible about allegorical exegesis?

3. Passover. The Messiah as the Teacher of Israel, 2:13-3,21

3.1. A lesson, 2:13-22

3.2. “You are the teacher of Israel, and you do not understand this?”, 2:23-3:21

Scholion 2: The antagonistic scheme in the Gospel of John?

4. That one must increase, I must decrease, 3:22-36

4.1. The Baptist and the Messiah, 3:22-30

Scholion 3: About purity

4.2. Heaven and earth; trust and distrust, 3:31-36

Scholion 4: The source of John

5. The woman at the well of Jacob, 4:1-42

5.1. Samaria, 4:1-4

5.2. In the land of the beginning, 4:5-15

5.3 The husband you have now is not your husband, 4:16-19

5.4 Neither – nor, inspiration and fidelity, 4:20-24

5.5. I AM HE, 4:25-30

5.6 What does eating mean here, 4:31-38

5.7 Liberator of the world, 4:39-42

6 The other sign in Cana, Galilee: Your son lives, 4:43-54

 

PART II: THE HIDDEN MESSIAH, 5:1-12:50

7. A festival. Life of the age to come, 5:1-47

7.1 The Work and the Shabbat, 5:1-18

7.1.1 Paralysis, 5:1-9a

7.1.2. The Shabbat, 5:9b-18

7.2. The parable of father and son, 5:19-21

7.3 Interpretation of the parable: “And this is now”, 5:22-30

7.4. Moshe, my witness, 5:31-47

7.4.1. The testimony, 5:31-37a

7.4.2. The Scriptures, 5:37b-47

Scholion 5: Christocentrism and disinheritance of Judaism

8. Near Passover. The nourisher of Israel, 6:1-7:1

8.1. Attunement: Near was Passover, the festival of the Judeans, 6:1-4

8.2. The sign of the nourishment of Israel. A misunderstanding, 6:5-15

8.3. l WILL BE THERE, 6:16-25

8.4. In the synagogue of Capernaum. The teaching of the bread of life, 6:26-59

8.4.1. The work that God demands, 6:26-29

8.4.2. No more hunger, no more thirst. The decisive day, 6:30-40

8.4.3. Grumbling. Bread of life, eating meat, 6:41-51

8.4.4. The dispute among the Judeans, 6:52-59

8.5. The decay of the Messianic community, 6:60-71

8.5.1. An evil speech, 6:60-66

8.5.2. Words of the age to come, 6:67-7:1

Scholion 6: On the clerical-sacramental interpretation of the bread speech, especially 6:52-59

9. Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. The great struggle, 7:2-10:21

9.1. Ascent to Jerusalem, 7:2-10

9.2. About the Messiah, 7:11-52

[Intermezzo: Being put to the test, 7:53-8:11]

9.3. The light of the world 8:12-30

9.3.1. Where is your FATHER, 8:12-20

9.3.2. “I do what is straight in HIS eyes, ever!”, 8:21-30

9.4. Before Abraham was born: I WILL BE THERE, 8:31-59

9.4.1. Fidelity and freedom, 8:31-36

9.4.2. The diabolos is not the devil, 8:37-47

9.4.3. Stones instead of arguments, 8:48-59

9.5. From blind and sighted people, 9:1-41

9.5.1. The works of God, 9:1-5

9.5.2. All at once I see, 9:6-12

9.5.3. The interrogation and the exclusion, 9:13-34

9.5.4. Your aberration remains, 9:35-41

9.6. About the unity of Israel, 10:1-21

9.6.1. A comparison, 10:1-6

9.6.2. The interpretation of the comparison, 10:7-18

9.6.3. Schism, 10:19-21

10. Hanukkah, the Festival of Renewal. Living and dying, 10:22-11:54

10.1. The Messiah and God, 10:22-39

Scholion 7: Legalism

10.2. Where it all began, 10:40-42

10.3. You will see the honor of God, 11:1-45

10.3.1. Lazaros, 11:1-16

10.3.2. Martha, 11:17-27

10.3.3. Mariam and the Judeans, 11:28-37

10.3.4 Untie him and let him go, 11:38-45

10.4. Dying for the nation, 11:46-54

11. The nearness of the Passover, 11:55-12:50

11.1. A funeral meal, 11:55-12:11

11.2. The Messianic King, 12:12-19

11.3 He hid himself from them, 12:20-36

11.3.1. The grain of wheat, 12:20-26

11.3.2. Now my soul is shaken, 12:27-33

11.3.3. Who is this bar enosh, Human? 12:34-36

11.4 Conclusion, 12:37-43

11.5 Summary of Yeshua’s teaching, 12:44-50

 

PART III: PASSOVER—THE FAREWELL OF THE MESSIAH, 13:1-20:31

12. Before the Passover, 13:1-30a

12.1. Lord and Teacher as a slave, 13:1-17

12.2. Lord, who is it? 13:18-30a

13. It was night, 13:30b-18:28a

13.1. The new commandment, 13:30b-38

13.2. Three objections, 14:1-14:26

13.2.1. The first objection: We don’t know where you are going, 14:1-7

13.2.2. The second objection: Show us the FATHER, and it is enough, 14:8-21

13.2.3. The third objection: Why are you real to us and not to the world order? 14:22-31

13.3. The parable of the vine. Solidarity, 15,1-17

13.4. The fight, 15:18-25

13.5. The farewell, 15:26-16:15

13.5.1 When he comes, the advocate, the inspiration of fidelity, 15:26-16,7

13.5.2. That one comes and accuses, 16:8-12

13.5.3 When that one comes, the inspiration of fidelity, 16:13-15

13.6. The hour of the woman, 16:16-28

13.7. Conclusion of the farewell talk, 16:29-17,1a

13.8. The prayer of the Messiah, 17:1b-26

13.9. Arrest and interrogation, 18:1-28a

13.9.1. Arrest, 18:1-14

13.9.2. Simon’s discipleship. Yeshua before the great priest, 18:15-28a

14. The first part of the Passion narrative: Early morning, 18:28b-19:13

14.1. What is fidelity, anyhow? 18:28b-38a

14.2. There, the Human, 18:38b-19:11

Scholion 8: Authority from God?

14.3. Friend of Caesar, 19:12-13

15. The second part of the Passion narrative: ˁErev Pascha, 19:14-42

15.1. King of the Judeans, 19:14-22

15.2. At the cross, 19:23-37

15.2.1. First scene: Over my garment, they cast lots (Psalm 22:19), 19:23-24

15.2.2. Second scene: Mother and son, 19,25-27

Scholion 9: Peace among the Messianic communities

15.2.3. Third scene: The goal has been achieved, 19:28-30

15.2.4. Fourth scene: The stabbed one, 19:31-37

15.3. The burial, 19:38-42

16. Day one of the Shabbat week, 20:1-31

Preliminary remark: The time specification “day one”

16.1. The tomb, 20:1-10

16.2. Not yet, 20:11-18

Scholion 10: Death and resurrection of the Messiah; once and for all?

16.3. The locked doors, 20:19-23

16.4. To see and to trust, 20:24-29

Conclusion: That you may trust, 20:30-31

 

Part IV: GALILEE, 21:1-25

17 By the Sea of Tiberias, 21:1-25

17.1. We also come with you, 21:1-14

17.2 The shepherd, 21:15-19a

17.3. Follow me, 21:19b-23

Signature: This is the disciple, 21:24-25

 

Epilogue

1 The Gospel of John and anti-Semitism

2 Socialism and Messianic inspiration

3 Messianism: origin, failure, preservation

4 Liturgies of resistance against our world order

 

Glossary of key terms

 

Appendix: On translating and editing the text

How to find your way around this book online

The Original Translated Texts

Transliteration of Hebrew and Greek terms

English Translation of the Gospel of John

Names

Style and grammar

Correspondences to Hebrew semantic fields

Colometry

English translation motivated by books of Adele Reinhartz

Ton Veerkamp’s ignored reading of the Gospel of John

 

Introduction (2)

Who, when, where?

We have a text we do not know who wrote it and where and when it was written. There are many hypotheses, and it cannot be the task of an introduction to add another one to them or take sides for one or the other hypothesis. We only have a text that is almost two millennia old.

We can at least say this about the person or persons behind the text: They are one or more Jewish people who are versed in the Scriptures of Israel, have a good knowledge of the Greek language, but with their Greek, their Aramaic mother tongue shines through. The text must have been written after the year 66 because it refers to events that did not happen before the last third of the 1st century of our era.

Text and context

The text is about Messianists, i.e., Jews who believe that the Messiah will come soon and thus radically transform the world order. “We have found the Messiah,” says Andrew to his brother Peter (1:41). And Philipp says to Nathanael, “The one that Moshe and the prophets wrote about in the Torah, we have found him: Yeshua, son of Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee.” (1:45). So it is about a Galilean who is supposed to be the Messiah of Israel. The text wants to answer the question as to whether this is true: Is that Galilean Yeshua the Messiah or not?

Our text—let us call it “John”—knows the answer: This is the one, and those who allegedly came before him as Messiah are “thieves and terrorists,” 10:8. They pretend to be “shepherds,” that is, leaders of the people, but they do nothing but “steal, slaughter and lead them to destruction” (10:10). Political leadership would have to stand up for the people—the text calls them “sheep”—protecting and defending them against those who want to plunder them. The text calls the latter “wolves,” a designation of the Roman Empire. The leadership fails; it “flees” and leaves the city, temple, and people to the Roman armies.

The Messiah, that very Yeshua from Nazareth, is just the opposite; his leadership of the people is good leadership; he is “the good shepherd.” The text places Yeshua from Nazareth in the midst of the deadly struggles of his people in the Judean War against Rome (66-73). “Stealing, murdering, plundering, slaughtering, and leading to destruction” are the keywords of the tenth chapter about the “good shepherd,” the Judean War is John’s context.

Contradictions

Yeshua is involved in numerous and fierce contradictions. In no Gospel does he deal more harshly with his opponents as in John. His opponents are “the Jews,” the Pharisees, the priests, Jews who had initially believed in him (8:31). That is why John has acted as the main text of Christian anti-Judaism. It all comes down to translating scrupulously here.

John was a Jew, Yeshua was also a Jew. We translate the Greek word Ioudaioi as “Judeans,” not “Jews.” Yeshua was a Jew from Galilee, that is, a Galilean, he was not a Ioudaios, one from Judea. The Galileans were very orthodox Jews; most of them rejected any cooperation with the Romans. The Jews from Jerusalem were different; they tended to compromise, their culture was more Hellenistic than Jewish. Probably for this reason the Galileans were regarded as backwoodsmen by the people from Jerusalem. They were the militant spearhead of the rebellion against Rome in the Judean War.

Although in John, Jesus strictly rejected armed struggle, he had friends among the militants (Zealots). Peter was a Zealot (13:37, 18:10). The contradiction between Yeshua the Galilean and the Judeans of Jerusalem was that of political opposition. So was the contradiction between Yeshua and the Perushim (Pharisees), who were an influential and yet moderately anti-Roman party not only in Judea but also in Galilee. Yeshua saw Pharisaism as a political aberration that tended to cause division (schisma, 7:43; 9:16; 10:19) among the Jews in the land, in Samaria, and in the Diaspora. Thus, it is not only a matter of being a disciple of Moshe but also of being a disciple of Yeshua from Nazareth, so that the schism can be overcome.

The Pharisees were opponents, but not enemies. It is different with the renegades, people who had left the group around John; in 6:66 it is still neutrally stated that “many of his disciples went away . . .,” but in 8:44 they are “of the devil,” as traditionally translated. Our translation deliberately differs, “You are of the father, the enemy.” The diabolos is not the evil angel from the other world, but the this-worldly mortal enemy, Rome. Rome is the father of the renegades, they act in his sense, they are collaborators, traitors, no pardon for them! So it is not about “the Jews,” not even about the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Judeans, it is about a very specific group of Judeans, who were originally members of the group around John.

