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John in Sociolinguistic Perspective

The Gospel of John
in Sociolinguistic Perspective

Bruce J. Malina

(Protocol of the 48th Colloquy, March 1984)
Berkeley: Center for Hermeneutical Studies, 1985

(INSERT: Mary Douglas' Grid Group Model, as adapted by Bruce J. Malina, Christian Origins and Cultural Anthropology. Atlanta: John Knox, 1986, pp. 14- 15)

It is a truism in New Testament studies that the Gospel of John (= Jn) is different from the other gospel documents in the Christian canon. Jn has been quite appropriately labelled "the maverick gospel" (Kysar 1976). Yet the quality of Jn's uniqueness has yet to be articulated in some way beyond simple intuition or tortuous and impressionistic excursions into style and "theology." If it is true that the meanings encoded in a text(1) derive ultimately from a social system (see Douglas 1971), it might be useful to look into the social system revealed in and presupposed by Jn to generate insight into the distinctive features of this text (see Malina 1982; 1983). And if it is true that language is essentially a form of social interaction, and that people "language" each other in order to mean, then it might be equally useful to consider the type of language in Jn within the framework of sociolinguistics (see Fishman 1971; Fowler 1977; Halliday 1978; Hudson 1980). From a sociolinguistic standpoint, what persons talk about is meaningful to their conversation partners not so much because these partners do not know what a speaker (or writer) is going to say, but because the partners do know. Any listener or reader has abundant evidence of what some speaker or writer is going to say both from his/her knowledge of how the language works and from practiced sensibility to what one in fact can say in specific situations. For example, an American church-goer is generally rather certain that the Sunday sermon will not be about the Victorian novel or recent economic theories about Third World import quotas, or the proper chemical formulas for describing the structure of crystals. Players talking in a huddle during a football game will not be conversing about permanent life insurance, Zen Buddhism, or the stock market. And persons at the site of an auto accident witnessing a physician speaking with an injured person can be fairly certain they are not speaking about Chinese cooking, the price of eggs, the problems of adolescence, farming in the sub-Sahara or the crime rate in Calcutta. As a rule, members of various social groups can predict the types of meanings that might be exchanged from the situations in which speaking takes place.
For interpreters of ancient historical texts, what is of interest, of course, is the converse of that observation. Given sufficient pieces of conversation (i.e. text), can one form an idea of the types of situations befitting a given communication and the range of meanings generally exchanged in such situations? Contemporaries do in fact infer the situation from meanings imparted in language. Every time a person observes: "you must have read that in newspaper X (or magazine Y, or novel Z; or heard that on T.V. show A)," s/he is inferring a situation in which only a limited range of meanings can be imparted. Given the information communicated in Jn, can one infer the type of situation in which that sort of information could have been imparted? To answer this question, what is necessary is a comparative set of social locations along with some device for situating a text such as Jn in a given location with some relative degree of adequacy and accuracy. The next step is to situate Jn within the appropriate social location, and then take note of the applicable generalizations that might be forthcoming.(2)
What I should like to offer for discussion here, then is such a comparative set of social locations along with two devices for situating Jn (and other New Testament texts) within that model: the type of story Jn tells and the type of language Jn uses in telling his story (on such models and their use for understanding antiquity, see Carney 1975). For the comparative set of social locations, I use Mary Douglas' grid and group model (Douglas 1973; 1978; Douglas and Isherwood 1979), with appropriate modifications. The two devices for situating the text called Jn into the social location model are Hayden White's model of metahistory (White 1973; see History and Theory Beiheft 19, 1980 for a set of essays on the model) and Michael A. K. Halliday's sociolinguistic (Halliday 1978; for its historical moorings, see Monaghan 1979).

