John field note 3f: John’s organum

Hearsay to avoid heresy:

“You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ (John 3:28, NNAS)

John is sketchy in certain ways — the private settings, the unclear referents. And Reynolds Price describes the gospel’s “relentlessly limited battery of words” — Greek wasn’t John’s first language, after all. But, according to Price, John’s patois is “homemade”: John’s struggle with Greek is like Nabokov’s struggle with English:

For a modern reader of his Koine original, John seems like nothing so much as a highly skilled and intelligent expatriate (which early tradition in fact claims he was) — an Einstein or a Thomas Mann, a Conrad or a Nabokov: one who is able to express himself readily and powerfully on most of the difficult matters he encounters but in a homemade and eccentric patois.  No one can for a moment believe that Vladimir Nabokov was born writing English; but the English of his later novels is, to say the least, imposing in the bizarre strength with which it insists in oaring upstream against the whole natural flow of English. John likewise is always pushing hard uphill in what is clearly an acquired vehicle, a medium that requires him often to work outside and against the thought processes of his native tongue, which scholars can tell us is Aramaic. (Price, Three Gospels 18 – 19)

Anyway, funny that the characters and even the narrator in such a sketchy book can be so punctilious about what is said. What is said is referred to as witness and testimony.  (John the Baptist here says, “You can testify that I testified.”) The contrast leads to how I describe John’s tone this time through: John’s brief anecdotes and early dialogues play above a plainchant of legal references (testimony, witness) that adds a kind of tension to the anecdotes’ and dialogues’ unclear referents, private settings, and extended and repeating metaphors. John is a mesmerizing and disturbing organum.

[I’m reading John’s gospel. My reactions here vacillate between notes — a list of impressions — and something less sketchy. A note on nomenclature: the note number in my post’s title indicates the chapter of John’s material I’m reacting to. A title’s letter, though, differentiates the post from earlier posts about that chapter. “John field note 2c,” then, is my third post about something in John’s second chapter. N.B.: 12a may precede 3d: I skip around.]