The occasion for the secession was the bread speech, 6:30-58. This speech has clearly sectarian features, it does not take the slightest trouble to arouse understanding, but proceeds according to Hobson’s choice, “It’s sink or swim.” (3) This made it difficult for people at that time to follow this Yeshua, and for us today it is difficult to read John and even to understand him. Our translation does not take away these difficulties, but it at least tries to make the real contradictions audible. John is a sectarian paper, but it is not a document of anti-Judaism, even of anti-Semitism. It has been Christianity that, at least since Augustine, has admitted the anti-Jewish reading of John as the only possible one.

Our translation, therefore, tries to peel off the mighty layers of traditional translations and interpretations; it diametrically opposes not John, but his history of impact. Those who put on the glasses of anti-Judaism are no longer able to perceive the real—political!—contradictory structure of the text, a contradictory structure “with dominant,” as the French philosopher Louis Althusser said. The dominant is the contradiction between Rome and Jesus; vv.12:27-33 make this perfectly clear once you are prepared to admit that “the ruler of the world” is Rome. All other contradictions in the text have to be derived from the relationship to this main contradiction.

Messiah

All Christians—Greek Christianoi, also to be translated as “Messianists”—have a big problem: Why has the world remained as it was, predatory, murderous, wolfish, despite Yeshua the Messiah? John did not wipe this problem off the table. In no other Gospel, the solution is so desperately struggled for as in John’s Gospel.

The document of this despair is found in the Farewell Narrative, chapters 13-17. It holds that there can be no compromise between Jesus and Rome—in whatever form. “The ruler of the world order is coming”—John knows that the great time of the Roman Empire is yet to come—but “with me, indeed, he has no concern at all,” 14:30. This Messiah fails because of the murderousness of the Empire, his resurrection underscores his departure, and this is “useful” (sympherei, 16:7) to the disciples.

The Messiah, however, is not a utopian dream, but a perspective, zōē aiōnios. Our translation diverges from the traditional idea of “eternal life” (what is that?). We write “life of the age to come,” the Messianic era. It is coming. For the time being, we must live from the inspiration of this Messianic perspective, from the consolation of the Messiah (paraklētos, 16:7). We must live without Messiah, but we can live inspired by him; his way, his fidelity is life, 14:6. That is why we translate pneuma tēs alētheias not the usual “spirit of truth,” but “inspiration of fidelity,” 16:13.

John understands the time ahead as the epoch of the Roman Empire; in fact, the second century was the great time of the Empire. He anticipates the situation of early Christianity and directs the disciples to the catacombs, to the underground. In the underground, however, you can only survive by and as long as you are in solidarity with your fellow travelers. Therefore, the life of Yeshua’s disciples must be a life of solidarity. The “new commandment” (13:34) is that of “solidarity,” this word being the only possible translation of the word agapē. Humans do not need more religion than that.

We do not consider the writers of the Messianic writings (the “New Testament”) as theologians, but as Jewish politicians, who are not concerned with the salvation of the soul, but with “the world changed,” a world in which body and soul will be well! And so we translate.

Lemgow-Schmarsau, March 2015
Ton Veerkamp

The language of John and our language (4)

The other culture

André Chouraqui, the Jewish legal scholar, linguist, philosopher, and theologian, set himself the goal as far as possible to make the Semitic language structure of the Scriptures audible in a (French) translation. This concerns the rhythm and the vocabulary of the respective original texts. In the journal “Amsterdamse Cahiers” (No. 5, 1982), André Chouraqui explained his own background and working method. He begins immediately with a warning, quoting from the Talmud. Rabbi Jehuda bar Ilai (about 150 CE) had said: “Whoever translates the text of a verse is a liar; whoever makes a gloss on a verse is a blasphemer.”

Many Islamic theologians saw and see it similarly. The Qur’an should not be translated into any other language because God spoke to Muhammad in Arabic and nothing else; a translation would falsify the word of God. Access to the promises of Islam is not denied to others, but they are expected to move toward the foreign, not the foreign toward them; otherwise, the message would have to adapt to the listeners.

The Good News Bible (Today’s English Version) or the Contemporary English Version (5) on the other hand, are relying entirely on the comprehension possibilities of the listener or reader. Every translation has to move between both extremes. A translation that adapts itself entirely to the listener’s ingrained possibilities of understanding no longer conveys the structure of the text and the culture that can be heard in it. André Chouraqui, on the other hand, demands something similar to the Islamic tradition: the text to be translated must remain a foreign text, otherwise, the listeners will not move towards this foreignness.

But he also says: “Among all versions, the oldest, that of the Septuagint, remains a monument stamped as an imperishable seal not only of the knowledge of the Bible in the West but also of human civilization in general.” Unlike Islamic theologians, Alexandrian scholars around 330-100 BCE chose to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into a completely different structured language. This achievement, he says, was something entirely unheard of in the history of mankind up to that time. It was to take five centuries, writes André Chouraqui, before a comparable project was undertaken: the translation of the classical Buddhist books into Chinese by Kumaradjiva and his disciples (344-413 CE). However, you can notice the origin of the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Scriptures from Alexandria, produced from the 3rd to the 1st century BCE, because it does not want to deny it at all. Precisely in this way, with a Greek that is actually no Greek at all, it wants to make itself understood to the Greeks.

The translations Vetus Latina and Vulgate suffered the same fate. For the classical rhetors—like Augustine!—this Latin was an imposition. This was true mutatis mutandis for all the great translations of the Reformation period. Only after the foreignness of the great translations had become the old familiar—ingrained in everyday language—, did they seem “self-evident” and no longer conveyed anything new.

Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber have created a foreign—and therefore alienating—version of the Scriptures in German. Their version is deliberately not oriented to the alleged possibilities of understanding of the addressees but is oriented to the structure of the message to be translated. The addressee has to experience that he is dealing with a foreign text, especially if the message comes along with German vocabulary and in German sentences. He is confronted with a foreign culture. The reaction of alienation is intended. The version goes to the limits of the capacity of the German language, perhaps beyond it, and it expects German recipients to develop first from readers to listeners and then to have something said to them in German that actually cannot be said at all in German. In the process, they also learn that there is more to their own language than they thought possible. But above all, they learn to listen anew and to put what they thought they knew before to the test. The Good News Bible conveys what people already think they know. Learning rarely takes place here. It is precisely the unfamiliarity that is a necessary condition for hearing something new and moving from the message. It is not by chance that there have been really new and “moving” translations in the last century. The Germans have Buber-Rosenzweig, the French André Chouraqui, in the English-speaking world there is Everett Fox.

Buber/Rosenzweig represent a challenge to exegesis to listen anew and to leave old habits in the closed milieu of the so-called “research.” Some of their basic insights (colometry, root translation, word repetitions as structural elements, etc.) are applied in this translation of the Gospel of John. By the way, this is done without slavish copying. However, Siegfried Kracauer clearly pointed out the limits of Buber/Rosenzweig already around 1930. One cannot restore an ancient text to its original form by “archaizing” it. (6)

You can use “today’s German” {or “English”} without destroying the structure and still not have to fall into the language of informatics or business administration. Nevertheless, Buber/Rosenzweig have made preliminary theological decisions behind which you cannot go without very good arguments. By translating words like pisteuein or alētheia, which go back to the Hebrew root ˀaman, not as “glauben” or “Wahrheit,” [“to believe” or “truth”] but as “vertrauen” or “Treue,” [“to trust” or “fidelity”] you are following Buber’s admonition to translate all words that go back to ˀaman with German words of the root “treu-” or “trau-.” (7) “Fidelity” is more than “faith,” because world-changing practice is more than world view.

Nevertheless, a warning on my own behalf. The Septuagint was “foreign” enough; but if foreigners, in this case, “Christians,” gain the sovereignty of interpretation over the Scriptures of Israel, even the foreignness of the translation is no longer of any help. What is decisive is not linguistic purism, but the ideological objective in the use of texts. The author of the present translation is aware of this ideological danger. A translation is an interpretation, and this interpretation is put up for discussion.

On the translation of John

Our texts are not for reading, but for reading aloud, for “calling out.” The Jews call the corpus of their basic texts—what we call the “Hebrew Bible” or even the “Old Testament”—miqraˀ, what is “to be called out, to be recited.” The word has as its root qaraˀ. Islam calls its scripture “Qurˀan”, which also goes back to that common Semitic root qaraˀ. It is a text structured by breathing units. Therefore, the written form of a translation must make this structure visible. The principle of “colometry” is therefore mandatory; in each line belongs at most as much as can be pronounced with the human voice in one breath. This has consequences for the interpretation.

The Tanakh—as Jewish theology calls what we call the “Hebrew Bible,” i.e., Torah, Neviˀim, Ketuvim, Guidance, Prophets, and Writings—is the main source of John’s Gospel. Therefore, every word is to be consulted for its Hebrew-Aramaic equivalent. This also applies to such trivial particles as kai, en, etc.; since kai stands for the Hebrew we, en for be, it must be asked in each case whether we have to translate “Greek” or “Hebrew-Aramaic.”

Thus, be can mean not only “in,” but also “with” or “through.” The disciples of Yeshua are not to “stay in him,” for every honest person must ask how a person can stay in another person at all. Semitic languages do not know copulative verbs like “to be” and “to stay.” To stay (Greek: menein) stands for the “roots” ˁamad or qum, which means “to be steadfast” or “to be erect,” hence also “to remain connected, to stay firm.”

All the more it becomes exciting when the translator encounters forms of the verb einai; in classical Greek texts, the verb simply means “to be,” so it is the copula of identity. The Hebrew haya is rendered with forms of einai, but it does not mean “to be,” but “to be there for, to happen,” at most “to become.” The emphatic egō eimi that is so characteristic of John’s Gospel is not a sentence of judgment along the lines of subject = predicate. It gives no information about what Yeshua was all about, but that and how he acted for others; hence, “I am there for you as . . ., I happen to you as . . .” Sometimes, however, the Greek text may actually mean such verbs “in the Greek way,” einai as a copula. The translator must therefore scrupulously ask himself what usage is involved.

The intermediate link in determining the Semitic background of a text like the Gospel of John is the Septuagint. Since it was not an idiolectic translation (translating the same words with the same foreign language equivalents without exception) and it very often translates a single Hebrew word by several Greek words and, conversely, one Greek word has several Hebrew equivalents, the matter is not simple. You have to consult all the passages first and then make a selection.

Our text is like a painting of an old master, hidden under one or even several layers of varnish darkened by the action of light. There is little to be said against varnish; it protects the picture from harmful influences from the outside. Just as little can be said against dogmatics; a binding interpretation protects against arbitrary interpretations caused by the respective spirit of the times. But the protective layer can itself become harmful. What is on the picture is hardly visible anymore. Careful restoration by removing the protective layers brings to light an image that we had never seen before. Our translation, founded on an interpretation that protects against arbitrariness, is comparable to such a restoration. It is to be freed from ancient dogmatic prejudices, hardly perceived as such.

John did not know “Father-Son-Holy Spirit dogmatics” as it was developed in the 3rd century in the categories of the Greek scientific language of that time and became orthodox since the early 4th century (Council of Nicaea). When we read such words as “Father,” “Son,” “Holy Spirit,” we can be quite sure that he who thought Semitically would not have been able to do anything with the language of orthodoxy. Therefore, where possible, we must translate differently than the orthodox—but not biblically—trained readership expects.

All recent translations in German {or English (8)} are “post-Nicene” translations, that is, they cover the text, even if they do not want to use newspaper German, with that thick layer of varnish of Christian dogmatics that has become partly dark.

Jesus {to whom we will refer by his Hebrew/Aramaic name Yeshua} is, to give an example, the “Son of Man”; at the same time, he is the Son of God. After the Council of Chalcedon in 453 thought to have to settle the dogmatic dispute about “Christ” with a compromise formula (“true God, true man, one undivided person in two natures”) and after this formula has become the basis of the Christian religion in all its shades, most people think that “John” could not have meant much else than “Nicaea” and “Chalcedon.”

But since the vocable “son” is written and pronounced ben in Hebrew, bar in Aramaic, and hyios in Greek, the question is: do we mean ben or do we mean hyios? Ben, bar means not only “son” but also “one like.” We learn, for example, in Genesis 7:6, we-noach ben-shesh meˀoth shana, and, if we translate literally, we get: “And Noah was a son of six hundred years.” Neither Chouraqui nor Buber translates the word ben there as “son.” He is a “six hundred years old” man. So a “son of man” is “one like a man, a human.”