1. Social Locations: Douglas' Grid and Group

Douglas's grid and group model is rather simple in that it deals with two variables (see figure 1). The first of these is the degree to which a person is embedded in other persons, and this feature is called group. The second is the degree to which persons find their commonly shared values to match their experiences, and this feature is called grid. The group can be stronger or weaker depending on the extent of personal embeddedness, running from total, strong group, to individualistic weak group. Similarly a high match of values and experience is high grid, while a low match on the same scale is low grid. A matrix consisting of a horizontal group line crossing a vertical grid line yields a set of quadrants. Figure 1 on the next page comes outfitted with the salient features of each quadrant. Since the purpose of this essay is not to explain Douglas' grid and group model, suffice it to say that it is intended to be a polythetic typology (Bailey 1973) in that all features listed need not be present for an appropriate and adequate fit. Further explanation of the salient features of each quadrant can be found in Douglas 1973; 1978; Isenberg and Owen 1977, with applications to early Christianity in Malina 1978; 1981. With a view to interpreting the text called Jn, it seems more useful here to develop a more fitting model for this purpose by superimposing White's model of historical explanation over the Douglas model (see figure 2). What needs explanation now is White's classification of historians and their stories in the resulting comparative perspective.

2. White's Metahistorical Model
To begin with, White (1973: 1-42) notes that every story teller, whether professional historian or not, must necessarily adjust the "historical field" in the following five ways. The historian, first of all, must arrange elements of the historical field in some sort of sequence of occurrences. This sequence of occurrences is the "temporal" order culturally acceptable to story-teller and audience alike. Then the historian must transform this sequence, or "chronicle" of events into a meaningful flow of action with a beginning, middle and end. Thus the historians must choose from the chronicle: beginning elements, concluding elements and transition elements—omitting much in between. This choosing from the chronicle is a procedure involving constrained selection, exclusion, emphasis and deemphasis. These constraints are imposed upon the historians by the type of story s/he wishes to tell. The type of story is plot and plot derives from modes of plotting, modes of emplotment.
Emplotment refers to the direction given to the flow of events in a story. It answers such "story" questions as: what happened next? How did it happen? Why this way rather than that? How did it come out in the end? These questions are answered, usually implicitly, as the historian tells his story from equilibrium to equilibrium through disequilibrium. White suggests that there are only four modes of emplotment: comedy, tragedy, satire, romance (these are defined at the bottom of figure 2). On the grid and group axes, comedy covers high grid, tragedy low grid; and satire says the same as strong group, while romance looks to weak group. Historians, then, tells stories that are either romantic comedies or romantic tragedies, satiric comedies or satiric tragedies. As far as our New Testament sources are concerned, I see John as a romantic tragedy, while the Synoptics are satiric tragedies. Now as the plot line unfolds, White tells us that historians inevitably inform their audiences or readerships about the point of it all, and this he calls the mode of formal argument.
The mode of formal argument indicates how historical explanations fit into some broader frame, thus yielding the culturally acceptable "point of it all." Of course this broader frame is the set of values and structures that make up the social system of the historian and his/her audience. By telling stories making the same "point of it all," historians help their societies maintain current social postures and affirm their way of life. White follows Pepper (Pepper 1942; 1945; and most clearly for historical study, 1967: 319-377) and his well-known four modes of formal argument: formist, contextualist, organicist and mechanist. Consider each, briefly:
    (a) Formist: explanation here consists in properly identifying objects, their class, general qualities, specific attributes, while assigning and labelling them to point up particularity and uniqueness. This mode of argument is weak group/low grid because of its focus on (generalized) individuals and particular unique features (this is weak group), while rejecting any sorts of laws or principles because of a lack of close phasing between universal values and individual experience (this is low grid).
    (b) Contextualist: events are placed within the context of their occurrence to point up the interrelationships involved, demonstrating how they work together to produce the effects that they do. This mode of argument is weak group/high grid because of its focus on individual events with the purpose of determining the pragmatic effects of events and what causes them (this is weak group), while assuming there is a continuity between events and their contexts in some recurring relationship (this is high grid). The production of trends, tendencies and general profiles derivable from ascertainable regularities points to high grid confidence (this paper belongs in this quadrant).
