Back Back Story: Johanna

Sat 01/28/06 at 11:12 am

In 1990, the publication of Harold Bloom’s The Book of J caused my character based on John, the Beloved Disciple, to undergo a sea change. See September 1, 2005 Post. As Bloom explains in his Preface on Names and Terms:

“The Book of J” is used here as the title for what scholars agree is the oldest strand in the Pentateuch, probably composed at Jerusalem in the tenth century B.C.E. . . . J stands for the author, the Yahwist, named for Yahweh (Jahweh, in the German spelling; Jehovah, in a misspelling), God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The later strands in Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers are all revisions or censorings of J, and their authors are known as E, or the Elohist, for “Elohim,” the plural name used for Yahweh in that version (J always uses “Elohim” as a name for divine beings in general, and never as the name of God); P, for the Priestly Author or School that wrote nearly all of Leviticus; D, for the author or authors of Deuteronomy; and R, for the Redactor, who performed the final revision after the Return from Babylonian Exile.

Id. at p. 5. Bloom’s Introduction sets forth his back story for J:

In Jerusalem, nearly three thousand years ago, an unknown author composed a work that has formed the spiritual consciousness of much of the world ever since. We possess only a fragmentary text of that work, embedded within what we call Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers, three of the divisions of Torah, or the Five Books of Moses. . . .
For reasons that I will expound, I am assuming that J lived at or nearby the court of Solomon’s son and successor, King Rehoboam of Judah, under whom his father’s kingdom fell apart soon after the death of Solomon in 922 B.C.E. My further assumption is that J was not a professional scribe but rather an immensely sophisticated, highly placed member of the Solomonic elite, enlightened and ironic. But my primary surmise is that J was a woman, and she wrote for her contemporaries as a woman, in friendly competition with her only strong rival among those contemporaries, the male author of the court history narrative in 2 Samuel.

Id. at p. 9. I was so taken by the above description that Bloom’s J became my Johanna. As one of my immortals, this piece of her history by no means precludes a stint nearly a millennium down the road as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Can you say “trouser role?”

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