In Daniel 7, the history of the peoples of the world comprehensible for the Scriptures was determined by a regime of predatory powers, lion, bear, panther, sea monster. After the disempowerment of these “predators” appears as an absolute alternative the “son of man,” that is, a human. And this human does only what the God of Israel demands; he identifies himself thus totally with God’s concern that he acts and speaks “like God” (ben ˀelohim, bar elahin). From Nicaea and equality of essence (homoousios, consubstantialis), from “Father” and “Son” every trace is missing here.

Maybe the Christian theologians, who had only the philosophical scientific language of late antique Greek at their disposal, could not formulate differently, but John was a Greek-writing child of Israel with Aramaic as mother tongue, grown up and thinking in the linguistic body of the Tanakh. At the same time, we must keep in mind that the author of John’s Gospel was a scholar, but not a Rabbinic scholar, and certainly not a late ancient scholar. We will see very often that the Gospel of John vehemently and principally sets itself apart from Rabbinical Judaism. The Gospel of John is indeed an Israelite text, but it is certainly not a Jewish text—and all the less a Christian text. It has only become a text of Christianity and thus a Christian text through the Christian reception since the 2nd century.

These remarks may suffice to make clear to readers how arduous must be the restoration of the text of a heterodox, fiercely anti-Rabbinic Messianist from Israel of the late 1st century of our era.

Although we have the Gospel of John only in the form of manuscripts of later Christian theologians, we must take into account what has been said above when translating it. Unfortunately, we do not have one original text, but many original texts differing in details and sometimes in important aspects. The earliest reasonably complete text, the papyrus codex P66, dates from around 200, at least a hundred years after the first writing; other important manuscripts date from the 3rd to 4th centuries and even later.

Textual criticism cannot aim at reconstructing the original of the author “John.” Apart from clear spelling mistakes, every maker of a handwritten manuscript has had his good reasons to reformulate one thing or another. Thus, after about 400, producers of manuscripts began to insert into the text the “Narrative of the Adulteress” with the famous phrase: “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” The question is not: Is it part of the original? but: What reasons did which people (manuscripts) have for inserting the narrative in this exact place?

We must therefore admit that we are not even translating one of the original texts, but a “bastard text.” The commonly used 27th edition of “Nestle-Aland” is also a “bastard text,” albeit one that has been worked out with the greatest care, a mixture of different text templates. It is the basis of our translation, whereby we take the liberty to deviate from it if necessary and to choose other variants.

Names of persons and places in the text are a problem in themselves. To Christian readers, Jesus, John, Simon-Peter, or Peter, etc., are. “old acquaintances.” For this reason alone, it is advisable to give the persons back their original Hebrew or Aramaic names. To a Greek person, also Iēsous or Lazaros was exotic names, and for them these people were non-Greeks, and that means strangers, even barbarians. The text comes from a culture foreign to us—the people in the text lived, thought, felt different from the Greeks—and us.

If we translate the Greek word Ioudaioi as “Jews,” we pretend that John had problems with those Ioudaioi that were identical with that murderous paranoia that “Christians” of the Middle Ages and the Modern Age developed regarding the respective Judaism. This difference must be taken into account. Therefore we write the Hebrew “Yehudim” (the Aramaic “Yehudayin” would be another possibility) and the corresponding “Yehuda” for the country and for the person of Judah. John does not write lerousalēm, as Luke does, but Hierosolyma, which is undoubtedly an attempted transcription of the dual form Yerushalayim; we retain this form. Samaria is Shomron, so the woman from Samaria is a Shomronite woman. The attempt is not so much a return to an origin of whatever kind, but rather what Bertolt Brecht calls “alienation.” (9)

Brecht looks at pictures by the older Breughel. He writes: “If an Alpine massif is set in flemic landscape, or the contemporary European costume is opposed by the ancient Asian one, then one denounces the other and shows it in its particularity, but at the same time we get landscape par excellence, people everywhere.” This seems, to me, a translation program for ancient texts in general. “The Jesus in Oriental costume among flemic contemporaries,” that is for Brecht at first the striking thing about the painting “Expulsion of the Changers from the Temple”. (10) In “Dialogues from the ‘Brass Purchase,’” it says: “Just as empathy makes the particular event commonplace, so alienation makes the commonplace particular”. (11)

In the so-called “bibliodramas,” empathy plays the main role, Jesus thus becomes an everyday—therefore also boring, in any case, interchangeable—figure. Only through alienation does he become for us what he was for the narrators: the unique, the special in itself. And the characters who interact with him become unique. Brecht, despite his intense relationship to the Bible as a narrative, never dared to make a drama out of biblical material. One does not perform “Jesus” any more than one can perform “Muhammad.” In the translation we let the characters appear in the dress of oriental names.

House of study

For those who are familiar with the standard German or English translations, this translation will sometimes feel like an ox at a strange barn door. We have therefore endeavored to justify factual deviations from the standard translation. This is done in an extensive footnote appendix. Purely technical notes alternate with commentary. A small glossary (new translation—traditional translation—Greek equivalent—Hebrew/Aramaic equivalent) is provided at the end of the book.

The interpretation of a text is not a scientific l’art pour l’art. The gigantic corpus of interpretation of the Talmud shows the always necessary effort how people should live concretely, under the respective ruling world orders, with the Grand Narrative. (12) I think that in the common worship service the Grand Narrative usually cannot be interpreted, even made audible. The place where this can and must be done is what the Jews call beth ha-midrash, “House of Study.” The era of Christianity is over. Those who want to live with and in the Grand Narrative under the conditions of the world order, but not according to the conditions of the world order, are today only a vanishing minority, even in the churches. If they want to avoid turning into a fundamentalist sect, they depend on the Jewish model “house of study.” The translation is meant for the House of Study. Translation, apparatus, and interpretation may be helpful for the students in the House of Study. What sense the translator and interpreter make of this troublesome, recalcitrant, annoying, and occasionally great text—in any case still powerful in its ideological effect—, he has to make recognizable as his own commentary: a contribution to the discussion among many others. Whereby the boundaries between interpretation and commentary are sometimes fluid.

Acknowledgment

The translation, interpretation, and commentary are strikingly different from what is offered in standard translations, interpretations, and commentaries. My commentary is critical. By criticism, the bourgeois science understands the discussion of assigning questions: who has what, who has “edited” where, etc., where did who get what, who is gnostic or not, etc. Otherwise, “Jesus” is always right with them. Rather, criticism for me is a political criticism of John’s Gospel. Which politics does the text propose, which interests does it want to serve, are the means suitable or not, which ideological, political, social consequences does it have, which does it have to answer for, which not? This presupposes a distance that most commentaries are lacking. For me, John’s “Jesus” at times is just not right. In a conflict like John’s, it is necessary not to side from the outset with a particular conflicting party.

Of course, I consulted several commentaries. I have learned from all of them, even where I have come to diametrically opposed conclusions. This is even more true of “great” commentaries such as those of C.K. Barrett and Rudolf Bultmann. Without them, I would have overlooked much that was necessary for understanding the text.

Lemgow, September 2002
Ton Veerkamp

The Farewell of the Messiah

A Reading of the Gospel of John

The preface, 1,1-18

A preface is written after having completed the opus. You can’t understand it before having read the whole of it. Thus a preface is a summarizing postscript placed in front to make clear the intention of the text from the very start. The preface recapitulates. When reading the interpretation you should begin with 1:19 and then study the preface. You may arrange the preface as follows:

1. The Word (13) and the life, 1,1-3

2. The life and the light, 1,4-5

3. The witness, 1,6-8

4. The light and the world order, 1,9-11

5. Birth, 1,12-13

6. The Word and human reality, 1,14

7. A postscript, 1,15-18

1. The Word and the life, 1:1-3

Good message according to John (14)

1:1 In the beginning (15) is (16) the Word. (17)
The Word is onto GOD, (18)
divine (19) is the Word.
1:2 This one is in the beginning onto GOD.

1:3 All things began happening through it,
without it, nothing (20) began happening
what has happened. (21)

The problem is the custom to take the verb “to be” as the only passable translation for the Hebrew word haya. In European languages “to be” nearly always is a copula. (22) It links the subject to the predicate according to the basic formula S = P, the subject is equal to the predicate.

Semitic languages don’t know a copula. The Arabic placeholder for this verb, the verb kana, is followed by the accusative, so it’s not a copula. In order to declare an identity, these languages don’t use the copula but the plain juxtaposition.

Haya means “to occur, to come to pass, to happen, to act as, to exist as, to become.” In our text, we can’t translate haya by “to happen”, because for that meaning John takes the verb ginesthai.

In our translation, the present tense in the first lines of the Gospel undertakes the function of “shocking.” Taking the traditional imperfect tense, “in the beginning was the Word”, we would suggest a historical chronology: “In the beginning was the Word, and then there are further events.” Yet the Word always is acting as inception, as a principle, in everything that is happening. The “Word” belongs to the inner structure of every human reality, in which the Word is acting as a precept, as the main issue. (23) ENTÊTE is the French translation by André Chouraqui (24) for bereshith in Genesis 1:1 which he writes in capitals, but he uses small letters for en archē. Genesis 1:1 leads the way, and John 1:1 follows it.

The preface of the Gospel of John can only be understood from the first chapter of the Scriptures. The creation story sets in with the sentence: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” The Verb of this sentence is only used with the subject “God.” Pieces of evidence are chiefly found in Genesis 1:1 ff. and in Isaiah 40-48. This action is the political basis of both the Scriptures and the Gospel.

That’s what the Hebrew word bereshith stands for. The root of this word is rosh, “head, top, summit, chief.” You might translate: “Chiefly, God is creating the heaven and the earth.” The chief thing is not the heaven and the earth, but this very special way of creating. En archē, be-reshith have a structural function. Inception, beginning, is always in everything that is.

This inception is—from the creator—a completed work: “And on the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested (yishboth, shabath) on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken”, as it says in Genesis 2:2. The Jews are celebrating this every week. The Messianists disagreed in as much as in their eyes creation is not a fact which was completed in the past. Especially this thought is distinctly expressed in the Gospel of John. That’s why among the Messianists and particularly in John, the Sabbath is not a commemoration and feast day of the accomplishment of the works of creation. John said it more distinctly, more provocatively than the other evangelists. “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work” (5:17), his Messiah Yeshua says. A paralyzed man, a paralyzed Israel, is a sign of non-completion. Creation is not (in the sense of being ready), creation becomes (in the sense of being in the making). Creation is not a massive being like “world” or “nature”, but a structure of reality, a structure of coming-into-being, never of being. That everything has a beginning and an end, too, is a truism. Creation means that nothing is founded in itself. Nothing of reality, no single individual can declare itself to be absolute, i.e. to be theos [God-like].

By its first two words en archē, the Gospel of John invokes the creation theology of a prophet in Babylon from the mid-6th-century BCE. This anonymous prophet, known as Deutero-Isaiah, wanted to prevent that the people, deported from Judah to Babylon under the enormous pressure to conform, lose their identity and thus their future. Their God, i.e. what engages their absolute loyalty, therefore cannot be a regional, even local authority. At a time when the Great Powers—the Neo-Babylonian, the Egyptian, and the Persian Empires—control the fates of all peoples in the world known to that prophet, the people of Judah in its exile can only have good prospects if what represents its social being is an authority above all political authorities, all of them, without exception in time and space.

So this prophet is able to turn the shooting star of the political reorganization in all the ancient Near East, the Persian king Kourosch (Cyrus), into the chief functionary (“Anointed One”, Mashiach, Messiah) of the God of Judah/Israel (Isaiah 45:1 ff.).

The meaning of the creation theology is of political, not cosmological nature. The text of Genesis 1:1-2:4 is the formalized summary of the creation theology of that Deutero-Isaiah. He starts with the words bereshith, en archē. Genesis 1:1 ff. serves as the preface for the whole Hebrew Scriptures as well as the summary of the whole Gospel of John serves as its preface. No Jew can hear a text with the words “In the beginning” without hearing all at once the “In the beginning” of the creation story.

