Chiastic Circuits at the Beginning and End of the Four Gospels

St. John the Divine is doing yet another amazing thing in his Gospel.

John, the last of the four Evangelists, sends a salute of brotherhood and respect to that great midrashic exegete and author of the first Gospel, St. Matthew. And in an echo of one of Matthew’s great literary maneuvers, John finishes his Gospel with a technique that draws all four Gospels into a harmonious set.

In the New Testament (which Christians and Muslims, and others, read), there are four Gospels. The Qur’an refers to the Gospel as the Injeel.

The canonical order of the Gospels, the order found in every Bible, is: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Scholars are in deep agreement that John’s Gospel is the last of the Gospels to be written; the author of this Gospel had the other Gospels “on his desk,” so to speak; he knew them intimately. In fact, the author of John’s Gospel is in deep dialogue with the preceding three Gospels. Further, the fact that these three first Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—are already written when he is writing, allows John to go in new directions, and speak of new developments, developments that have already occurred in the brief time since the first three Gospels were written. (The first three Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—are called the ‘Synoptic’ Gospels, that is, Gospels written with the “same eye,” because much of the material in these Gospels is shared between them. Even if this label is not entirely accurate—these three Gospels have unique styles and very different emphases—the label does serve a purpose in showing their many connections, and also, in showing that John is breaking radically new ground.) Some tentative dates of the Gospels are: Matthew, …….; Mark, ………; Luke, …………; and lastly, John, ……….. .

So we have four beautiful, mystical Gospels.

John, writing last, has placed many obvious, and many faint, connections to the preceding Gospels in his own masterpiece. Through these connections, he carries on conversations with the previous Gospels, and also uses them as a springboard from which he soars to dazzling new heights.

Of the many ways in which he speaks to the three earlier Gospels, here is a new discovery:

In the last ….chapters of his Gospel, John hiddenly, but now, clearly, makes very many intentional connections to the first ………….. chapters of the canonically first Gospel, Matthew.

These powerful connections have many meanings.

-They draw the four Gospels into a cohesive unit. This is accomplished by the chiastic connections, the matching bookends, that John places on either side of these four books.

-These connections develop the Red Line of Hope.

-These connections teach about our human future. By developing metaphor, they show the way to human evolution.

One note before getting to the direct comparison between the early chapters of Matthew and the later chapter of John: John’s Gospel initially ended at Chapter 20. Some time later, Chapter 21 was added. Our discussion will consider both of these wondrous chapters.

Here is a brief list, without developed explanation, of what these connections and intentional echoes are:

1) As mentioned many times above, the New Testament begins with the Red Line of Hope: The four women of the Red Line of Hope (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba) are mentioned in the first 6 verses of Matthew’s Gospel. And no other women are mentioned, until, at the end of the chapter, we arrive at Mary.

There is a parallel list of women at John 19:25, near Jesus’ Crucifixion (recall that it is at the Crucifixion that Jesus achieves the great integration of humanity, which is achieved by the Beloved Disciple taking “into himself” the Feminine, literally, the mother of Jesus.

These three or four women are “the mother of him, and the sister of the mother of him, Mary (the one) of Clopas, and Mary the Magdalene.” Some scholars believe that there are only three women in the list, considering “the sister of the mother of him, Mary (the one) of Clopas” to be one woman, not two.

If there are four women, then, regarding names, there is an exact parallel to Matthew 1:3-6, where three of the four women are named. Recall that Bathsheba is unnamed, but is clearly referred to as “(the one) of Uriah.” In John 19, we have three women named: all are named “Mary.” (The mother of Jesus is not actually named, but we automatically think of ‘Mary’ with her as well.) The sharing of the same name is perhaps a sign of the profound unity to be shared by all women, both now and in the future. The unnamed sister of Mary may be an invitation of every woman to become a sister to Mary and to thereby become the newest thread, or branch, of the Red Line of Hope; additionally, to all people, including men, it is an invitation to give birth to Christ in our heart.

So in both accounts we have 3 named women and 1 unnamed woman. Additionally, we have one occurrence of a man’s name, which is another form of identifying a specific woman, in both lists: Matthew speaks of “(the one) of Uriah,” and John mentions “Mary (the one) of Clopas.” There is a further difference between them: the first one is given against the background of birthgiving: “Solomon, from (the one) of Uriah,” Solomonta ek tes tou Ouriou. The later woman, “Mary (the one) of Clopas,” Maria he tou Klopa, has not yet given birth—but at the cross, in a few minutes, there will be a grand birth: an integrated humanity.

