Tag Archives: Theodore Jennings

John, the (Queer) Evangelist.

The Gospel of John is of particular interest to queer people of faith for its repeated references to the “beloved disciple”, or to “the disciple that Jesus loved”. These references make clear that whoever he was, this disciple had a relationship with Jesus of particular intimacy. There’s the well-known scene from the Last Supper where he rests his head on Jesus’ breast (or lap), and at the crucifixion, he is the only man standing among the women at the foot of the cross. He is the one to whom Christ entrusts the care of his mother – rather as a surviving spouse in marriage would assume some responsibility for the care of a mother-in-law. The existence of this special relationship  provides much of the argument for the proposition that Jesus’ sexual orientation may have been what we call “gay”.

The beloved disciple is not explicitly named, but is often assumed to be John himself. I have written before on these lines, using “John, the Beloved Disciple” as a jumping off point for a reflection on the gay Jesus:

For gay men in particular, combining this thought in our prayer with a recognition of Jesus’ full bodily humanity can be a powerful entry into building that important personal relationship with him in our spiritual lives.
……….
The significance for us of John as “the disciple Jesus loved”, goes way beyond the possibility of genital activity. Love is primarily an emotional relationship, not a physical one.  The English language does us a disservice in using “lovemaking” as a euphemism for the physical act, even without any deep emotional significance. “Loving”, in its full sense is more important than mere “lovemaking” as a physical act. In this sense, we know without any possible doubt that the words “whom Jesus loved” are true.  How do we know it? Because they are true for all the disciples, as they are for each of us, and for all others.

But this does not do full justice to the importance of John himself. He may not, after all, be the person described. (Theodore Jennings, who has written most extensively on the subject, believes he is not). In any case, focussing on Jesus in the relationship ignores John, whose feast day it is. There are other reasons for thinking of John the Evangelist as queer.

 After Jesus had left the earth, John had a further notable and intimate (at least emotionally so) relationship with  another male disciple, this time younger than he – his disciple and scribe, Prochorus, bishop of Nicomedia. (Prochorus in turn, later formed a fresh relationship of his own with a younger man, Irenaeus,)

John the Evangelist, with his scribe Prochorus

Then there’s the nature of John’s Gospel itself. Even the most cursory comparison of the four Gospels notes that it stands apart from the other three. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke share a common perspective and so are called the “synoptic” Gospels. That of John is quite different. It is often noted that gay men, as social outsiders, offer a unique view and special insight on the world and social relationships, possibly explaining the high proportion of gay men among the most acclaimed writers and artists in human history. This Gospel is written from the perspective of the beloved disciple – John states clearly that it is written from his witness. Even if John is not himself the beloved disciple, it is notable that it is in his Gospel, and not the Synoptics, that this relationship is recorded. Is this because, being gay himself, John saw something with his queer view (his “gaydar”) that the others did not? In his commentary on John (in The Queer Bible Commentary), Robert Goss describes it unambiguously as the queerest Gospel, because it as a coming out story – that of God coming out, through Christ, to his people, because it is in John that Christ is presented as most gender fluid.

Finally, let us recall again that in medieval Northern Europe, there was even a long-standing tradition that John and Christ were the bridal couple at the Cana Wedding Feast. This image of a marriage between Christ and John reminds us that in the mystical tradition of the Church, the established image of the Christian as the spouse of Christ is available to gay men, as “bridegrooms of Christ“, just as much as it is to women, as “brides of Christ”.

John, the queer Evangelist, is a powerful reminder to us as LGBT people that Christ numbered among his close followers and leaders of the church, people whose emotional and sexual lives did not conform to the conventional stereotypes of the day. In addition to John, we have the examples of Martha and Mary, of Lazarus (who is also named as a possible claimant to the title “beloved disciple”), Philip the Ethiopian Eunuch, and the Roman centurion. We too, likewise have a claim to be fully included in the modern Church, and to take any leadership roles for which our talents equip us.

(For a superb selection of visual representations of John, or of John and Jesus together, see Kittredge Cherry’s post at Jesus in Love blog).

Books:

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Lazarus: Jesus’ beloved disciple?