The sentence “In the beginning is the word” can also be paraphrased as “Basically is happening (in everything else what happens) the Word.” The meaning of Word, davar, logos, is told by the Gospel at length. The text precisely defines the vocable “Word”: primarily as the basic principle; then it is stated: “The Word is onto (25) God.”

In the Scriptures, “God” is the absolute authority, the basic principle (archē) of the particular social system. It is functioning as the converging point of every social dependency. Within Biblical logic, the question of whether any God does exist is absurd. You only may ask: “Who or what is the God, who or what is functioning as God in a given society?” With this question, the Prophet Eliah confronted the people of Israel on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:21). According to this logic, there cannot be a godless society, because no society can go without a basic order. Otherwise, it would fall apart.

In the Scriptures, we don’t have an abstract, idealist monotheism. There were many gods, many social systems of many people, insisting on absolute allegiance. So the question is: “Which sort of social order do we want?” In the language of the Tanakh: “Who is God?” or “What is his NAME?” (26) (Exodus 3:13). If this question once is answered, the social order no longer is up to free negotiation. It then turns into an absolute opposite, that is to say, “God.” “God” is defining a function—and in the old Judean society, this function was “to bring out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2).

In the Gospel of John, the definite article (ho theos, “the God”) hints at that very special function of God. The Word is determined by this functional God. So pros ton theon does not mean to be directed onto God or onto the divine in general, but onto a certain God, the God of Israel. The two words ton theon, “the God”, signify—in an infinite concentration—the specific detailed social order that Israel gave itself in its Torah, an order of liberated slaves, of autonomy and equality. And as the Word is onto the God, that is to say onto this God, it can only be understood from these Scriptures. This is true for the Gospel of John and for all Messianic writings. (27) Provided that by God without definite article we mean this God, we may translate “onto God”, otherwise we have to translate “onto the God.”

The third sentence reads: theos ēn ho logos = “. . . divinely determined is the Word.” It is not a Greek definition according to the pattern S = P. The Word is not identic with any predicate, but it is happening determined by God. Here the article is lacking, thus the meaning is “determined by God” or, if you want, “godlike,” “godly,” “divine.” Obviously, this is not a general statement, the word has no general, divine structure, but a specific one: the word takes place within the scope of what in Israel is called the God, and it is acting like (the) God.

In the Gospel, this “like God” in substance is rendered by the expression “Son of the God” (hyios tou theou). A 3rd or 4th century Greek, educated in the thinking of late antiquity, can’t help reading such sentences within the framework of his logics, the logics of occidental civilization in general. Certainly, he will have problems.

The logic sentence “the Word = God” seems to violate the principle monotheist clause of the Scriptures. So he has to interpret the sentence. He knows the Alexandrian philosophic tradition and its climax in the philosophy of Plotinus, he makes use of its scholarly categories, he hasn’t got different ones. He has to ask how to define the identity of “Word” and “God.” Some try to interpret: The Word is not God, but it is divine. Others saw that quite differently, and the quarrel began.

Do you have to think of the identity of God and word as sameness or semblance, in Greek homoousios or homoiousios? The difference seems to be subtle, the problem is important. If you subordinate the word to the God of Israel, you will ultimately reduce the Christ of the Christian religion to one of the great prophets of Israel. Compared to Judaism and later to Islam, Christianity would have no significant ideological advantages. If you, in a Neoplatonic way, turn the word to one of the emanations of the One (to hen), Christianity compared to late antiquity loses its singular character.

But after the year 323—when Constantine took over the Roman Empire as sole ruler—Christianity should play the role of a solely legitimate and universal—or more precisely: hegemonial—ideology of the Empire. The culture of late antiquity, after having tried once more and without success to reconquer lost terrain under the reign of Julian (361-363), was prohibited as heathendom under Theodosius (379-395). Christianity had won the race. Based on the reorganized exploitation of peasant work (colonate), the Christian Middle Ages began. By the Plotinic translation and interpretation of the sentence “and the Word is God”, Christianity ideologically became fit for hegemony within its reach, Byzantium, the occident. Since then, we hardly can’t help reading John 1:1-18 in a Greek manner. But our reading here is Oriental if you will.

The fourth sentence resumes the word bereshith. But now it is determined by the social order of Israel. It was not from the beginning onto God in general, but it is onto this very specific God, and that in the beginning, in principle, thus from what in Israel is called creation. This beginning is no past, but presence. Creation—as we have learned—has to be defined politically, not cosmologically; so it politically determines the direction towards the Torah, the social order of the old Israel as such, “onto God.”

The fifth sentence is a double sentence: a) “Everything is happening through it [the Word]” and b) “without it nothing is happening.” The punctuation of the manuscripts is an attempt at interpretation by the makers in question. Some have a full stop after sentence b), others continue with a relative clause. The next full stop in the oldest complete manuscript from around the year 200—the Papyrus P66—does not occur before the end of the sentence: “And the light shines in the darkness.”

We have to decide and set a full stop after “what has happened.” “What has happened” means “everything that began and was finished in the past” (gegonen, Semitic, not Greek Perfect). Only by the Word, the completed and concluded past is broken open for the future. It is by the Word that the past becomes actual: egeneto, Semitic, not Greek imperfect. The verbal form egeneto shows the persistence of all that began in the past. Without the Word, everything that happened in the past and was completed in the past is over forever. History—shorthand for all what began and was completed in the past—then would have no breath, and even more so no “long breath” as you say in German for “staying power.” Without the Word, nothing more is happening of what has been history, ho gegonen. The word ouden, “nothing”, or, like other manuscripts read, oude hen, “not one thing”, is related to ho gegonen, “that has happened.” (28) Not one thing is completed in its becoming, that is the statement. Through the Word, all history remains open, living, as we will hear in the next line. Nothing is over and nothing is complete.

2. The life and the light, 1:4-5

1:4 With it is life.
Life is the light of humankind.
1:5 The light is shining in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

“With it [the Word] is life”, it says. Or, traditionally: “In it is life.” Life is the opposite of nothing. It has to be defined more closely. That is done by light, not light by itself, not light as a cosmic principle, but light for somewhat, the light of humans. The genitive case here is a so-called objective genitive. As soon as it comes to closer definitions of Word—history, life, light—the human reality is showing up. This human reality is concrete history. Before this history is brought up, the antithesis to light has to be named. The antithesis is life/light against nothing/darkness. This antithesis leads us back into the creation story, we quote once again (Genesis 1:1-4a),

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
The earth became crazy and mazy:
Darkness over the area of the unending sea.
Storm of God breeding over the area of the unending sea.
And God said,
“Let there be light!”
Light came about.
And Gott saw the light—that it was good.

Before even hearing the word light, before there is spoken a single word, in the creation story we hear the word darkness. Before turning heaven and earth into creation, darkness has to be put in its place, as well as the sea of chaos. Of what primarily might have been a cosmological myth of origin, the prophets made political teaching of man-made chaos and dark human conditions. We have to hear two other texts together with this one. To begin with, Genesis 1:4-5,

God separated the light from the darkness.
God called out to the light: “Day!”
To the darkness, he called out: “Night!”
It became evening, it became morning,
Day one. (29)

Hereby, the darkness is sort of demythologized. It is no cosmological principle, it plainly is night, no more, and no less as well. Admittedly, there is man-made darkness, too. We hear Jeremiah 4:23-26,

I saw the land, there: crazy and mazy,
the heavens: no one of its lamps!
I saw the mountains, there: quaking,
all the hills, they are shaking.
I saw, there: no more mankind,
all the birds of the heavens flown away!
I saw, there: the vineyard is wilderness,
all the cities destroyed,
before the face of the NAME,
before the face of the blazing anger of his nose.

Here the condition of a land ravaged by war is described as the condition of earth before every creating word: crazy and mazy, no light, no mankind, no birds, everything devastated, what came about because of the foolish policies of the elites of Jerusalem, their refusal to preserve the reform policy of the good king Josiah and to consider the regional power relations. The result of this policy is the nothing and the darkness, in the eyes of the prophet the result of the wrathful reaction of Israel’s God. If the order of the Torah—being “God” for Israel—is destroyed by the politics of its elites, this order reacts by the wrath of its being destroyed. It isn’t about a mythic primal state, it is a matter of all that people around John and we now were or are seeing every day: darkness, chaos, destruction of life.

Jeremiah exactly describes the condition of the people of Judea after the year 70. The city is devastated, the population massacred, the land uninhabitable. An absolute new beginning is necessary. From the catastrophe of the year 70, there’s no going back, nothing will be as it was before. Because of the present state, somebody who interprets the year 70 as the end must begin with the words in the beginning. The work of the Messiah is a new earth under a new heaven, life and light. Darkness did not win: the verb turning up here, katalambanein, “to overcome”, in the Greek version of the Scriptures is always connoted in a violent sense. Against the nothing and the darkness that was ruling since the disastrous ending of the First Jewish- Roman War 66-70, John brings out “light” and “life”: darkness did not overcome light and life.

3. The witness, 1:6-8

1:6 It happened:
A man,
sent from GOD, (30)
his name: Yochanan.

1:7 This one came as a witness,
to bear witness of the light,
so that all through him might trust. (31)
1:8 Not that one was the light,
but he was to bear witness of the light.

“It happened: A man, Yochanan his name.” Very similar to this sentence John 1:6 is the sentence Judges 13:2,

It happened: a man (human), sent from God,
his name: Yochanan.

It happened: one man from Zorah,
from a clan of the tribe of Dan,
his name: Manoah.

Both sentences correlate not only by the “Semitic” origin of John’s language but also in their content. Both Manoah and Yochanan make possible a history of liberation, but they are not the liberators. By the word “wa-yehi, (kai) egeneto”, “it happened”, void history of suppression and hopelessness is finished. Now the past turns to real history. In the Scriptures, this expression appears many hundreds of times; it is always a matter of what happened, never of what was.

The hero of the story Judges 13-16 is not Manoah, but Samson, but without Manoah, the story about the liberator Samson had not been possible. The story of the Messiah Yeshua had not been possible without Yochanan, either. A human is happening, and this story is “determined by God”; this man is entirely determined by what in Israel is “God”, he is “godly.” The name of the man sent by God is Yochanan, a priestly name; in Luke, he was descended from a priestly family. In John, however, he is not Yochanan the Baptist, but Yochanan, the Witness.

Verse 7 is colored Hebrew as well. If you would put back the Hebrew result into English you’d get: “This one came for the testimony . . . , so that all trust through him.” (32) The aim of his action as a witness is to inspire confidence. Yochanan’s aim is identically equal to the aim of the whole Gospel that “was written so that you trust”, 20:31. Yochanan is a witness within proceedings concerning the trustworthiness of the Messiah. In 1:19-34 and 3:23-30, we will hear particulars. “He was not the light” is abbreviated for: “He confessed, he did not deny, he confessed: I am not the Messiah” (1:20). But Yochanan is the chief witness of the Messiah who is the light of the world (8:12). The witness inspires confidence in the Messiah Yeshua; that was his life task.

We explain the verb pisteuein. It is the Greek form of the causative verbal form of the root ˀaman, “to be loyal, firm, faithful”; thus causative, he-ˀemin, “let (a man) be trustworthy”, i.e. “to trust.” (33) “To believe” means to have a more or less reasonable opinion, “to trust” is able to set an action in motion. For substantives or adjectives of the Hebrew root ˀaman, John takes Greek words of the root alēth-. Words of this Hebrew root we will translate by English words like “faithful”, “trustworthy”, “fidelity”, only seldom “true”. The light is trustworthy, it is able to engender trust. Appropriate to the fidelity of the light is the human action of pisteuein, “to trust.”