    (c) Organicist: explanation here consists in putting facts within some integral whole picture consisting of rather abstract principles or recurring ideas that control history in its inexorable progression to its goal(s). This mode of argument is strong group/high grid because individuals (whether persons, events, objects or whatever) are subservient to larger historical processes, hence simply components and replications of the total group which is itself a piece of some cosmic process (this is the strong group aspect). Further, history demonstrates how the purposive laws governing the inevitable historical process (Truth) are always verifiable in contemporary human experience (this is the high grid aspect).
    (d) Mechanist: explanation here consists in placing facts within some larger picture which itself does not explain everything. It is simply a larger total picture, part of some unknown and unknowable whole. The immediate larger picture does in fact explain pivotal regularities by seeking out recurrent causes which determine \ the outcomes discernible in the historical field. This mode of argument is strong group/low grid because the individual is necessarily controlled by forces above and beyond him/her, lying at the unknown and unknowable periphery of the larger picture (this is the strong group aspect: the prescribed individual), indicating that human beings alone cannot attain their goals they set for themselves (this is the low grid aspect).
White goes on to explain what he calls "the mode of ideological implication," that implicit dimension of a story that tells the reader or hearer what s/he ought to do about it now that s/he has heard/read the story. These, briefly, are the anarchist (destroy the present), the liberal (fine tune the present, while looking to a long term future), conservative (maintain the present at all costs as it grinds on inexorably to some certain and secure future), and radical (now, soon, society must be restructured on a new basis, hence focus on some immediate future). The accompanying chart indicates where these fit in the grid and group matrix. While these modes of ideological implication are interesting, it would seem more useful for our purposes to focus on mode of formal argument, since it seems that category is the easiest to discern for purposes of comparative generalization.
The modes of formal argument: formist, contextualist, organicist and mechanist, might profitably be considered in terms of the following categories of semantic analysis (White here uses Kenneth Burke 1969: 3-20): location, agent, act, object, agency, purpose, outcome. Again briefly:
    * location refers to the scene, physical, social and cultural, the when/where of the story;
    * agent refers to the animate instigator of the action, the who;
    * act refers to the action, state or change of state being described, the what is going on;
    * object refers to the focus of the act, the whom or what;
    if the object is animate it is the "patient," if inanimate it is simply "object";
    * agency refers to the means by which action takes place, the how;
    * purpose refers to the goals of the agents in the story, the why;
    * outcome refers to unintended consequences, goals achieved beyond, beside,
    against the intentions of the agents, the "but".
Here I should like to ask the question, with White: which of these categories of semantic analysis are emphasized in the respective modes of formal argument? The following seems to be the case:
    (a) Formist argument focuses upon unique agents (who), their unique acts (what is going on) and the unique way in which they realize their goals (agencies, how). With emphasis on the unique, there is no concern for regularities, recurrences, no noting of similarities. This is, of course, the weak group/low grid quadrant location. This is where I would put the gospel of Jn. My reasons for doing so will be presented below. Further, any psychological telling of the story of Jesus by modern authors usually belongs here as well.
    (b) Contextualist argument focuses upon the relationship between act (what is going on) and agency (how does it happen) within a given context (location). Agents, objects and purposes are duly noted, but are subservient to act, agency and location. What is described then is events and their pragmatic effects in terms of some explanation linking act and agency in a given context. These features are typical of weak group/high grid. And this mode of argument is typical of mainstream U.S. society, its newspaper articles and T.V. stories, its historians and novelists.