There is another important reference to the Red Line of Hope in the culmination of John’s Gospel. It is the tunic (coat) of 19:23. Here is that verse, transliterated: “Then the soldiers when they crucify Jesus took (elabon) the garments of him and they make four parts, to each soldier (a) part, and the tunic was yet the tunic seamless/unsewed from/out of the top woven through whole.”

……….bit of explanation here…..

(There are also connections to the torn jacket of Joseph, who was left for dead by his brothers, who told their Jacob that Joseph had been killed by beasts.)

2) Jesus’ first real public words in the Bible are the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, a tremendous discourse beginning in Matthew 5. He begins that great preaching with the Beatitude word makarioi, which means “blessed” or “happy”; He begins the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Blessed are the poor….” (Mt 5:3)

John’s Gospel initially ended at the end of Chapter 20. The final thing that Jesus says in that version of the Gospel is, “Blessed (makarioi) are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.” He says this to Thomas, at the original conclusion of the Gospel. The four Gospels ended with Jesus saying a Beatitude, just as his real first public speech in the Bible begins with a Beatitude.

This forms yet another powerful chiastic balance at the beginning and end of the four Gospels.

Also, there are many more levels of meaning in this single word, makarioi: Recall that this is the main word of the menorahs, the Mystical Psalm Menorahs; and the Hebrew version of this word is ashre. So the Gospels begin and end in the light of the Word, which celebrates the hidden realities of the Old Testament’s Psalm Structures. John’s Gospel’s Prologue says that “all things” came into being through the Logos, through Christ. The Gospels celebrate the ancient beauties of the Hebrew Scriptures being brought to a far greater fullness in their life-giving frame and conduit, the Logos. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Ego eimi ho phos tou kosmou, I am the light of the world.” In the first chapter of Revelation, the Son of Man (Jesus) is surrounded by menorahs. Jesus is the menorah, and he wants us to be the branches; just as John’s Gospel says that he is the vine, and we are the branches.

(Notes: See also Rev 22, so 2 sets of chiastic enclosures.)

3) The first word of the New Testament is Biblos, which can be translated as “book.” The same word appears at both of the two endings of John’s Gospel. At the finale of Chapter 20 there is biblioi, book. And at the end of Chapter 21 there is biblia, books, speaking of something like “all the books in the world.” Biblia is the final word of the final version of the Gospel of John, just as Biblos is the first word of the Gospel of Matthew. (Some manuscripts have a concluding “Amen,” but many manuscripts do not, and end with the word “Biblia.”)

4) Twins.

Twins emerging and returning.

The twins Perez and Zerah, and their mother Tamar, are mentioned in the third verse of the New Testament (Matthew 1:3). The Red Line of Hope was attached by the midwife to the wrist of emerging Zerah, who then momentarily pulls his hand back into the womb of his mother, Tamar. So the Red Line of Hope literally begins in the womb of Tamar.

The name of the Apostle Thomas, so prominent in Chapter 20, the original conclusion of John’s Gospel, is ta’am in Hebrew, and means “twin.” Just to make sure we don’t miss this, John also gives the Greek nickname of Didymus, “Twin,” to Thomas. A double emphasis of something in the Bible means that it is very important indeed.

Just as in Chapter 19 the mother of Jesus is literally taken into the Beloved Disciple, so in Chapter 20 Thomas places his hand into the side of Jesus, another sign of deep integration, and a conclusion of a long journey that spanned vast millennia and vital parts of our human evolution.

Then, it is to Thomas and to everyone that Jesus says his final words of the Bible, the final Beatitude (until Chapter 21 was later added).

It is interesting that the recently discovered Gospel of Thomas, found in Nag Hammadi in Egypt, forms a good brother of the four canonical Gospels. It is also an important fact in Salvation History that Pope Benedict XVI taught classes, while Pope, on the Gospel of Thomas, and encourages us to read this exquisitely beautiful book, a gift to us from the sands of the desert of Egypt.

5) egennethe; Mt 1:16, John 16:21

This word concerns “birth.” Many terms related to “birth” appear in the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel; 8 different words for “birth” appear in the first 3 chapters of Matthew, and these various forms of this word family appear 49 times therein, many of them in the long genealogy that begins the Gospel.