4. The light and the world order, 1:9-11

1:9 That is the trustworthy light, (34)
that is enlightening every human
by coming (35) into the world. (36)
1:10 In the world it is working,
the world began happening through it,
yet the world order did not recognize it. (37)
1:11 It came to its own,
yet its own did not accept it. (38)

The light is shining into the world order (kosmos). Dark is not the world as living space for mankind as such, but dark is how humans did order or organize the living space; the Greek verb kosman means “to put in (beautiful) order” (see cosmetics). This is no pseudo-metaphysic of primeval antagonisms light/dark, heaven/earth or world, spirit/flesh or matter, and so on. Here is not dealt with a cosmology, even less a “Gnostic” one, but with politology.

Kosmos is Greek all through. As heaven is an organized, calculable entity of celestial bodies, so the world is a politically organized world, like a classical polis, a world order. The Hebrew language has ˁolam, “era”, not a spatial, but a temporal notion. To Israel, the earth (ˀeretz) is made of many “earths”/lands (ˀaratzoth), in which many peoples live according to their own statutes or orders, under their own “gods”, from one generation to the next, for the ages (dor wa-dor le-ˁolam). That’s an entirely different sort of world view.

Since Alexander’s conquest of the orient, humans are living in an order that is determined by the urbanity of Hellenism, that is in a cosmos. It was by the Romans that this order literally was turned into the world order. And exactly that is the political problem. The world order has destroyed all traditional orders of humankind. For them, the order in fact is disorder, everything has fallen to pieces. Only in the light of traditionalist revolts in the whole orient against the Hellenistic modernization of traditional social structures, you can understand messianism. In Judea, they were temporarily successful by the Maccabean revolution about 170 BCE.

The purpose of the light is the enlightenment of the humans, enlightenment well within the meaning of the Enlightenment. (39) They shall see the world order as it really is and act accordingly. We decided not to relate the last dependent clause, “coming into the world order”, to the word “humans” (anthrōpon), but to the word “light” (phōs); grammatically, both are possible. For the Messiah—the light—is “the one-like-God, coming into the world order” as Martha will define the Messiah (11:27). It is the Messiah who “enlightens” the humans. The verbal form ēn mustn’t be translated by a form of our verb “to be.” It isn’t about a general-abstract being, but a concrete, dynamic, effective happening, working. (40)

The next dependent clause is hard to interpret. We cannot explain it from an orthodox-trinitarian doctrine that the Father had created the world order through the Son, so it had become through him. The world order, however, is no work of creation, but man-made. The living space of humans is this earth; it is created. Of the earth, the humans make the world, world order. Thus, if you translate “the world order was made through it [light, Word], you put about nonsense. For then you would have to ask by what thought the sentence has to be continued. Made to be what it is? Or made to be what it ought to be? The meaning is: Through the Word, the ruling world order (ho kosmos houtos, Jewish ˁolam ha-ze) is confronted with its absolute alternative, the age to come (41) (ho aiōn ho mellōn, ˁolam ha-baˀ). No ruling world order is able to think of its own radical alternative; it would then have to think its own decay. The Word is coming up to it from the outside and starting up things that will call it into question altogether. Not until the dialogue between the Messiah and the agent of Rome, Pilate, this will be obviously clear. This world order and the Word are mutually exclusive in an absolute sense. The history set in motion by the Word is diametrically opposed to the history of Rome—the concrete world order.

“The Word came into its own.” The commentaries usually treat “the own” as a synonym for “world.” But it is not the world, even less the world order. It is about “the own” of the Messiah under the terms of the world order: the Judean people. It is “the own” who in the Gospel are called Ioudaioi, the Judeans, “Jews” in the current translations. This people does not accept its own Messiah. That is the determining conflict throughout the Gospel, the struggle for recognition of the Messiah by his own people.

5. Birth, 1:12-13

1:12 All who accept it, however,
to them, it gives the authority
to become GOD-Born, (42)
them who are trusting in its Name,
1:13 who are begotten not of bloods (43)
or of the will of the flesh (44)
or of the will of a man, (45)
but divinely.

Those who accept the Messiah Yeshua [nevertheless] get “power to become born of God.” The status of those who now are named is concerned with power (exousia). The expression tekna tou theou, “children of God”, we paraphrase as “God-born.” From the Scriptures we know expressions like bene ha-ˀelohim, “sons of God”, ˀish ha-ˀelohim, “man of God”, but yilde ha-ˀelohim, “children of God”, are not to be found in the Scriptures. God does not have children. The meaning of the expression comes out of the following determinations. Two of them are positive, three negative. The two positive ones are framing the three negative ones:

Them who are trusting in its [the Messiah’s] Name,
who are begotten not of bloods
or of the will of the flesh
or of the will of man,
but divinely.

Primarily, John doesn’t think of humans in general, but of those in his own people who accept the Messiah. To accept means to trust, to trust in the NAME of the Messiah. In that culture, unlike in ours, the name was more than a label of an individual. In our culture, we can change our name at will. But the name in an ancient Near Eastern culture is the distinctive, indispensable self of the person, it is the very own life task of a person. If he does not what his name demands, it remains undone and unhappened forever. The NAME of the Messiah is the liberation of the world from the order that is bearing down on it, John 4:42. To trust in the NAME (or toward the NAME) means to expect that the Name keeps what he promises.

“Not of bloods.” We take the plural “bloods” for the Greek plural haimata. In Hebrew, there is the plural damim which in the Scriptures is to be found 73 times, most of all related to sacrificial rites. Exodus 4:24-26 relates,

So it happened:
On the way, at a lodging place, the NAME encountered him [Moshe],
he sought to kill him.
Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin,
she touched his foot with it.
She said: “You’ve become a bridegroom of blood [damim, plural] for me.”
He [the NAME] let him go.
Hence she said “bridegroom of blood”,
because of the circumcision.

Not circumcision, distinguishing mark between Israel and the other peoples, decides about who belongs to “the own” of the Messiah. “Not of bloods” thus means: not to be begotten from and for circumcision. Here is no difference of opinion between John and Paul.

“Not of the will of the flesh.” Thelēma stands for two Hebrew words: chefetz and ratzon. Buber translates the first mostly as “Gefallen” = “favor” and the second as “Gnade” = “grace,” but also as “favor.” Both have similar meanings. Of God, it says: “He does whatever pleases him (ˀasher chafetz, ho ethelēsen), Psalm 115:3. In the Scriptures, that does not imply arbitrariness, but rather an unquestionable authority.

“Flesh” is no negative notion. It means the vulnerable, perishable human existence. Isaiah 40:6-8 says: “All flesh is like grass . . . , the grass withers . . . , the word of our God stands (yaqum) for the ages.” What is begotten by human reality, will always be “flesh”, transient like the grass and the flowers of the field. But the denial of “the will of the flesh” is no refusal of human existence; that would be absurd, as would be the refusal of the green grass and the flowers of the field because of their perishability.

The contrast is between “fading” and “abiding.” “Not of the will of the flesh” means: not to be begotten of an existence that remains bound to this age, to the ˁolam ha-ze, i.e. to the ruling world order. John does not want a human (fleshly) existence, that remains bound to the perishability of its historical conditions, but a Messianically inspired (not: spiritual!) existence that embodies the age to come. To John, the opposite to a perishable, vulnerable, physical life is not the eternal, spiritual life in the afterworld, but a life of the age to come in this world, zōē aiōnios. The adjective aiōnios means “the coming aiōn, the ˁolam ha-baˀ (Buber: Weltzeit = “world age”), concerning the coming era.” The expression originates from Daniel. We’ll get back to it when discussing the passage 5:29. This era will be remaining, an era when human life no longer is threatened by inhuman circumstances. Hence we translate zōē aiōnios consequently as “life of the age to come” and not as “eternal life.”

“Not of the will of a man.” Here you have to think of Abraham. The son is the theme of Genesis 15-22. This son is born from a woman “with whom it ceased to be after the manner of women”, and who lived with a man, “who was old”, from two humans who were sterile, Genesis 18:12-14 and 21:1-2,

Sarah laughed to her inner self, saying:
“After I am a nothing,
am I still to have sexual pleasure,
my lord being old, too?”
The NAME said to Abraham:
“Why did Sarah laugh and say:
‘Will I really bear [a child],
old as I am?’
Is anything too marvelous for the NAME to do?
At the appointed time I will return to you,
about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”
. . .
And the NAME arranged it for Sarah as he had said,
he did for Sarah as he had spoken:
She became pregnant.
Sarah bore Abraham a Sohn in his old age
at the set time of which God had spoken to him.

At no point there is talk of Abraham having begotten this son, the only-begotten, with Sarah. There only is talk of Sarah and her son. Nowhere we hear the classical sentence: “Such and such [Abraham] knew her and she [Sarah] became pregnant and bore a son . . ..” The son, wanted by both of them, for whom they had begged God, is born not of the will of a man!” To be sure, we hear: “These are the begettings of Isaac, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac”, Genesis 25:19. But the begetting by Abraham is an element of the chapter “begettings of Isaac.” In marked contrast to all the patriarchs of the book Genesis, begettings (tholedoth), tholedoth ˀAdam (Genesis 5:1), tholedoth Noach . . . to tholedoth Yaˁaqov (Genesis 37:2) just the chapter tholedoth ˀAvraham is lacking (see the discussion of 8:58)! That’s an absolute joke (46) (Genesis 18:15),

Sarah lied, saying:
“I did not laugh”, for she was afraid.
He said:
“No, but you did laugh!”

And Abraham agrees to it (Genesis 21:3),

He called the name of his son,
who was born to him,
whom Sarah bore him:
Yitzchaq [Isaac], he laughs.”

The child was born to Abraham, passive form; Sarah bore, active form. Both are old, a joke. The joke is the NAME. One chapter further it comes to be deadly serious, Genesis 22:1 ff.,

It happened after these words:
God tested Abraham, he said to him:
“Abraham!”
He said:
“Here I am.”
He said:
“Take now your son,
your only one (yachid),
whom you love,
Yitzchaq.
Then you go to the land Moriah,
exalt him as a sacrifice of exalting,
on one of the mountains of the land that I will tell you.”

We’ll get onto the “only son” (yachid, monogenēs) later. (47) Anyhow, we may conceive an idea of what the expression means when we hear: “not of the will of a man, but begotten divinely.” (48) The only one, monogenēs, is the new Isaac, the only one begotten divinely. Whoever trusts in him will be “born of God” as well in this sense: He really sees light, is enlightened, remains alive amidst an order of death.

6. The Word and human reality, 1:14

1:14 The Word began happening as flesh,
has its tent (49) among us,
we are viewing (50) its honor, (51)
an honor as of an only begotten one (52) by the FATHER,
filled with solidarity and fidelity. (53)

Now the Word, the logos, has to be defined more closely. If—according to the Gnostic myth—it were the eternal light and the soul, as a spark of this eternal light, were imprisoned in human reality, then the light would come into a diametrically opposite reality which ontologically is determined as dark, into a hostile and divine antagonistic entity.

We translate: “The Word is happening as flesh.” Our author is not a Greek, but a child of Israel who learned to think in the building of the Grand Narrative. His language is always and everywhere the language of the Scriptures of Israel. For Greek thinkers, it is nearly impossible to think of the perishable (flesh) together with the imperishable (word).

Who bothers to read the Enneads of Plotinus, will inevitably get under the impression of the elite pagan glory of this ideological construct. But if he then measures a text like John 1:14 by the yardstick of the Plotinic (or neo-Platonic) categories, he will lose himself in an insoluble problem. According to the neo-Platonic logics, the eternal imperishable word, the logos, cannot combine itself with the perishable human reality. It merely can leave behind the perishable by a cloistered life. According to this metaphysic, the sentence “The word has become flesh” is impossible. For the word can seem to be flesh, at most, but cannot be, become, and remain flesh. The equation of “word” (eternal, imperishable) and “flesh” (temporal, perishable), however, is busting this metaphysic.

The great theologians leave no doubt to be as serious about the identity between subject and predicate as about the whole Scriptures, Gospel and Tanakh. That’s why they dare—according to Greek thinking—an impossible sentence. What unites both poles of the equation, holds “inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably”, so it reads in the dogmatical formula of Chalcedon. By these four adjectives, every single of them with an alpha privativum (a-, English in-, or un-), one hand gives what the other takes away. By such formulas, it was attempted to extract the sting out of the often bloody conflicts around orthodoxy. From these speculative pullups of ecclesiastical politics and their toilsomely negotiated orthodoxy of the 5th century, John was light-years apart.