    (c) Organicist argument finds context insignificant or illusory. Thus all those who do history of ideas almost automatically resonate with this quadrant. The main focus of organicist argument is the purpose, the why, the unveiling of principles and ideas within historical processes. These principles are perceived to apply inexorably and inevitably since they express the eternal and abiding Truth. This, of course, is the strong group/high grid quadrant. All studies of the life of Jesus that focus on Jesus as teacher, as formulator of truth, or on the Bible as the repository of eternal truth applicable to all cultures and all social systems by a simple or complex study of the "text" fit in this quadrant. By and large, the majority of studies of the life of Jesus coming from W. Germany, England and Canada fall into this category. The strong group/high grid social script is typical of West German, British and Canadian elites (and their audiences?). Hence it comes as no surprise that German and British graduate schools and those U.S. graduate schools staffed by their alumni would favor this mode of argument.(3)
    (d) Mechanistic argument focuses upon location, act and agency. Historians adopting this mode seek to demonstrate how situations (where) and agencies of an extrahistorical sort control agents in their activities. In the gospels, for example, God, spirits, demons, and angels are the agencies in a specific place and time context and that control events. Extrahistorical forces need not be personified; they may be social structures, untouchable and invisible groups (e.g. conspirators and their conspiracies), or classes impelled by social/historical necessity. This is the mode of argument befitting strong group/low grid. It seems to underlay the Synoptics and Paul as well as most "liberation theology" uses of the life of Jesus. Figure 3 lists the features of semantic analysis and the relative modes of formal argument.
Now that some examples of comparative interest have been duly categorized, one might ask about the value of such an exercise. In the first place, I submit, such comparison allows for scholarly distancing. And scholarly distancing allows for intelligent and testable comparison. Secondly, this exercise helps underscore the truism that authors, past and present, have social locations. There is, of course, no immaculate perception. To understand persons from cultures other than our own, some such distancing process is necessary, if only out of fairness. Furthermore, to get to see who might be our scholarly, significant others, such an exercise helps one to determine his/her own social location and the implicit presuppositions that working in that location yield.
After working through the foregoing process, it becomes quite obvious that historical works on the strong group side of the model are necessarily ethnocentric: they all appeal to a time and place conditioned story and argue for its abiding relevance, hence the emphasis on ideas, ideals (high grid); or on encouragement, hope for transformation, arguments for change in social structure (low grid). On the other hand, the works on the weak group side of the model are rather irrelevant: the picture of Jesus they portray either cannot be applied in contemporary weak group/high grid society (e.g. the U.S. mainstream: Jesus as faith healer or magician would be a deviant there), or the universal, polymorphic psychological personage of weak group/low grid remains highly idiosyncratic and utopian.(4) If historical reconstruction and cross cultural understanding are the focuses of concern, then I would argue in favor of the irrelevant picture of weak group/high grid provenance. Irrelevant does not mean unimportant; while ethnocentric does mean inaccurate. These seem to be our choices at present.
To sum up, the historian no less than the gossip, ancient and modern, necessarily weaves a set of implicit meanings into an explicit story. As story tellers select among events from the historical field (chronicle) they necessarily and simultaneously have to make their selections with a view to how the elements from the historical field will fit along some time framework (story). This selection process inevitably follows along a course set by three implicit questions: why did things happen the way that they did (mode of emplotment), what is the point of it all (mode of formal argument), and what should we—author and audience—do about it (mode of ideological implication). These three questions are with the story teller/historian from the very beginning of their activity. The questions guide the story telling process, and answers to them are inevitably provided in the realization of the story, the historian's final product.

