Saturday, March 30, 2013

Tom the Revelator Revisited

RadioWeblogMorgueClipping. Originally ran Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Tom the RevelatorI guess I have a shoolboy's affection for St John. Our deepest ties were forged in school. He is my patron saint. John was a writer. So am I.
John and I are tied by duress. On Halloween, at St John Nepomuk's [a Bohemian John] in Racine, the First Graders had to dress as their saints, a project my mother womanfully threw herself into. She made a robe out of a bed sheet, and I was St John, with trepidation, sent off to the school bus stop.
There, and worse later on the bus, I endured the taunts of the kids - even the bus driver made fun of me. My classmates on the main more wisely waited until they got to school to don their saint-man garb. Oh how I suffered.
Anyway John the Revelator is hip just now. Thanks to Jack White of the White Stripes. He has revived in his road show the spiritual "Who's that writing? John the Revelator" Taken probably from Son House [the Rube Wadell's revived the number as well a couple of years ago] it tells an episodic bible story in which the act of writing is enthroned spiritually, and John is the writer hero.
Unfortunately the John the revelator revival is nuanced by a bestselling tome known as Beyond Belief by Elaine Pagels. Pagels' book concentrates in a way on the Gospel of Thomas, which has been lumped in the Gnostic Gospel Dead See Scroll bin, which, long ago, was refused entry to the formal gospel pantheon of Matthew, Mark, Luke and old John. [As always with these things there is some dispute: to wit: that John the Evangelist the late gospel writer was the same person as  John the Revelator the even later Revelations writer.]
John's Gospel was written much later than those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke [the Synoptics] , and it has always seemed more wedded to theory and less to story. Pagel extends the argument by citing specific differences between John and Thomas, suggesting that John's was more of a work of theory intended to counter theory implied by Thomas.
There is a beauty in Thomas, for Church Fathers some of it was thought a dangerous beauty. Like John of the Cross he enjoyed a popularity in the '50s and '60s [an interview with Dennis Hopper was where I first heard about this stuff, it hadn't come up at St John Nepomuk's.] The most moving passage Pagel cites is:
"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."
Rimbaud, even, might say 'amen'. This inward-looking 'within' stuff didn't sit to well with the Pops, who didn't want the religion to emanate from too many distinct selves. I think most of us however could see some truth in this passage, something we've seen in ourselves, historical personages, street people. Thomas had a thing going on .. and I am a little sad that John's work is seen in apposition to this.
[I picked up Beyond Belief at the Massachusetts Bible Society bookstore on Bromfield street. This place is a real treasure. Bromfield street buildings still evoke the old Republic Boston of Poe, Holmes, James [excuse the waxing]. It's near Old City Hall, Pi Alley. The store itself is totally dedicated to the Word with a capital "W". Pretty somber. One time, all book stores had more of this flavor.]
Related
Pagel's "Beyond Belief" at amazon 

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