The disaster of the exegesis of the Gospel of John is subsisting until today in being used to reading John from the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon instead of reversely reviewing the dogmatics from John and from the Scriptures altogether. Admittedly, to save the honor of classical dogmatics it has to be said that the 4th- and 5th-century theologians did a good job. Their compromise could be maintained until the modern era, and we can learn a lot from their accuracy and their passion. But we mustn’t turn their sentences into eternal truth.

John 1:14 says: The Messiah is a concrete human, and this human stands for the truth of the sentence Isaiah 40:8: “The word of our God is standing to the ages.” Like long ago the word took shape in the words of Moshe, so now the word takes shape in the concrete historical existence of a very special Jew who, in the political and ideological struggles of his days, represented a very special position. To use the words of Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt, we say: The Messianism professes to “Jesus the Jew.” The Word did not become flesh or human in general but a Jewish man, and not—thus going one step further than Marquardt—a Jew in general, but a very special Jew who, in the concrete political conflicts of his people, had taken up a very special position, a position that led him into a deadly antagonism to the elites of his people and to Rome as the occupational force. Especially in the Gospel of John, the Messiah, as this concrete human, passionately takes sides in these struggles. To be the disciple of such a Messiah means to John: to become a fellow combatant—flesh and blood of the Messiah—“eating his flesh, drinking his blood”, to share his concrete human reality and his political struggles and in consequence to be hated by the ruling world order.

By this sentence, John reacts against a tendency in the Messianic communities of the Greek. The disdain of the flesh leads to more or less canceling a sentence like: “. . . Son, descended from the seed of David according to the flesh, established as Son of God according to the inspiration of sanctification . . .” (Romans 1:3-4). The origin from the “seed of David”, his rootedness in the people of Israel, played an increasingly marginal role. One generation later, the awareness of the Messiah, having been a child of Israel, vanished thus far that, around the year 150, Marcion could suggest to the Christian communities the abolishment of the Scriptures.

“The Word has its tent among us”, it goes on to say. The translation “it dwelt among us” is more than bland. The tent is the “tent of meeting” from the wilderness, where the NAME dwelt: “The cloud covered the tent (ˀohel) of meeting, the brunt/honor of the NAME filled the dwelling (mishkan)”, Exodus 40:34. The Septuagint has skēnē, “tent”, for both of these two Hebrew words. The tent was the location of who is signified by the four unspeakable characters YHWH and in our text is displayed by the word “NAME.” The tent is the place of law-making, the place of determining the order of the society of liberated slaves. After Exodus 40:34-38, the Book of Leviticus follows (Leviticus 1:1): “He called to Moshe, the NAME spoke to him from the tent of meeting.” In this book, the coordinate system of autonomy and equality is filled out. All at once, the tent of meeting is mobile: “Whenever the cloud was taken up from the dwelling, Israel would set out in all their journeys”, Exodus 40:36. Of this mobile place later was made the stable place of the sanctuary in Jerusalem. John says that after the destruction of the sanctuary by the Romans the tent of meeting would have taken the shape of the incarnate Word, the Messiah Yeshua.

In John, the placeholder for the NAME is the word “FATHER.” Thus in John 1:14, we hear the word FATHER for the first time, not before having heard the word brunt/honor: “We have viewed its honor, an honor as of an only-begotten one by the FATHER, filled with solidarity and fidelity.” All decisive words of Exodus 40:34 we hear in John 1:14. What is hinted at by the enigmatic word kavod, “brunt” (the root kaved means “to be heavy, bulky”), that we try to translate with “honor”, is substantially filled with “honor as of an only-begotten one (yachid, agapētos) by the FATHER.” The analogy is the relationship between Isaac and Abraham, first of all in the story of the “binding of Isaac,” Genesis 22. The interlacing of the motive of the “binding of Isaac, the only-begotten one” with the relation between the God of Israel and the Messiah of Israel gives rise to questions, but the Epistle to the Hebrews saw the connection between Genesis 22 and our passage, 11:17.

Monogenēs stands for Hebrew yachid. In the Septuagint in six times out of ten it means “only child” (e. g. the daughter of Jephthah, Judges 11:34). Twice, Psalms 22:21 and 35:17, it means “the only soul.” Psalm 25:16 has it for “lonely”—like a human without siblings. In the apocryphal book Wisdom of Solomon “unique” is a suitable translation, “Unique is the inspiration of wisdom”, 7:22. In John it appears five times (incl. 1 John 4:9); in Luke three times it means “only child,” in Hebrews 11:17 the “only child” of Abraham, Isaac. John transfers the theological usage of “only” (yachid) in the narrative of Isaac as “only son” and thus as the only future of Abraham to the Messiah Yeshua. He is the new Isaac, he opens the future of the new Israel.

Conclusively, the honor is rendered with the words charis/chessed and alētheia/ˀemeth.” (54) “Grace” is shaped authoritarian, by this vocable the NAME could seem like the God of antiquity, as “Lord.” That may coincide with the idea that people then got about the absolute counterpart of their social order that was “word of God” for them. “God” as a function normally plays the role of “rulership”, but what is called “God” in the Scriptures plays the role of liberty. Liberty but does not rule, is not gracious, condescendingly. In John, the word charis only appears in the preface to the Gospel, twice together with alētheia, once by itself. As the word agapē in the Gospel indicates both an attitude of God towards humans and the attitudes of humans among each other, here you should think of chessed as well. Apparently, the writer of the preface felt compelled to take the word charis for the attitude of God toward humans. In the Septuagint, it usually stands for chen, “favor” (“grace”). There, it is the attitude of the superior towards the subordinates. On the other hand, in the Scriptures, we never find the expression chen we-ˀemeth, but only chessed we-ˀemeth. This combination must have been remembered by the writer of the preface. In the time of catastrophes for the Judean people, chen, “favor, grace”, only comes into question as ˀemeth, “faithfulness, fidelity”, and then is “solidarity.”

To John, the Word as human reality and the only future for the new Israel in new humanity is only concrete if it is thought of as a concrete human. The Word is this very special Jewish human, Yeshua ben Joseph of Nazareth, Galilee. There is, so John says, no other word. John 1:14 is the center of the summary of the Gospel.

By this last sentence, strictly speaking, the preface is completed. But the discussions in the Messianic community around John are going on. The so-called farewell speeches, John 13-17, give an insight into the process of discussion. The postscript of the preface points out two unsolved problems: the relation to the messianic group around Yochanan “the Baptist” and to the nascent Rabbinical Judaism (the “Jews” of the Gospel of John).

7. A postscript, 1:15-18

1:15 Yochanan is testifying to him, he has cried out,
“This is the one of whom I said,
‘The one coming after me
has happened before me,
for he is my beginning.’” (55)

1:16 From his fullness we all receive,
yes, solidarity for [instead of] solidarity. (56)
1:17 What was (57) given through Moshe as the Torah,
began happening as solidarity and fidelity
through Yeshua the Messiah.

1:18 No one has seen GOD, never ever.
He as the only-begotten, divine, (58)
who is in the bosom of the FATHER, (59)
that one is performing. (60)

“The one coming after (behind) me happened before me, for he is the first to me” (1:15 = 1:30, see Revelation 1:17). (61) In 1:8 it was already mentioned: “He (Yochanan) is not the light, but the witness to the light.” The members of the group of the disciples of the Baptist are told that the Messiah Yeshua is the background and future of the Baptist. That is a systematic question. It has nothing to do with the modern question of whether Yeshua historically descended from the Baptist movement. In the opinion of the preface, all the political activity around Yochanan is up in the air, if it doesn’t see itself as a movement pointed at the Messiah Yeshua. By repeatedly coming back to this problem—notably in the passage 3:25-30—, the Gospel of John shows that there was resistance against this insight. Admittedly, there was a tendency from the Baptist movement to the Messianists around Yeshua, but a rest of them turned out to be rather tough. For this group, Yochanan the Baptist even later was the “first,” prōtos. That obviously must have been a constant source of agitation in the community around John (see later in view of 1:30).

The sentence in 1:16 leads over to the second problem area. The pronoun “we” shows that “John” is speaking for the group as a whole. From the fullness of the Messiah “we all receive, well, solidarity for (instead of, anti) solidarity.” Charis here again stands for chessed. The solidarity with Israel is replaced (anti), by a new type of solidarity.

The solidarity of God with Israel manifested itself in the Torah (nomos) through Moshe. The Perushim said to the healed man born blind: “We are disciples of Moshe” (9:28). That means, Moshe is their teacher, Moshe rabbenu. The latter literally is the definition of Rabbinical Judaism. In this Judaism, God’s solidarity with Israel is the Torah of Moshe, exclusively. This Torah describes the regulations the people of Israel wants to live in. These regulations are salutary, they allow for human life in Israel.

This social order of autonomy and equality is/was the solidarity of God. Rabbinical Judaism says: is. John says: was. For the circumstances—and verily the worldwide, global circumstances—have changed to such an extent that the social order of the Torah nowhere any longer is politically practicable. Now the Torah is the mandatum novum, the solidarity, the agapē of the Messiah’s disciples among each other. Thus not philanthropy in general, but the coherence of the group in all, even the adversest, circumstances. In this way today, the abiding chessed we-ˀemeth, charis kai alētheia of the God of Israel is happening through the Messiah Yeshua.

Is this a new Torah? It would seem so: “What was given through Moshe as the Torah, is happening as solidarity and faithfulness (chessed we-ˀemeth) through Yeshua Messiah” (1:17). You cannot slam the one over the other, for this sentence means: Solidarity and fidelity of God towards Israel are abiding even if the Torah, under the actual circumstances, is no longer liveable in practice. Many Messianists looked at it that way (Paul, Romans 7). (62) Due to the qualitatively new circumstances, the Torah is sort of “suspended.” (63)

John does not speak of a new Torah (nomos kainos), but of a new commandment (entolē kainē). Admittedly, John seems to stand aloof from the Torah (“your Torah” 8:17; 10:34; “their Torah” 15:25). But simultaneously, to John, the Torah (or the Scriptures) continues to be davar, logos, “word,” that has to be fulfilled. And to John, “to fulfill” does not mean “to bring down” (see 19:24.28).

In this regard, the writer of the First Epistle of John has his doubts. Does the “new” mean in effect to cancel the “old” without substitution? Is Yeshua the abolishment of Moshe? The expression “solidarity for solidarity” seems to prompt this conclusion, all the more the sentence: “What was given through Moshe as the Torah, is happening as solidarity and fidelity through Yeshua Messiah.” 1 John 2:7-8 reads as follows,

Friends, I am writing no new commandment to you,
but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.
The old commandment is the word that you have heard.
Yet I am writing a new commandment to you.
What is trustworthy in him, it is also in you:
that the darkness is passing
and the true light is already shining.

The writer of the First Epistle of John does not see a replacement of the “old commandment” (Moshe) by the new commandment. “The old commandment” (entolē palaia) is the word heard. He avoids the vocable anti (“instead of, for”) of the preface. In the Messianic group around John, the relationship to Rabbinical Judaism kept being in progress for a long time. New to him is the new situation, due to the Messiah, that is already shining within the old order of darkness. No replacement of the Torah with the mandatum novum. The discussion in the group around John obviously was also about the question of whether you still need the “old” at all. Everywhere, the Messianic communities tried to clarify their relationship towards Rabbinical Judaism. John 1:16-17 is reflecting this debate.

Next up is a veritable concluding sentence. “No one has ever seen God”, is stated in 1 John 4:12 as well. This sentence summarizes the fundamental concern of the Scriptures. Moshe’s request to see the face of God is sharply rebuffed by the NAME: “man shall not see me and live,” Exodus 33:20. Only “from behind” Moshe can see, namely what came to pass afterward: what happened is manifesting as real liberation, Exodus 34:6,

. . .
the NAME, the NAME,
God compassionate, gracious,
slow to anger,
abounding in solidary faithfulness (rav chessed we-ˀemeth) . . .