3. The Social Location of John: Further Observations
In terms of the foregoing model, Jn is different from the other three gospels in that Jn belongs to the weak group/low grid quadrant while the Synoptics belong to the strong group/low grid quadrant. In terms of Jn's social location as it pertains to story tellers and their stories, Jn would be presenting his audience with the story of Jesus (as do Mark, Matthew and Luke), but with a romantic tragedy mode of emplotment, developing an implicit formist argument, and with an anarchic ideology. This is what figure 3 would have one expect. The weak group/low grid configuration in that figure indicates that in his story telling, Jn made a selection from among the things that Jesus said and did, and that were said and done to Jesus (chronicle), and put these in some time sequence (story) in such a way that:
(1) Jn's mode of emplotment, the "why and how did it turn out" aspect of the story, takes on the features of romantic tragedy. In general this mode of emplotment underscores how new forces and new conditions require and demand social interruption and step level changes to make life livable since values and experiences do not match. The unique, the individual, the particular are what count, while universalistic and changeless generalities are useless and illusory. The romantic aspect of this plot line focuses on the hero as individual, with the individual's heightened sense of self and self-identification. Note how in Jn, Jesus repeatedly makes "I am . . . " statements underscoring this sense of self and self-identification (Jn 6:; 8:12.18; 9:5; 10:; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1.5), although the items with which Jesus identifies himself in Jn's story are items which he previously offered to various persons in the narrative. This is a sort of metaphorical self-identification pointing to new conditions, new forces and new values uniquely bound up with the individual, the unique, i.e. the person of Jesus. Further, even from the viewpoint of raw statistics, note how Jn employs personal pronouns. For example, "I" (as Greek pronoun) is used 146 times, compared with 18 times in Mk, 23 times in Mt and 26 times in Lk (the numbers are approximate and probable due to the quality of certain manuscripts). The simple "I am" phrases in Jn (4:26; 6:20; 7:36; 8:28.58; 9:9; 13:9; 18:5.6) are certainly worth the discussion they receive in most commentaries. The main point here, however, is that Jn is indeed concerned about the personal claims and individuality of his hero in a way absent from the other gospel stories about Jesus. In line with the romantic plot perspective, Jesus transcends the world of experience. Indeed the prologue to the gospel (Jn 1:1 ff.) informs the reader/hearer of this fact in no uncertain terms. As the story develops, Jesus overcomes that world and is exalted above it in the end. In the dramatic progression of the story, Jesus moves to overcome evil, the light overcoming darkness. As a unique individual, he overcomes the world in which he is constrained and enveloped. He breaks the fetters of the social group ("his own") and stands out uniquely, alone.
The tragedic aspect can be seen in the way Jesus attains his end through sets of contests/conflicts of increasing intensity. There are challenges and ripostes of the sort common to the Synoptic gospels and Mediterranean culture in general (see Malina 1981b: 25-50), only in Jn Jesus' successful ripostes do more than demonstrate that Jesus is an honorable teacher and healer. They have evidential value which furnishes those who would see with insight into the regularities of human existence controlled by God (the Father). In what he says and does in his contest against the world, Jesus as Jn's hero, reveals why experience and values do not match in the world of human living; humankind is stuck in a sort of subhuman, unnatural condition. In his dying on the cross, the ultimate humiliation in first century Mediterranean social experience, Jesus is exalted and thereby reveals a higher order principle that can endow life with meaning. Thus the story of Jesus shows that the conditions under which human beings must live in the world are unalterable, hence people must look beyond them for liberation, specifically by "believing into" (a phrase typical of Jn) the one sent by God, Jesus.
(2) Jn's mode of formal argument, "the point of it all" dimension of his story, is the formist mode. This mode of argument highlights the uniqueness of agents, agencies or means, and acts in the story. Jn presents a range of individual types to people his story: e.g. Nathaniel, Andrew, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, Lazarus, Peter, Thomas, the disciple whom Jesus loved. The reader/hearer can almost imagine each of them in terms of individualistic personality with its focus on uniqueness. And throughout the course of the gospel, Jesus himself stands out as a unique, forceful and significant "personality." As most students of the Bible know, these features are absent from the Synoptic gospels.(5)
The formist mode of argument seeks to identify the unique characteristics of agents, agencies and acts in the historical field and to assign them to classes with general qualities and specific attributes. In the course of his narrative, the author of Jn does this to an extensive degree that proves rather distinctive for a first century Mediterranean writing. On the other hand, descriptions and explanations of the location of the drama, of physical and social dimensions, are left on the periphery. Thus what Jn offers the reader/hearer is a scattergram of information that highlights individual features. Jn does not express or articulate any laws or principles or regularities governing the human condition and revealed in the course of human interaction. Rather the attentive reader/hearer comes away with vivid and direct insight into agents, agencies and acts, set out in an impressionistic way.
