Thursday, September 15, 2011

John Ashton on Demythologization

In his splendid book on the Fourth Gospel, John Ashton has some truly wonderful turns of phrases.  It is one of the most erudite and humane books in biblical studies I have ever read.  One of the hidden gems can be found in his discussion of John 1.51 ("Amen, amen I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man"):

"One of the difficulties of interpreting the saying satisfactorily is that the imagination, for once, is of no avail.  Confronted with the bizarre spectacle of the angels clambering up and down on the strange new figure of the Son of Man, it seizes and stalls.  This is a common experience of twentieth-century Westerners:  as they look at myth, they feel compelled, somehow, to demythologize.  But why should a demythologized myth be any more use than dehydrated water?  The medium is the message--it does not contain it or hold it imprisoned like a genie in a bottle, waiting to be released.  Somehow, then, we have to allow the picture of the ladder, base on earth and top in the clouds, to fuse with that of the Son of man, and at the same time to allow the busily climbing angels, some going up and others going down, to convey the message with which the evangelist has charged them" (249-50).

What is that message?  You'll have to check out the book, which besides being a thoroughly humane and cultured volume, mounts an impressive interpretation of the Fourth Gospel.

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