One of the words for birth appears in Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, at John 16:21. “The woman when she bears, grief has, because her hour has come; but when she brings forth the child (paidion), no longer does she remember the distress, because of the joy that an adult person (anthropos) was born (egennethe) into the world.”

This same word, egennethe, appears just once in the early chapters of Matthew: “And Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mariam, out of who was born (egennethe) Jesus, the (one) called Christ.”

Jesus Christ is many things, means many things, and effects many things. In Matthew, a baby is born. Developing the same word, the same person, John speaks of the birth of a mature, integrated Humanity.

The suffering woman of John 16:21 can be all the women of the Red Line of Hope, and all women in history, who have helped our Human development and evolution forward, who have given love to Humanity.

6) Twins and the Order of Appearance.

Above we discussed Thomas as a twin, who initially appeared without a twin brother. It was more the concept of “twin.” ……………

Now we’ll discuss two sets of twins. Matthew’s Gospel mentions both Perez and Zerah; and we’ll also discuss the powerful balance between Peter and the Beloved Disciple (whom many think is John the Evangelist, John the brother of the disciple James).

When Tamar gave birth to her twins, Zerah partially appeared first, then disappeared again, and Perez was born first, followed by Zerah, who wore the Red Line of Hope on his wrist.

In John 20, informed by Mary Magdalene about the empty tomb, Peter and the Beloved Disciple (John) race to the tomb. John arrives there first. But he does not go in. Peter arrives and goes in. Then John goes in. “And he believed!” (This is probably a gnostic reference to the enlightenment of John: It is as if the text is saying, “No, John had already believed; now he KNEW.” He had achieved a new level of relationship with the Holy Spirit of Jesus; he was vastly more enlightened. Bruno Barnhart said “Gnosis is faith experienced.” This verse symbolizes John becoming a true man of knowledge, and beginning a new chapter of his life of faith.

We see how the motions of John and Peter echo the motions of Perez and Zerah:

“Zerah (partially) then Perez then Zerah”, at their birth.

“John   (partially) then Peter then John” , entering the tomb/womb to new life.

Incidentally, the factor of time and chronological order is also in the story of Thomas, who doubted. All the other disciples saw the Resurrected Jesus first. Thomas did not believe. A week later, he saw Jesus, and he believed.

Additionally, in John’s Gospel, Peter sometimes represents the institutional qualities of the Church; our Church gives birth to spiritual growth, and John represents one such person who has achieved radical spiritual growth, who might (wrongly) be thought to move into “pure spirituality,” beyond the confines of Church rules and rubrics—but this would be prideful, and also wrong. The Church is the Body of Christ, and if a person is a mystic, it is through the Grace of the Church. But mystics don’t scorn the Church who gave them birth; rather, they love the Church and help the Church in her difficult times of her struggles right smack in the middle of the busy world. John shows respect and obedience to Peter (the Church), and humbly waits for Peter to arrive and to enter first. Peter became a mystic and a conduit of miracles himself, of course.

The interplay between Peter and John is a fascinating motif of John’s Gospel, which we cannot discuss further here.

It should not be surprising if we hear motifs and themes from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) reverberating in multiple different characters and situations of the New Testament. Bruno Barnhart once said, “John’s Gospel works in many ways.” Paul said that we are all parts of each other. This is especially true in each of the individual women of John’s Gospel, who sometimes have powerful reflections of multiple women of the Hebrew Scriptures’ portion of the Red Line of Hope.

 

The above 6 chiastic connections between the early chapters of Matthew and the later chapters of John are among the more important of these chiasms.

The following connections are developed more quickly and briefly here. It is hoped that a longer treatment will be given to them in the future.

****************************************************************

 

7) Myrrh.

Those of us who have just celebrated Christmas know that myrrh was one of the gifts of the Three Wise Men who visited the Babe in Matthew. In John 19, Nicodemus brings 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes to anoint the body of the crucified Jesus. Again we here echoes of growth, evolution, and development. This myrrh is at the beginning and the end of the life of Jesus. The Mystical Psalm Menorahs also speak of human development, both the spans of individual lives and the long arc of human development as a global family. The number 100 is connected with the 9-branch menorah too. 100 has 9 factors. Only square numbers have an odd number of factors. 10 is the median factor, and is the shamash in this hidden picture. Perhaps this is why Jesus uses the numbers 30, 60, and 100 in the Parable of the Sower, which is the first and the Prototype of the Parables.