The Synoptic tradition describes Jesus as refusing to offer signs to anyone. Jn, to the contrary, literally overwhelms the reader/hearer with signs, quite in line with a focus on the uniqueness of agencies and acts (Jn 2:1-11; 4:46-54; 5:1-18; 6:1-15; 9:1-41; 11:1-46; 20:1-10; and see 2:18-22 along with 20:17-18; 20:19-29; also 1:49; 4:16-19; 19:32-37). This series of signs, however, does not have the strong group/low grid aim of mobilizing the masses for a revolution, since even in Jn Jesus refuses the role of political leader (Jn 6:15). Rather Jn's signs are to function in a weak group/low grid context where they are intended to give direction to the individual reader/hearer of the story. They seek to provoke commitment with the insight that in Jesus the biblical promises of God, and not just Deut 18:15 as in the Synoptics, are fulfilled. Hence Jesus' unique actions, wrought by God's unique agency, show that Jesus is uniquely "the Christ, the Son of God" and that for the individual, commitment based on this insight means "eternal life."
Jesus's words and deeds display a series of distinctive standards emerging and standing over against the general run of customs and laws in vogue in society at large. This, in sum, is the mode of formal argument in Jn, a weak group/low grid mode.
(3) The ideological perspective of a story intimates "what the reader/hearer should then do about it." According to Jn this perspective moves the reader/hearer to look for humanity's best times in the past, when Jesus, the Word of God, "dwelt among us," when "we have beheld his glory" (Jn 1:14). This past is not irretrievable, since it can be realized and experienced in all its grandeur at any time, if people would only anchor themselves in Jesus, the Messiah (i.e. "believe into" Jesus, with commitment and loyalty; this phrase is used some 34 times in Jn, only once each in Mk and Mt and not at all in Lk).(6) This anchoring in Jesus equally entails the obligation to live one's restored fundamental humanity in terms of Jesus' standard of "love." This "love" refers to behavior based on mutual care and concern for those in the collectivity who have move outside the boundaries of society at large due to allegiance to Jesus as Messiah, and thus find themselves in a weak group/low grid social location. In this quadrant, the collectivity simply constitutes a social aggregation, and certainly not a society (for such aggregations in low grid, see Schmidt et al. 1977). A society requires some set of various and abiding social relations that define social roles. In the group of Jn, there are no sets of relations, only a single relation of "love" and a focal legitimate authority, the "disciple whom Jesus loved." This disciples replicates the legitimate authority of Jesus himself, it would seem (low grid authority is of a legitimate, customary sort since only high grid has "law," see Malina 1981a). Consequently group members have only their participant role based on the relation of "love" (a form of commitment, like "believing into") with direct and immediate access to the God of Israel in Jesus. This social stance clearly implies total social transcendence, with rather full disregard for existing institutions, notably those from which the weak group/low grid members of the Jn group emerged. This aspect of Jn's story clearly indicates that those commentators who see Jn's group as recently broken away from (or ejected from) existing Jewish institutions are quite correct (e.g. Brown 1979). For the "Johannine community," previous lines defining and delimiting meaningful social relations and institutions are largely eradicated. Thus group members find themselves beyond ordinary limits, in a situation in which the individual can find him/herself in a restored and culturally unadulterated humanity based on the realization of the new values that emerged in the uniqueness of Jesus, the Messiah. Hence the distance from "the Jews" and "this world," so patently marked in the narrative, because the group members' main concern would be to share no standards like the rules and customs followed in the grid/group quadrant from which they derived.
This, in brief, is what Jn's story of Jesus entails in terms of White's model of metahistory as superimposed on Douglas' grid/group. The model indicates that the reason the author of Jn tells the story in the way he does is not because he draws upon the "objective" meaning of the events in the pre-existence—life—death—resurrection of Jesus, but because of constraints on perception deriving from his social location. Jn writes as he does because that is the way people come to perceive and articulate the meaning of Jesus' story within a weak group/low grid cultural script in the context of first century Jewish core values. The meanings imparted by Jn cohere well with all the dimensions of the weak group/low grid social location. While that social location does not determine the genius of a person or the exact form that his/her work might take, it does determine and define the limits within which an author's selection process can take place as well as the general shape of the patterns of perception available to persons in the quadrant. These perceptions of the author of Jn are realized and articulated in language, and Jn's language, likewise, is weak group/low grid.