Let us translate “to see God” into the political prose of the 21st century. If “God” is the deepest point of convergence of every social loyalty, the densest conglomeration of order in a given social system, then “to see God” means: to lay one’s hands onto the social order of liberated slaves, to pull one’s own imaginings over the social order as such. By doing that, the king or the state presses an absolute claim, enslaving the humans: “false gods into my face,” Exodus 20:3. “No one has ever seen God” is no empirical statement, but the statement that the opposite would be nothing but a lie. The sentence means: Experience of God is something utterly illegitimate. He who is politically implementing this unintermediateness of God raises the claim to personally and absolutely embodying the innermost order of the society. Communists called that “cult of personality,” describing correctly what under Stalin happened to the communist party and to the people of the Soviet Union.

The Messiah did not see “God” as well. No one has seen. But the Messiah did “declare, explain,” exēgēsato, what is meant here by the vocable “God.” The Messiah is not a visionary, he is an exegete, he explains the Scriptures: Scriptures that, in his opinion, the disciples never had understood. And, in the way he lives according to the Scriptures, he is setting an example. For exēgēsato, we now write “is performing,” because the “exegesis” by the Messiah is his conduct of life (halakha), such conduct of life that led him into an ultimately irreconcilable opposition to the elites of his people and the Roman occupational force.

The subject of the second part of the final sentence is called monogenēs theos, “only-begotten, divine.” We shouldn’t wonder to have problems with this. Those who in the first centuries passed down our text had problems as well. Some inserted the definite article, thus: the only-begotten God. Others replace the vocable “God” with the vocable “Son.” The latter goes very well together with the orthodoxy of the 4th and 5th centuries. Then the thought reads as follows: “No one has ever seen God, the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the FATHER (orthodox: the Son who is coessential, homoousios, with God), has . . .” They used an orthodoxy that, two or three centuries after the wording of our text, tried to solve its problem. This method cannot scientifically be justified.

The key probably lies in the baffling expression “who is in the bosom of the FATHER.” Let us hear Numbers 11. The people in the wilderness remembered the beautiful days in the house of slavery where there was fish to eat at no cost (chinnam), and “cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic,” at that! Moshe was fed up with leading this people. He complains to the God of Israel about this task. Then the word is, Numbers 11:11-12,

And Moshe said to the NAME:
“Why do you treat your servant so badly?
Why have I not found favor in your eyes,
that you lay the burden of all this people on me?
Was I pregnant with all this people,
did I give them birth,
that you should say to me,
carry them in your bosom
as a nurse carries an infant. . .?”

An infant is absolutely dependent on its caregiver. The same is true for the relationship between Moshe and the people that he has to lead and that is dependent on him. Moshe says to his God, “They are not my people, but yours. Carry them in your bosom!” Actually, this only-begotten divine, uniquely determined by God, can be called “the one in the bosom.” He is the exemplary concentration of Israel, he is “in the bosom of the NAME/FATHER,” completely and utterly determined by God, just divine. The God of Moshe answered Moshe’s voice. Like an infant in his bosom, he carried this beaten and murdered Messiah as the representative for the beaten and desperate people of the Jews.

And now the narrative begins, telling of Yeshua ben Joseph from Nazareth in Galilee, of his prototype Yochanan, of his followers and disciples. Not before we have heard and grasped the story we are able to understand the preface.

Annotations

(1) Translator’s note: As for the English translation of the Gospel of John, a small selection of the words of John have been adapted from the Complete Jewish Bible. For more details on the English translation of Ton Veerkamp’s text, see the appendix under The Original Translated Texts. To distinguish Ton Veerkamp’s own notes on the interpretation from mine, I will mark mine with HS (and highlight them green). Additions to his text I put in curly brackets {. . .}. In further mentions of the author, I’ll refer to him by the acronym TV. Annotations added from TV’s translations are labeled with TJ15 or TJ05 (and highlighted blue or red respectively).

(2) HS: TV prefaced his 2015 revised translation of the Gospel of John with this introduction.

(3) HS: I tried here to find a reasonably adequate English equivalent for a German phrase that would be literally translated as “Eat, bird, or die,” which goes back to the controversial theological writing “Friss, Vogel, oder stirb” by J. N. Weislinger, Strasbourg 1726.

(4) HS: I supplement here the overview of translation principles that TV prefaced his first translation of chapters John 13-17: Ton Veerkamp, Der Abschied des Messias. Johannes 13-17, in: Texte & Kontexte 95/96 (2002), 5-13.

(5) HS: TV himself mentions the German Bible translation Die Gute Nachricht des Alten und Neuen Testaments. Die Bibel in heutigem Deutsch.

(6) HS: I refrain from translating the quotation from Kracauer because it refers almost exclusively to German words, which Buber/Rosenzweig modeled on the “idiom of Richard Wag­ner’s music-dramatic gods and knights.” (Siegfried Kracauer, Das Ornament der Masse, Frankfurt/M. 1963, 180).

(7) HS: In English, it does not seem possible to me to translate all words that go back to ˀaman with words of one and the same root. Which word is reasonably appropriate, I will justify in each individual case.

(8) HS: I think this is true even of the Complete Jewish Bible, which is mindful of the Jewish background of John’s Gospel.

(9) HS: As can be seen from TV’s introduction to TJ15 (see note 593), he has since moved away from overdoing it with the alienating use of names. I too no longer use the names Elˁasar for Lazaros, Yerushalayim for Jerusalem, or Shomron for Samaria, and limit myself to emphasizing the names of the most important protagonists of John’s Gospel, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, Moses, and the Pharisees in their strangeness: Yeshua Messiah, Yochanan the Witness, Moshe, the Perushim—and, of course, the Judeans, who are not synonymous with what we mean by “Jews” today. (See my explanation of the translation of names in the appendix).

(10) Bertolt Brecht, Über Theater, Leipzig 1966, 345 ff.

(11) Bertolt Brecht, Schriften zur Literatur und Kunst I, Berlin/Weimar 1966, 99.

(12) HS: For an in-depth insight in what TV means by “Grand Narrative,” see Ton Veerkamp, Die Welt anders. Politische Geschichte der Großen Erzählung, Berlin 2013. A brief glimpse of its content s possible on the web: Ton Veerkamp: „The World Different“.

(13) HS: Words in the Gospel of John referring to the Messiah Yeshua like “Word” or “Human” [= “Son of Man”] are initial-capitalized.

(14) TJ05, 12 (1): Euangelion kata Iōannēn, title after the oldest complete version of papyrus 66, about 200 CE.
HS: I translate euangelion literally as “good message,” because unlike the German word “Evangelium,” the English word “Gospel” does not take on the sound of the Greek word. See TV’s remarks to John 20:4 where he—in relation to the race between Peter and the so-called beloved disciple—recalls the use of the word euangelein in 2 Samuel 18:19 ff.

(15) TJ15, 8, BEGINNING: John writes Greek, thinking from the Hebrew Bible. Neither archē nor logos are terms from Hellenistic or Greek philosophy. With his first word, he invokes the beginning of the Scriptures: be-reshith, “in the beginning.” The Scriptures set the standard for John; they should also set the standard for translation. What is beginning here is nothing less than the beginning of a new creation. This brings to mind Paul, kainē ktisis, “new creation,” 2 Corinthians 5:17.
TJ05, 12 (1): In John, the word archē is constructed in various ways. En archē stands in 1:1-2 for be-reshith of Genesis 1:1. We stick to the classic “in the beginning,” also used by Martin Buber. Ap’ archēs occurs twice, 8:44 and 15:27. It does not mean ex archēs, “from the beginning,” as in 6:64 and 16:4, but mainly, “in principle.”

(16) TJ15, 8, IS: The Greek verb einai presupposes a very different language structure than the Hebrew haya or the Aramaic hawa. Einai is consistently a copula, it gives the static state of identity between coupled realities, haya is dynamic, it means “to happen” or “to be there for something” rather than “to be.” If John uses einai, we must always think of the possibility that haya is actually meant. In the first sentence, we could translate as “to happen,” then come into conflict with egeneto, wa-yehi, in v.3. Nevertheless, no “Greek” identity is meant between theos and logos. We translate ēn with a present tense, “is”; the word is always and everywhere the principle of all reality. The phrase means, “Principally, the Word is.” In the Scriptures, and therefore for John, God’s existence for the humans has only the form of the Word, davar, logos.

(17) TJ15, 8, WORD: Logos stands for Hebrew davar, translated by Martin Buber mostly with [German equivalents of] “speech,” more rarely with “thing” or “occurrence.” God is, according to Deuteronomy 4, “voice of speeches/words” (qol devarim), and initially the “ten speeches/words” (ˁaseret ha-devarim), the so-called “ten commandments.” This is what is meant by logos. Logos is indeed related to legein; however, we translate the verb throughout as “to say,” because John uses the word neutrally. We translate lalein as “to speak,” because it refers to emphasized and purposeful speech. Rhēmata (or logoi, plural) are “spoken words” as opposed to grammata, “written words.” For completeness, let’s mention ephē, “he stated, declared” (three times in John). Nevertheless, I return to the practice of translating logos in John’s Gospel as “word,” because Buber’s “speech” seems somewhat artificial-strained.

(18) HS: Fully capitalized words—“GOD, NAME, FATHER”—refer to the one God of Israel. In my translation, I adopt this highlighting from TJ15.

(19) TJ15, 8, DIVINE: Theos (theios). If John means the God of Israel, he writes ho theos; without the article, the word is an adjective, “divine, godly,” or “in accord with God.”

(20) TJ15, 8, NOTHING: Oude hen, “not one” or “not one thing”; a minority among the manuscripts, including P66, have ouden, “nothing.”

(21) HS: As in the English translation here, TV in his interpretation relates the last words of v.3 ho gegonen to the preceding line. Both TJ05 and TJ15 combine them with the beginning of v.4, “What happened is life with it” or “in it.” He explains this by referring to the question of whether a period should be placed before or after ho gegonen:
TJ05, 13 (6): Handwritings like P66 rarely put delimiters; it has little to do with our punctuation. If we apply punctuation, we are already interpreting. It seems to us that the stanza introduces the keyword “to happen” (ginesthai) and transposes it into the new keyword “life” in the third line. In the following stanza, the keyword “life” becomes the new keyword “light.”

(22) Sometimes the verb is used absolutely. M. Heidegger in his “Einführung in die Metaphysik” [“Introduction to metaphysics”] refers to Goethe’s line of verse: “Über allen Gipfeln / ist Ruh” (1967, 68) [“Above all summits there is peace.”]

(23) HS: In German, TV translates: “Hauptsache” = “head thing.”

(24) André Chouraqui was a Jewish linguist, philosopher, and theologian of Algerian-French origin.

(25) HS: The vocable “onto” is to express the directedness of the preposition pros towards God. The usual translation as “with” shows a connection—side by side—of two entities.

(26) HS: When fully capitalizing the word “NAME,” TV means the unspeakable name of the God of Israel that is circumscribed in the Scriptures by the Tetragrammaton “YHWH.”

(27) HS: “Messianic writings” is TV’s expression for the so-called “New Testament.”

(28) HS: As to German grammar, TV notes that “our perfect cannot exactly reflect the Semitic perfect ‘gegonen’; you should rather circumscribe in an unpleasant way, like: ‘What is completed in its becoming.’”

(29) This unusual translation of yom echad will be motivated in the discussion of John 20:1.

(30) TJ15, 8, TJ15, 8, SENT: We translate apostellein and pempein as “to send.” Behind both verbs is the Hebrew root shalach.
HS: In German, TV uses the different words “senden” and “schicken” for apostellein and pempein; I could not find two corresponding verbs in English.
TJ05, 13 (7): The first is said primarily of humans. That is why they are “apostles.” In John, pempein belongs, as it were, to the “definition” of Yeshua, as apostellein belongs to the “definition” of Moshe in Exodus 3 ff. Accordingly, God is the one who sends Moshe or Yeshua. These are only “sent ones” or “messengers.” Yeshua is the apostle par excellence, so to speak! Para with genitive suggests origin, hence “from” or “on behalf of . . .” Since the article is missing, it can also be translated “divine messenger.”