8) Mouth: Word and Spirit.

At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus “opens his mouth” to speak. This is the same phrase that Lady Wisdom does in the Wisdom Literature of the Bible (Old Testament).

Lady Wisdom also was born from the mouth of God, like a mist. ….

In John’s Gospel, at the end of his public ministry, when Jesus is crucified and about to die, he gets vinegar raised to his “mouth”; he then bows his head and delivers up the Spirit/breath. (John 19:29-30)

However, in the Resurrection of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus appears to his disciples and breathes onto them the gift, the Holy Spirit. (John 20:22)

9) King.

There are various kings mentioned in the early chapters of Matthew. At the crucifixion in John, Jesus has the word “King” on a sign above his head.

10) “Translated”.

The word “translated” appears in the beginning of Matthew and the end of John. This indicates that God likes all people, and that the words of Scripture can be translated into all languages.

11) Joseph.

Matthew says that Joseph is the human foster-father of Jesus.

In John, Jesus’ human father is not mentioned. However, at the crucifixion of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea boldly goes to Pilate to request the body of Jesus, and buries Jesus in his own new tomb. We have already discussed the tomb as being similar to the womb, especially the womb of Tamar in Genesis 38. The tomb is a sort of womb to Resurrection life, to a birth into Paradise. There are faint echoes of Mary and Joseph here. And there are strong echoes of the Earth giving birth from her womb, to a greater apprehension of Heaven for us.

Here, at the very end of Jesus’ life, a father figure arrives who gives Jesus his own life, metaphorically. How many fathers have done exactly this for their children? Very many.

At the end of this celebration of the Red Line of Hope, John has made a beautiful and fitting tribute to all the fathers of the world.

12) Mystical Teachings.

In the beginning of Matthew and the end of John, there are actual real concrete teachings about how we can communicate, directly and mystically, with the Holy Spirit, but we cannot go into this further here.

13) Relation to authority figures.

The Wise Men, out of good hearts and human protocol, go to the Jewish King Herod to inquire about the birth of the Messiah and to present their credentials. After they visit the newborn Jesus, they have a dream to go back by another route, and they avoid Herod like the plague. Additionally, their continued time in the region had probably made certain facts about that leader quite clear to them.

In John’s Gospel, the leading religious figures of Jerusalem are groupies about the figure of Pontius Pilate. They flock to him. They want to be looked upon favorably by Caesar, whom they say is their king.

14) Travels by night, travels by day.

In Matthew, as just discussed, the Wise Men are woken by a dream and leave another way. They have also traveled at night, in pursuit of the star.

Joseph also has dreams, and journeys at night to avoid Herod.

John will seize upon this and do another Johannine transformation.

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were both secret disciples, for fear of the Jews. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, initially, to remain hidden and unknown. In Nicodemus’ three appearances in this Gospel, we see him growing in strength and conviction.

At the crucifixion, both Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea boldly make their loyalty to Jesus obvious for all to see.

Wise men to Herod; Priests to Pilate; Wise men to child/Joseph, and avoid Herod.

15) Searching for Jesus.

In the early chapters of Matthew, two groups search for Jesus: The Wise Men, to adore Jesus, and Herod and his troops, to kill Jesus (Isa, in Arabic).

In John’s Gospel, in a precious and humorous scene of the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene is searching for Jesus out of love. She is the disciple to the disciples.

16) Brothers.

Brothers figure prominently in the beginning of Matthew and the end of John. This may be connected to the theme of twins and evolution, discussed above.

17) Unexpected clothing remarks.

In Matthew 3:4, John the Baptist, who would later be martyred by Herod, is described as wearing a belt of leather around his waist.

In John 21, Peter, who would later by martyred in Rome, is told by the Resurrected Jesus that when he (Peter) was younger, he fastened his own belt, and walked where he wished. But when he grows old, he will stretch his hands out, and another will fasten his belt, and carry him where he does not want to go. “He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.” (John 21:19)

Additionally, the stretching of the hands here is another connection to the beginning of the Red Line of Hope, to Zerah, who literally wore the crimson thread wrapped around his wrist by the midwife who aided Tamar.

