End of John: a literary-historical reading of John 21
Leary, Michael James
The history of scholarship on John 21 is characterized by a routine set of general conclusions about its relationship to the rest of John. The following thesis begins with a survey of these longstanding historical and interpretive frames to demonstrate that historical, literary, and related standard methods of analysis still have difficulty in producing anything more than provisional explanations for its presence at the end of John. This is in part due to the relative lack of space in academic work given to John 21 in comparison to other areas of John’s gospel. It is also, though, in greater measure due to the elusive nature of this text. More recent research on the Gospel of John using enhanced literary and historical methods to locate the gospel’s most unique features in its initial literary environment have proven effective in reconceiving basic questions about its provenance and early readership. This thesis works in these innovative critical spaces to reassess the nature and composition of John 21. Following a survey of scholarship on John 21 and a close reading of the text, taking its cues from many of the issues raised by its history of interpretation, are four case studies treating specific literary features of the chapter in turn. The first case study assesses the function of the anonymity of the Beloved Disciple with specific reference to its historical context and contemporary debate on Johannine authorship. The second explores self-awareness in John 21 as part of a key, broader authorial strategy in the gospel. The third explores the shift in narrative time from John 1-20 and John 21 as the core emphasis of the chapter. The fourth probes the reference to “books” in the final verses as related to the emerging culture of book technology, lending chapter its unique position in the composition history of the gospel. These case studies collectively provide a basis for new directions of literary-historical research in scholarship on John’s gospel.