Monday, January 21, 2013

The Gospel of John, from a literary perspective

adultery1In what is already a very old commentary I read that the Fourth Gospel is regarded by one school as a ‘spiritual romance’, ‘a poem not a history’, to be judged by the same canons as Nathan’s parable, the Book of Jonah, Paradise Lost ‘or, more exactly, Pilgrim’s Progress.’ After a man has said that, why need one attend to anything else he says about any book in the world? Note that he regards Pilgrim’s Progress, a story which professes to be a dream and flaunts its allegorical nature by every single proper name it uses, as the closest parallel. Note that the whole epic panoply of Milton goes for nothing. But even if we leave out the grosser absurdities and keep to Jonah, the insensitiveness is crass—Jonah, a tale with as few even pretended historical attachments as Job, grotesque in incident and surely not without a distinct, though of course edifying, vein of typically Jewish humour. Then turn to John. Read the dialogues: that with the Samaritan woman at the well, or that which follows the healing of the man born blind. Look at its pictures: Jesus (if I may use the word) doodling with his finger in the dust; the unforgettable hn de nux (8:30). I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage—though it may no doubt contain errors—pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read. I would recommend him to read Auerbach.

C.S. Lewis on Biblical Criticism – Part 4
C.S. Lewis, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” (an essay Lewis read at Westcott House, Cambridge, on May 11, 1959). First published in Christian Reflections (1981), later published as Fern-seed and Elephants (1998). This text is taken from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996)) 351.
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