18) Taking care of the Feminine, of the Mother

In Matthew 2:13, the Angel of the Lord wakes up Joseph in a dream, and tells him to “Rise up; take (paralabe) the child and the mother of him, and flee into Egypt….” Variations on this phrase occur later in the narrative of the Holy Family in Matthew’s early chapters.

In one of the most important scenes of the Bible, the Crucifixion as described by John, Jesus unites the “mother of him” to the Beloved Disciple, which is can be all male people, or even all humanity. Jesus says that, now, the Beloved disciple is her “son,” and the woman is his “mother.” The Beloved Disciple, “from that hour took (elaben) her,” not to a geographical location, but took her “into his self.” (John 19:26-27)

19) Fulfilled (Scripture).

There are many discussions of the “fulfilling” of Scripture, with words like “plerothei” and others, but we can only offer a partial list here:

Mt: 1:22, 2:15, 17, 23

Jn:   19:24, 28, 36

20) Not knowing, not recognizing.

Matthew says of Joseph that he took Mary as his wife (Gunaika), but “He did not know her (Mary) until she bore her son.” (Matthew 1:25)

So before the birth of Jesus, there was a lack of knowledge. Immediately after Jesus’ Resurrection and emergence from the tomb, in John, there is a similar lack of knowledge on the part of Mary Magdalene: “….and [Mary Magdalene] beholds Jesus standing, and knows not that it is Jesus.” Jesus says to her, “Woman (Gunai), why do you weep? Whom do you seek?” (John 20:14-15) [Also, the verbs for “know” in the two passages here are different verbs, but their meaning can overlap.]

There are other connections. In Genesis 38, Judah does not know that it is Tamar whom he is being intimate with, because she is wearing a veil. When she is discovered some months later to be pregnant, Judah orders her to be killed, an order which is, happily, counteracted by Tamar, who is working with the guidance of the Divine. Judah says, to his credit, “She is more righteous than I.”

In Matthew, we see a fruit of the Red Line of Hope over the course of our Human evolution. This beautiful stage of development is revealed in Joseph. Joseph must have been very surprised when Mary became pregnant. But his first reaction was to protect her. Whereas the Law says that a woman found pregnant out of wedlock should be stoned.

The growth of Mercy in Humanity, and in Joseph, allowed for the Messiah to be born. Like Tamar, Joseph is also called a “just” person.

The Mercy of Joseph, and of Humanity, is one of the culminations of the Bible.

21) In Matthew 5:44, Jesus suggests that we love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us.

In John 20:23, Jesus, after having given them the Holy Spirit, gives the disciples the ability to forgive sins, or to retain them.

22) Sins.

Both Gospels discuss this, usually referring to the forgiveness of them.

23) God with us.

Both Gospels discuss this.

24) Whole/All

Both Gospels discuss these concepts.

25) Tree, fire, branches

26) Matthew mentions “his brother John.” (Mt 4:2)

John’s Gospel has myriad references to Matthew’s Gospel.

27) Feminine Turn and Spirit Turn

Joseph immediately wants to protect Mary (Feminine Turn)

This child of Holy Spirit (Spirit Turn), as well as Joseph’s new relationship w God

 

‘John’ took her, from that hour, into himself (Feminine Turn)

Entered tomb and believed; that is, he KNEW (Spiritual Turn); gentle euphemism

-this is related to initial ending of John’s Gospel, end of Ch 20, and interesting Beatitude that Jesus says, about believing (which is also possibly to be understood as KNOWING, a subtle reference to gnostic faith; Bruno: “Gnosis is faith experienced.”).

-Mark’s Gospel may have been recited at Baptism, and it ends w empty tomb (again, its original ending, not the verses that were added later; there too, in Mark 16, there is a ‘soft eruption’ of the Feminine). ……….. In John’s Gospel, the empty tomb is speaking, for the Beloved Disciple, of Spiritual Baptism, and incorporation into the Body of Christ in a conscious and Spiritual way. Of course, the “first Baptism” that Mark’s Gospel may have been used for is open to that possibility, and knows of it, the Spiritual or “second Baptism,” as well.

Thomas seeing, reentering adam through rib cage (Feminine Re-Turn)

Thomas exclaiming, My Lord and My God (Spirit Turn………)

-this brings us to ring structures:

-Psalms 5 & 145: My King and My God

-John 1 & 20: Son of God/King of Israel; My Lord and My God

-Qur’an Surah 1 & 114; names of Allah-God

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