4. John and Antilanguage
If one could say, as Halliday (1978: 171) does, that "the early Christian community was an antisociety, and its language was in this sense an antilanguage," the statement as it stands would be most appropriate for Jn and the group that originally resonated with its story, Jn's group. Halliday has sketched the notable characteristics of the phenomenon of antilanguage (Halliday 1978: 164-182). His description indicates that antilanguage finds its social residence among people following weak group/low grid scripts (e.g. individuals put into prison, the underworld, adolescents) and forming antisocietal groups. Obviously, the description fits Jn quite well. The rest of the New Testament writings bespeak a counter-society with a counter-language typical of competing groups in strong group/low grid settings. I submit, then, that only Jn reveals all the salient traits of an antilanguage.
According to Halliday, an antilanguage is a language deriving from and generated by an antisocietal group. And an antisocietal group is a social collectivity that is set up within a larger society as a conscious alternative to it. The reason why persons might come up with a conscious alternative to the society in which they are in some way embedded are varied and many, e.g. being labelled a deviant, with active hostility by society at large against such individuals, lack of social concern for certain individuals, with a resulting passive social symbiosis, exile or rejection due to negative outcomes to an uprising or revolution, and the like. In terms of the grid/group model, such antisocietal groups are weak group/low grid. Since weak group/low grid is a transitional social location, even if lasting several hundred years, the specific perceptions of persons in this quadrant depend upon their initial social location. Thus strong group/low grid initial location results in antisociety when individuals are expelled from the strong group for some reason. Weak group/high grid initial location results in antisociety when individuals experience a collapsing or collapsed grid. In Jn's case, the document points to a collectivity that emerged from and stands opposed to strong group/low grid society and its competing groups. Concretely, the notable groups which Jn's collectivity opposes include "the (this) world" (79 times in Jn; 9 times in Mt and 3 each in Mk and Lk), and "the Jews" (71 times in Jn; 5 times in Mt and Lk; 7 times in Mk). These groups adamantly refuse to believe in Jesus as Messiah. Brown (1979: 168-169) singles out four more groups: the adherents of John the Baptist who do not as yet believe in Jesus, and three groups which claim to believe in Jesus: crypto-Christians, Jewish Christians and Christians of the apostolic churches. This last group is perhaps "the sheep not of this fold" (Jn 10:16) with which Jn's group has some relationship through the "shepherd." Jn's antilanguage is a form of resistance to this range of competing groups and develops for positive and negative reasons, to be considered shortly.
Perhaps the simplest way to discern the presence of antilanguage is to note its distinctive development of and penchant for new words in place of old ones. Antilanguage is language relexicalized, but only partially. Its implicit principle seems to be: same grammar but different vocabulary, though only in certain areas. And these areas are those of central concern to the focal interests and activities of the antisocietal group. In Jn, this concern is articulated as follows: "that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (Jn 20:31). In other words, the author of Jn is concerned with spelling out the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah and in developing emotional anchorage "in Jesus" for his collectivity. It is to this end that the author develops his very different vocabulary.
Furthermore, it is characteristic of antilanguage not simply to relexicalize in its area of concern, but to overlexicalize by employing a rather large range of lexical items to cover the same area. This feature is easily demonstrable in Jn (see Kysar 1976). First of all, note his contrasts between "spirit, the above, life, light, not of the/this world, freedom, truth, love" and their opposites: "flesh, the below, death, darkness, the/this world, slavery, lie, hate." These words are variants used to describe contrasting spheres of existence, opposing modes of living and being. Similarly, and with extremely little appreciable difference in meaning, Jn speaks of "believing into Jesus," or "following" him, of "abiding in" him or "loving" him, of "keeping his word," of "receiving" him, or "having" him, or "seeing" him. Again, since Jn is antilanguage, and Jn's group in weak group/low grid, this is all quite predictable.
