by Christopher Bamford

It is a privilege to write a few words to introduce this pithy, far-reaching essay by Edward Reaugh Smith. The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved focuses (with many fascinating asides) on the identity of the “beloved disciple”: the one “leaning on Jesus’ bosom, whom Jesus loved”—the one to whom Jesus “gave” His mother—not to mention the one who wrote the Fourth Gospel, the Apocalypse, and certain Letters that expound the Christian teaching of love more perfectly than any other human text. Ordinary Christians have always called this author “John,” which tradition has sometimes interpreted to mean “to whom is given”1 and which Smith tells us comes from a conflation of two Hebrew words “Yah” (or Yahweh) with “Anna,” meaning “grace.” In other words, John manifests and bears witness to God’s grace. Certainly no Christian texts have exerted a comparable initiatory influence. Indeed, whether or not it is justifiable to speak of a “Johannine” spiritual (esoteric) Church, in contrast to the Petrine or institutional (exoteric) Church, St. John has always stood for the heights of mystical theology: the deepest Christian initiation. His identity, therefore, is a matter of more than passing interest.

This is one reason why, when asked by the New York Open Center and the Anthroposophical Society to contribute to a lecture series celebrating Christianity at the beginning of the new millennium, Ed Smith chose the theme of the identity of John: it would allow him to talk of Christian initiation in a new way, one whose time he felt had come. Another reason surely was that it allowed him to bring together a number of Rudolf Steiner’s revelatory insights into New Testament study with the best of contemporary scholarship—in this case, Morton Smith’s work on The Secret Gospel of Mark. The result is a fascinating and important little document.

Edward Reaugh Smith is not a career, academic New Testament scholar. Though he has read and studied the relevant literature, Ed has other qualifications. It is difficult to know where to begin with these, for Ed is a man of many parts and these parts cannot be easily separated. Born in Flora, Illinois—the state to which his maternal great great grandfather Richard Sprigg Canby moved from Ohio after having served with Lincoln in the Congress (another Canby was a famous Union Major General in the Civil War)—Ed is a Texan by marriage, that is to say, by “destiny” and by adoption. In 1950, freshly graduated from high school in Illinois, he met his future wife Jo Anne, a native of Wichita Falls and the daughter of a widely loved, simple but wise and deeply spiritual, chiropractor. The interplay of “nature and grace”—or “free will and destiny”—involved in finding a life’s companion is always complex; and, in Ed’s case, Jo Anne, the companion it gave him, sowed in his soul many seeds of insight and intuition that are still germinating and bearing fruit today. Ed and Jo Anne married in 1954 and immediately had to face Ed’s induction into military service for two years. His four year academic test deferment had expired. This came in the middle of law school at Southern Methodist University when he stood academically at the head of his class. Typically, the two years were well used. As a result, Ed was able to complete certification as a CPA and was still able to graduate with honor from law school in 1957.

Ed’s legal and accounting training served him well—and still do, as anyone will attest who has wondered at the force of argument and the mass of evidence skillfully marshalled in his magnum opus, The Burning Bush. More immediately, however, Ed practiced tax and estate law successfully for many years, first in Houston, and subsequently—from 1959 till 1984—in Lubbock, where he made his home and still lives today. In 1964, he acquired Resthaven Cemetery, on which he promptly built a funeral home. In this new role as businessman, Ed notes that his dominant motivation gradually but powerfully shifted from one of investment to one of community service. By the time he sold it in 1993, Resthaven had become the dominant funeral and burial facility in Lubbock, a city of 200,000 inhabitants.

During this whole period, most importantly, besides helping Jo Anne, “the bride of his youth,” to rear two sons and a daughter, Ed taught Sunday school. Always an assiduous reader of the scriptures, Ed wrestled weekly for more than twenty-five years to satisfy heart and mind that he understood the fullness of Holy Scripture. In all, he taught the Bible through, book by book, three times.

