Secret epiphanies: The hermeneutics of revealing and concealing in the Fourth Gospel
Hancock, Frank Charles, III
Kelber, Werner H.; Carroll, Isla; Turner, Percy E.
Doctor of Philosophy
In this thesis I attempt to demonstrate that the so-called "Johannine problem" is deeply involved in the hermeneutical issues of concealing and revealing, secrecy and mystery. Thus, the "Johannine problem" is re-constituted in a narrative that deconstructs unity and coherence through a dynamic process of concealing and disclosure, disclosure and concealing. With that as the operating thesis, it follows that the goal of this project is to demonstrate that the Gospel of John resists interpretation and understanding when read on its own terms. In Chapter 1 Johannine secrecy is placed in the context of the work of William Wrede who first introduced the notion of secrecy into gospel studies, and in doing so, raised the issue of understanding in biblical hermeneutics. When Wrede applied the secrecy motif to the Fourth Gospel, he concluded that the notion of Jesus as a bringer of truth and light is not fully sustained in the narrative of John's Gospel as an unbroken whole, or as a closely conceived idea. In Chapter 2 Rudolf Bultmann's hermeneutic and exposition of the Fourth Gospel is presented as an example of one who has astutely perceived the central issues with which a specifically modern program for biblical interpretation must wrestle; that is, the alien character of the world views represented in biblical texts. Bultmann observed how the tension between concealing and revealing is implicated in the mythological language used by the Fourth Evangelist. Bultmann, however, was preoccupied with the existential categories of Martin Heidegger and thus missed the turn when Heidegger moved toward a hermeneutic of language. It is only when language is thought of as the disclosure of being that religious texts can be thought of as "vehicles of revelation." In Chapter 3 Martin Heidegger's hermeneutic of concealing and revealing is introduced through his concept of aletheia, or truth as the interplay between concealing and revealing. It is this concept which provides the cornerstone of this thesis. In Heidegger's terms, secrecy is the ground of revelation. Heidegger's philosophical categories open new possibilities for reading gospel narratives because the tension between concealing and revealing is now considered as a hermeneutical obstacle to full disclosure and understanding. Thus, what gospel narratives reveal is also withdrawn again into concealment, thus making the valid interpretation sought by traditional critics extremely difficult to achieve. In the final two chapters of this thesis the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel (John 1:1-18) and the story of the trial of Jesus before Pilate (John 18:28-19:16a) are examined as test cases for the hermeneutic developed by Heidegger. Using Heidegger's hermeneutical categories I show that the Gospel of John is as much a story about concealing as it is about revelation. The narrative pushes toward the full disclosure of Jesus as the truth and the light, but this revelation takes place in concealing. Revelation is promised, but the promise is left unfulfilled. Truth is disclosed in the person of Jesus, and then qualified in ways that leave the reader in doubt about the nature of truth. In the final analysis, this thesis argues that the Gospel of John victimizes the reader by undermining meaning, concealing revelation, and preventing disclosure in ways unforeseen by either traditional historical criticism or the newer literary criticism.
Religion; Biblical studies