Some believe that Lazarus of Bethany was the “beloved disciple” of Jesus — and maybe even his gay lover. His feast day is today (Dec. 17).

Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus in a dramatic miracle told in John: 11. The Bible identifies him as a man living in the village of Bethany with his sisters Mary and Martha. Lazarus falls ill, and the sisters send a message to Jesus that “the one you love is sick.” By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been dead in his tomb for four days. Jesus weeps at the tomb, then calls, “Lazarus, come out!” To the amazement of all, Lazarus is restored to life.

Some scholars believe Lazarus was also the unnamed “one whom Jesus loved,” also known as “the beloved disciple,” referenced at least five times in the Gospel of John. The term implies that Jesus was in love with him, and perhaps they shared the kind of intimacy that today would be called “gay.”

The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament by Theodore Jennings is an excellent book that covers the theory of Lazarus as Jesus’ lover — and many other theories of special interest to GLBT people and our allies.

Maybe Lazarus’ unusual family also included lesbians. Rev. Nancy Wilson, moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches, raises this possibility in her excellent brochure “Our Story Too:Reading the Bible with New Eyes,” which says:

“Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha. What drew Jesus to this very non-traditional family group of a bachelor brother living with two spinster sisters? Two barren women and a eunuch are Jesus’ adult family of choice. Are we to assume they were all celibate heterosexuals? What if Mary and Martha were not sisters but called each other ‘sister’ as did most lesbian couples throughout recorded history?”

In my “Jesus in Love” novels, the beloved disciple is John, while Lazarus is a young gay friend. To honor Lazarus on his feast day, I will close with the scene from my novel “Jesus in Love: At the Cross” where Jesus raises him from the dead:

I had counted on getting instructions from the Holy Spirit as soon as I reached the tomb, but no word came. The finality of the tomb scared me. When people healed in my presence, it was their own faith that made them whole—but that wasn’t happening now. Lazarus had crossed the line and no matter how much faith he had, his soul seemed severed from his corpse.

I crouched on the earth in sorrow and supplication. The crowd around me began to murmur. “Look how much he loved him!”

Then came the inevitable naysayers. “Nah—if he really loved him, he would have kept him from dying.”

The tears that I had been holding back overflowed. I blocked out the sounds and sights around me and felt the grief that seemed to be tearing a hole in my divine heart. The impact of my tears on the earth set up a tiny vibration. I tuned into it and recognized the husky whisper of the Holy Spirit. I was surprised that I couldn’t distinguish Her words, but then I realized that She wasn’t talking to me.

Lazarus’ soul was listening intently. I was able to decipher part of the Holy Spirit’s message to him: “Arise, my darling, my beauty, and come away.”

I sighed as I let my friend go. “Okay, take him wherever You will,” I prayed.

Suddenly part of Lazarus’ soul reconnected with the physical world, like a boat dropping anchor. I knew what it meant.

I dashed to the tomb and tried to roll the stone away, but it was too heavy for me. “Let him out!” I shouted, pounding on the stone. I directed my fury against death itself, which took my beloved cousin, but wasn’t going to get away with Lazarus, too.

Martha came up behind me, speaking gently. “Rabbi, there’s already a stench. He died four days ago.”

“Love is as strong as death,” I replied, gritting my teeth as I strained hard against the stone. “Stronger!”

Then John stepped up and positioned himself to push along with me. He placed his long, gnarled fingers next to my younger ones on the stony surface. I turned to look in his eyes. We were reconciled in a single glance. Moving as one, we heaved the stone aside and unsealed the tomb.

The cave gaped open, revealing a darkness as opaque as soot. There was indeed a stink—and a
rustling sound, too.

“Lazarus, come out!” I called.

Everyone gasped as a slim figure wrapped in grave clothes hobbled out of the tomb. Strips of linen cloth prevented him from moving his arms and legs much, and his face was covered by a linen scarf. It puffed in and out slightly with each breath. The wind blew the stench away, leaving the air fresh.

I touched Lazarus’ shoulder gently. “It’s me, Jesus,” I said as I began to unfasten his headscarf.

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Was Jesus Gay? Mark, and the “Naked Young Man”.

