The Mind of John 2-The Second, Unacknowledged Ghost Writer?
My love for Pearl Jam extends beyond their music. Over the years, they have demonstrated deep respect for their fans, often finding ways to make us feel special. One of these ways is the fan club 45 they record each year, dating back to when they started the Ten Club in 1991 These 45s contain previously unreleased material, demos, or live cuts unavailable elsewhere. In 1998, their fan club single did something unexpected: Side A became their biggest selling single ever – “Last Kiss.”
This song has an interesting history. Originally released as a single in 1961 to zero fanfare. Re-recorded (on a different label) in 1963, the song charted, though it hadn’t been played on the radio in quite some time, becoming a song long forgotten by anyone not a fan of Wayne Cochran. Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready found a copy of the vintage single in a used record store and brought it to the band. The band took to the song and recorded it for their fans to be released that year for the holiday single. When that single got into the hands of a Philadelphia DJ (the legend goes), he played it on air, and, as they say, the rest is history.
For people who don’t pay attention (or care all that much), they don’t even know it’s someone else’s song, which prevents them from appreciating Pearl Jam’s spin on it.
In his last chapter, Helms argues that the final gospel is, in fact, the product of two authors, with the contributions of the second author (content added at a later date than what the original author put down) running alongside the original content. He feels this changes the goal of the original author’s intent. Helms refers to this second author as John 2, and he contends that much of his inspiration comes from the Beloved Disciple.
To clarify, he believes that John 2 was working from a now lost gospel written by the Beloved Disciple, one based on an “eyewitness of Jesus.” Chapter 21 announces the changes this author made to this now-lost gospel (151).
If indeed this part of the Gospel is a change, what necessitated it? According to Helms, Jesus’ failure to return in the lifetime of first followers was a problem for the author (152). The author saw this as a “threat to faith” (152).
Other changes deal with Jesus’ baptism. For John 1, “rebirth is purely spiritual matter, nothing physical is involved” (155). John 2 disagreed, emphasizing the baptism ritual by inserting “water and… into John 3:5” (155). According to Helms, this emphasized John 2’s love of baptism.
Other notable differences concern the Incarnation—eating Jesus’ flesh (158). John 1 believed that “flesh is no avail” (John 6:63) but John 2 rewrote to insist that “word became flesh” (158) and that only the one who eats his flesh will possess eternal life. I can see how having these two conflicting ideas could confuse the reader (or believer).
But there’s more: John 2 restores Peter to the center of attention—undoing the work John 1 created by elevating the nameless Beloved Disciple (159).
So how often have other readers noticed these differences in the Gospel of John and do Helms’ points impact their understanding of this final gospel? I have no idea, but I can perhaps speculate that since the gospel comes around in the end to ideas that appear more in the standard comfort zone, the earlier seeming contradictions matter little. But, again, I could—and probably am—wrong.
In processing this last chapter, I think of Pearl Jam’s cover of “Last Kiss.” If you listen closely, you can pick out the original song structure—as written—and if you know the band well, you can also hear their little flourishes here and there in the guitar work, the vocalizing. I doubt casual listeners could though. I also doubt they care. Most don’t even realize it’s not their song to begin with, and this absence of knowledge doesn’t change their enjoyment—or whatever they get out of the song—one iota.