Never narrow-minded or one-sided, Ed has honed and perfected his character in other ways, too. He ran his first marathon in January 1978 and followed this with a second in December of the same year. Finally, in April 1979, he “crowned” his running career with the Boston marathon. Having accomplished this, he reverted to the second of what Jo Anne calls his “irrational dreams”: he resurrected his youthful desire to become a concert pianist. He had the irrepressible urge to know if he could perform one of the great piano concertos with an orchestra. After two years studying piano under Dr. William Westney, Browning Artist-in-Residence at Texas Tech University and winner of the Geneva International Piano Competition, Ed gave his first recital in 1981. In March of the next year, he played Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with an orchestra before a full auditorium—thus fulfilling a lifetime ambition. He continued to give recitals for the next two years—ending with a program of Chopin and Rachmaninoff. However, as Ed himself says: “The demands of this training and performance were such that I have played no more since April 14, 1984. But the memories are rich.”

All this is perhaps by the way, but it gives some measure of the man. More to our purpose was his discovery, in the fall of 1988, of the work of the philosopher, scientist, educator, and spiritual teacher, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). This changed his life, or at least gave his life a new direction and purpose—the writing of an “anthroposophical commentary on the Bible.”

Steiner, according to the English philosopher Owen Barfield, “the best kept secret of the twentieth century,” was the creator of what he called “spiritual science” or anthroposophy. Suffice it to say that spiritual science in Steiner’s sense is a form of phenomenological research in which consciousness is both the field studied and the means of studying it as well as a Christian esotericism: a Christian path of inner development and an unveiling of the Christian Mystery. Steiner’s vast oeuvre therefore comprehends a spiritual anthropology, cosmology, Christology, psychology, and epistemology. It includes fundamental researches into fields as varied as the Bible (especially the four Gospels, the Apocalypse, the missions of Abraham, Moses, Elijah and Paul), education, agriculture, the history of science, and medicine—to name only a few. Encountering this enormous body of work of course means different things for different people. For Edward Reaugh Smith meeting Steiner meant a “rending of the veil of the Temple.” He began to understand the Bible in a new way. The meaning of many previously incomprehensible passages began to make a new sense. Even a cursory reading of the essay that follows can give one a sense of the kind of excitement that considering scripture in the light of Steiner aroused in Ed Smith. He felt he had come home.

In his talk, Ed begins by alluding to the verse in the final chapter of the Song of Solomon (8,5), which is echoed in the description of the disciple we know as John: namely, "Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? Under the apple tree I awakened you. There your mother was in labor with you.” He points out that this phrase occurs after the daughters of Jerusalem have been adjured for a third time not to stir up or awaken love “until it pleases.” To lean upon one’s beloved, therefore, is a sign that one is, in some sense, perfected in love. Then, “knowledge”—the wisdom of love that overcomes the fall or the eating of the apple, the fruit, of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—is given. Such a person is the one known as John—but who is he?

On this vexed topic, what Ed has to say is both extraordinarily suggestive and remarkably conclusive. Covering a lot of ground, but in a way that is accessible and “reader-friendly,” Ed masterfully supplies us with a range of collateral materials, always interesting in themselves but also always necessary to the larger argument. I shall not steal his fire here, but only say that he deals more than adequately with the whole “Zebedee John” question and makes the case convincingly for identifying of the author of the Johannine texts with Lazarus, the rich man of Bethany (Mary Magdalene’s brother), raised from the dead, for whom Jesus wept and the only specific person of whom it is written that Jesus loved.

Since this essay began its life as a talk to a non-specialized audience, it is blessedly jargon-free and reader-friendly. Yet this is not to say that it lacks sophistication or bite: it has both. Indeed, in the field of study that it addresses, it works a quiet but profound revolution. New Testament scholars as well as those concerned in a professional capacity with the future of Christianity ought therefore to sit up and take note. And not only they, of course. Anyone seeking to understand something of the mystery of Christ Jesus and his “beloved disciple” will find true food for mind and heart here.

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