(31) TJ15, 8, TRUST: Pisteuein stands for the Hebrew heˀemin, from ˀaman.

(32) The problem is how to translate the Hebrew syntax of an infinitivus constructus and a clause of purpose with vav copulativum (Gesenius, Hebrew Grammar, Oxford 14th ed. 1978, § 165; Segert, St., Altaramäische Grammatik, Leipzig 3rd ed. 1981, § 7.5.9.2) into the Greek language. John often tries to do it with a twofold particle of purpose (hina)—not very elegantly in the eyes of an enthusiast of classical syntax.

(33) In Isaiah 7:9 a prophet warns the king of Judah in a very critical situation not to lose his nerves: “If you (yourself) don’t trust, you will not be trusted (by others).” (im lo thaˀaminu ki lo thaˀamenu, kai ean mē pisteusēte oude mē synēte.) The Septuagint does not meet the sense of the Hebrew pun with the causative and passive forms of the root ˀaman. {HS: Buber’s “Germanizing” translation uses the German word “betreuen” = “to care for”: “Vertraut ihr nicht, bleibt ihr nicht betreut.”} The meaning is that panic will lead the people into disaster. The king shall trust his advisor, the people shall trust the king and act accordingly. The same attitude is to take up towards the Messiah, and that is more than “to believe.”

(34) TJ15, 8, TRUSTWORTHY: Alētheia is not “truth,” but “fidelity” (ˀemuna, ˀemeth), alēthēs not “true,” but “faithful, trustworthy.” Phōs alēthinos of 1:9 is not “true light,” but that light which can be relied upon in walking through life (Jewish halakha), that is, “trustworthy light.”

(35) TJ15, 9, COMING: The word erchomenon, “coming,” refers not to anthrōpon, “human,” but to phōs, the “light.”

(36) TJ15, 9, WORLD: Kosmos is both “world” and “world order.” In John, kosmos is primarily ho kosmos houtos, “this world order.” The word denotes what the rabbis call ˁolam ha-ze, “this age.” It is a political category: the ruling world order, precisely the Roman Empire. Where John speaks of the kosmos being liberated, it is not the world in its present order that is meant, but the human living space, the world that is liberated from the order that weighs upon it, 4:42! The Greek kosmos—it has no actual equivalent in the Hebrew Scriptures—means “(harmonious) order, ornament (cosmetics).” Here it means both living space and that order which threatens the order of the individual peoples and just above all the orders of Israel. To John, the bad thing about the world is not the world itself, it is the object of God’s solidarity, 3:16. What is bad is the order under which it suffers. Therefore, there is no “gnostic,” rather a “political” cosmology in John, which we try to account for by the alternating translation “world” and “world order.”

(37) TJ05, 14 (10): Here we have to translate ēn emphatically with “is working”; it is about a working “being,” about the real “being” (haya). The subject is “light” or “word”; it is not an element of the world order, but its active principle, its reality (see 1:1). The word kai stands for the Hebrew particle we, “the coordinating conjunction ‘and’ which is also capable of expressing several other relations” (according to Stanislav Segert, Altaramäische Grammatik, Leipzig 3rd ed. 1986, 224). In the second line kai means “for,” in the third “but.” The third line is not about ignorance (“does not know”) but about the refusal (“does not recognize”); this aspect of the verb ginōskein is prevalent throughout the Gospel.
HS: Instead of “it is working” in the first line of 1:10 the later translation TJ15 reads “it is.”

(38) TJ15, 10, ITS OWN: Ta idia, “the own,” meaning Israel. To recognize (v.10) is the condition to accept in v.11. Israel has recognized, according to the position of the text, but it has not accepted.

(39) HS: In German, there are two words for “enlightenment” and “Enlightenment”: “Erleuchtung” and “Aufklärung.” TV notes that in the Dutch language, there is only one word for both issues as well: “verlichting.”

(40) HS: “Working” in the sense of John 6:28 of “working the works of God.”

(41) HS: Instead of translating aiōn, aiōnios in the Bible and especially in John as “eternity, eternal,” I will take the paraphrase “age to come” as a close match of ˁolam ha-baˀ, see Wikipedia.

(42) TJ15, 10, GOD-BORN: Tekna theou, not “children of God,” but “GOD-born.”
TJ05, 13 (4): Tekna comes from tiktein, “to give birth,” and means “those who are born, born ones.” The text does not have tekna tou theou, “children of GOD,” but tekna theou, without the article {“born divinely”}. The article is not found in any of the variants, see note “DIVINE” on 1:1. “GOD” has no children.

(43) TJ15, 10, BLOODS: The plural haimata (Hebrew damim), cannot be rendered in German—but in English. This plural occurs 73 times in the Scriptures. To be thought of in this context is Exodus 4:25, where Moshe’s wife Zipporah spreads the bloody, cut foreskin on her husband (or son?); to Moshe, she says, “You have become a blood bridegroom (chathan damim) to me.” The meaning unfolds from the circumcision. This is in line with Paul: it is not the physical circumcision that determines whether a person is “God-born,” but the attitude toward the “only-begotten Son.”

(44) TJ15, 10, WILL OF THE FLESH: The expression “will of the flesh” is not meant negatively; “flesh” is the human, transient, and vulnerable existence. In the coming Messianic time, this form of vulnerable existence will come to an end, when people are not “man-born,” but “God-born,” godly begotten.

(45) TJ15, 10, A MAN: The unique reference here can only be Abraham, who of himself cannot beget the Son of Promise, which Sarah knows very well, Genesis 18:11-12. When later the “only-begotten Son of God” will be spoken of, Isaac will also have to be thought of.

(46) The Qurˁan here (surah Hud 11:71) has the word “to laugh at” (ḏahikat); actually, the announcement of Isaac’s birth (here another root different from the one for “to laugh”) is extremely amazing (ˁadschib), 11:72-73.

(47) See note 133 when discussing John 3:16.

(48) The famous fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians gives this notion as well. Apparently, the connection between Isaac and the Messiah Yeshua was a widespread perception. Not by chance, it is there about the contrast between flesh and spirit, in the Biblical, not Greek meaning, that is the contrast between Ishmael, begotten of the flesh, and Isaac, begotten of the spirit, Galatians 4:29.

(49) TJ15, 10, TENT: The verb eskēnōsen invokes the word “tent” and is the link especially to Exodus 40:34-38. The dwelling place of God (Hebrew mishkan) is the “tent of meeting” (Hebrew ˀohel moˁed). From there God “speaks” through Moses to the children of Israel.

(50) TJ15, 10, VIEWING: We appoint here to translate all verbs derived from the stems hor-, ops-, id- as “to see” and the like. (Hebrew raˀa); theasthai we translate as “to view” (see our theater, the Hebrew root is chaza); theōrein we translate as “to observe” or “to take into consideration” because in our text it stands for a point of view that orients action (see our word “theory”; the Hebrew counterpart here is also chaza). John chooses these various forms carefully.

(51) TJ15, 10, HONOR: Doxa is Hebrew kavod and literally means “weight, brunt” (from kaved, “to be heavy”). According to Buber, we translate it as “honor,” not “glory.” The Word is not to be “glorified,” but honor is due to it based on what it does for Israel.

(52) TJ15, 10, ONLY-BEGOTTEN ONE: See above, explanation of “A MAN” in 1:13.

(53) TJ15, 10, SOLIDARITY AND FIDELITY: Charis kai alētheia, Hebrew chessed we-ˀemeth. This word combination is classical, especially in the Psalms. Buber translates it as “Huld und Treue.” Because there is some objection to “Huld” {= something like “grace, favor, benevolence of a superior one”} (precisely because of the feudal relationship between liege lord and vassal intended by Buber), we write “solidarity/solidary.” The word charis occurs only four times in John, except in this verse in 1:16 (2x) and 1:17. Although charis is usually used for the Hebrew chen, “favor,” or traditionally “grace,” and the LXX translates chessed mostly as eleēmosynē, the thought context of the preface suggests that in 1:14 chessed we-ˀemeth is in the background.

(54) HS: TV mentions Buber’s German translation of chessed with “Huld” because of the affection of a master to his vassal, but he thinks that “Huld” is too much shaped by perceptions of feudal bonds, as Buber was prone to neo-Gothic German of people like Richard Wagner, anyway. In this regard in a note, he points to S. Kracauer, Das Ornament der Masse, 174 ff., Frankfurt/M. 1977.

(55) TJ15, 12, MY BEGINNING: Prōtos mou. An ordinal number, that is, not heis (Hebrew ˀechad), but prōtos (Hebrew rishon). The latter has the same root in Hebrew as reshith, Greek archē, “beginning.” Chouraqui has, “Antérieur à moi: il est.” To John the Baptist, the Word (logos) is the beginning in itself, so it is also to him.

(56) TJ15, 12, SOLIDARITY FOR SOLIDARITY: Charin anti charitos; see the note to 1:14. Solidarity and fidelity are happening in Israel, even though it has fallen into a hopeless situation after the catastrophe of 70 and can do nothing on its own.

(57) TJ15, 12, WHAT: Hoti is not omitted by any manuscript, but is often omitted in old and new translations. I read here two words ho ti and suggest “what” (instead of “because”); the Torah is and remains the foundation. Later generations have seen a contrast here: “Through Moshe, the Torah was given, but through Jesus, solidarity and fidelity occurred.” Through Yeshua Messiah, the one story (“is happening!”) became new. The gift of the Torah was the “solidarity and fidelity” of God through Moses, now the same “solidarity and fidelity” is happening anew through Yeshua Messiah, which is expressed in the “new commandment,” 13:34. Yet John is not talking about nomos kainos, “new Torah,” but entolē kainē, “new commandment.” There is an unmistakable contrast in John’s Gospel between the people around John and Rabbinical Judaism, which sees Moshe as its only teacher; all rabbis are only disciples of Moses (9:28). John cum suis, on the other hand, are also disciples of Yeshua. But nowhere John writes that Yeshua separates himself from Moshe; on the contrary: “If you (rabbis) trust Moshe, trust me, too; for about me the latter has written” (5:42).

(58) TJ15, 12, DIVINE: See v.1, third line. Interpreters and translators have the agony of choice here between ho monogenēs theos, “the only-begotten God,” and ho monogenēs hyios, “the only-begotten Son.” The reading “God” seems better because it is supported by the older manuscripts. The reading “Son” is found only in manuscripts younger than the 5th century. “Son” seems to fit better with the thought process of the Gospel and especially with 1:13-14. Papyrus 66 lacks the article, so it is not “the only-begotten God.” Ho theos is always “the God,” namely, the God of Israel. Theos without the article can be taken adjectivally, like theios, “divine, from God,” or “like God.” “Son” is a reading of the orthodox need for harmony of the 5th century, the century of Chalcedon! FATHER is John’s most common paraphrase of the sacred NAME, the four letters YHWH, which Jews never pronounce and which we render with the capitalized word “NAME,” following the example of the theologian K. H. Miskotte. This is especially explained in 5:18 ff.

(59) TJ15, 12, IN THE BOSOM OF THE FATHER: Eis ton kolpon tou patros, meaning “intimately joined to the FATHER,” see 13:23 and the note to this passage.

(60) HS: I take “is performing” for Greek exēgēsato because its range of meanings is similar to the German word “ausgeführt” between “is [God’s] exegete” and “is showing in his conduct of life.”

(61) Prōtos, ordinal number, not heis, the ONE, cardinal number. The Hebrew form for prōtos is reshith, not ˀechad. Thus you should translate: “He is my first” or “he came first to me”; you could also translate: “He is my beginning!”

(62) See Gerhard Jankowski, Die große Hoffnung. Paulus an die Römer. Eine Auslegung, Berlin 1998, 165-170.

(63) HS: Furthermore, for “suspended” TV takes a word of Jankowski, loc. cit. 152-153, the Torah, temporarily, is “geledigt” ≈ “free, unmarried, single” because according to Romans 7:2 a wife is no longer bound by law to her husband after his death.

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