Discussion of the question “Was Jesus gay?” usually revolves around the references in the Gospel of John, to “The disciple Jesus loved.” These are well known, and have been widely discussed, here at QTC and elsewhere.  My reservations about these references are that they all come from the author of John’s Gospel, talking about himself as writer. I would be more easily convinced by the argument if there were corroborating evidence from the other Gospels:  if Matthew, or Luke, or Mark, also made the same references to one specific disciple who was “loved” in a way the others were not, andsimlarly noted how he rested his head on Jesus’ breast, or in his lap, and appeared to have inside information on Jesus thoughts and intentions – as John does.
Theodore Jennings, in “The Man Jesus Loved“, might just have some such corroborating evidence, from the Gospel of Mark, and from infuriatingly fragmentary evidence from what just might be a lost,  more extended version of that Gospel: something known as the “Secret Gospel” of Mark. In the first part of the book, Jennings offer an extensive examination of the evidence from John’s Gospel, and concludes that yes, the evidence is clear: there was indeed an unusually intimate relationship between Jesus and the author of that Gospel (whom he does not believe was in fact John). But then he continues, to look for further evidence from the other Gospels.
In Mark, he first draws our attention to a well-known passage which is seldom remarked on for homoerotic associations – the story of the “rich young man”, drawing attention to the words of the text,:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said….
Alone, this these words are not particularly remarkable, except that elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus is not said to “love” specific individuals outside of the “beloved disciple” of John’s Gospel. It becomes more interesting though, when read together with some other lines from Mark .  Jennings first discusses the curious matter of the “neaniskos“, or “naked young man”, in Jesus company in the Garden of Gethsemane:
And they all forsook him and fled.
And a youth (“neaniskos”) accompanied him, clothed in a linen cloth (“sindona”) over his nudity (“gumnos”).  And they seized him.  And he, leaving his linen cloth, fled nude (“gymnos”).
(Mark 14: 50 -52)
Who is this youth? What is he doing there? Why has he stayed behind, “accompanying” Jesus, after all the others have fled (at least until he is seized, and then flees, naked). Why is he so lightly clothed, that his garment can fall away so easily (the “sindoma” was not properly an item of clothing at all, but just a loose linen sheet)? And why use a word, “gymnos”  for nudity, which is strongly  associated with the homoeroticism of the Greek gymnasium – where young men exercised naked, and older men came to admire them?
But the most intriguing passage of all is found not in the standard Gospel of Mark, but in the so-called “Secret Mark”, supposedly found by Morton Smith in an eighteenth century copy of a previously unknown letter of Clement of Alexandria, found in 1958.  The authenticity is disputed,  but some scholars accept that it authentic, and is taken from an earlier, longer version of Mark’s Gospel than the one we use today.  I’m not going to get into the details of the origin or significance of this fragment  – see Jennings for that – but here is the bit that intrigues:
And they came into Bethany, and a certain woman, whose brother had died, was there.  and, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, “Son of David, have mercy upon me.”..But the disciples rebuked her.  And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightaway a great cry was heard from the tomb.  And going near Jesus rolled away a stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand nad raised him, seizing his hand.  But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him.  And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, and he was rich.  And and after six days Jesus told him what he wast to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body.  And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And then, arising, he returned to the other side of Jordan.
This passage has two literary connection to the two earlier passages from canonical Mark: the verb used here for he youth “looking at “Jesus is the same (“emblepein“) as that  that used to describe Jesus when he “looked at” (and “loved”) the rich young man;  and here again, he is described as wearing just a linen cloth over his naked body.  (This is not on being raised from the dead, when such a cloth would have been expected, abut when he came to Jesus six days later.

Now, be honest:  if a young man came to you, “in the evening”, wearing “nothing but a linen cloth over his naked body”, what do you suppose he was after?  And if he came not to you, but to another man, and then stayed the night, what do you suppose your conclusion would be in the morning?
The fragment known as Secret Mark may not be authentic – but then, it may.  If so, the implications and connections to the other two passages, and to John are at least intriguing.  Is this the same rich young man who turned down the invitation to sell all and follow the Lord?  is he the same young man in a linen cloth who stayed with him after all others had fled? Is he, indeed, the “beloved disciple?”
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