In his general model of language, Halliday distinguishes three linguistic modes of meaning: the ideational, the interpersonal, and the textual. The ideational refers to what is being said or described; the interpersonal looks to the personal qualities of the communicating partners; and the textual pertains to the qualities of any piece of language to form text (e.g. cohesion). Again, what one says is ideational, with whom one speaks is interpersonal and how one speaks is textual (see Halliday 1978: 8-36; the model on 69 and its explanation on 125-126). These components have to be singled out here because it is typical of antilanguage to deemphasize the ideational and focus upon the interpersonal and textual alone. For example, a comparison of the text of Jn (the whole gospel as story) with the texts of the Synoptics will readily indicate that Jn downplays the ideational function of language while highlighting the interpersonal and textual functions. The linguistic dimensions of how Jesus speaks (textual component) and with whom he speaks (interpersonal component), come through in a way not found in the Synoptic narratives from strong group/low grid communities. Now, Halliday notes, it is these two dimensions (interpersonal and textual) in their antilanguage form that account for overlexicalization. For example, overlexicalization based on the textual function of language (how Jesus speaks, how others speak to Jesus) is revealed in forms of verbal display such as punning and word play. This feature is quite apparent in Jn's pattern of ambiguity, misunderstanding and clarification (Jn 2:19 ff.; 3:3 ff.; 4:10 ff.; 4:32 ff.; 6:33 ff.; 8:31 ff.; 8:38 ff.; 11:11 ff.; 11:23 ff.; 13:8 ff.; 14:4 ff.; 14:7 ff.; 14:21 ff.; 16:16 ff. All of these text-segments reveal verbal display or word plays relative to the following: the destruction of the temple, being born again, water, food, bread, freedom, father, sleep, resurrection, washing, way, seeing, manifestation, a little while—respectively). This feature is likewise manifested in Jn's penchant for irony (Jn 2:9-10; 4:12; 7:27; 7:42; 7:52; 11:16; 11:36; 12:19; 13:37; 18:31; 18:38; 19:5; 19:14; 19:19 ff.).
As for the interpersonal component, overlexicalization deriving from this function of language (who is involved, of whom and to whom Jesus speaks) is indicated by the set of words that have the same denotation, but have quite a different connotation based on the attitude and commitment they entail in an interpersonal context. This includes, for example, all the "I am . . . " statements previously referred to. The words "bread" (Jn 6:35), "light" (8:12), "door" (10:9), "life" (11:25-26), "way" (14:6), "vine" (15:5) have the same denotation in the contexts in which they are employed; they refer to various, real world objects. However when identified with Jesus in an "I am . . . " proposition, each takes on some interpersonal dimension. The synonyms for the activities of discipleship ("to believe, come, abide, follow, love, keep words, receive, have, see") and those for the two contrasting realms ("the above, spirit," etc., and "the below, flesh," etc. listed previously) point in the same direction, i.e. to the interpersonal component of language.
This orientation toward the interpersonal and textual modes of the linguistic system accounts for the way social values are foregrounded, highlighted, and underscored in antilanguage. After all, weak group/low grid collectivities seek the implementation of new values in place of old ones, not new structures. New structures in place of old ones form the focus of strong group/low grid concerns (e.g. the Synoptics, Paul). Emphasis on new structures underscores and features the ideational mode of the linguistic system. What is in fact happening and what should in fact be happening are emphasized, while who is involved and what is said are of lesser concern.
What uses do antilanguages serve? Halliday observes that antilanguages are generally replications of social forms based on highly distinctive values that are clearly set apart from those of the society from which antisocietal members derive. Like language itself, antilanguage is the bearer of social reality, but of an alternative social reality that runs counter to the social reality of society at large. Thus antilanguage serves to maintain inner solidarity under pressure. The pressure, of course, stems from the surrounding broader society from which weak group/low grid collectivities stem and in which they are to a large extent still embedded. Furthermore, for individuals to maintain solidarity with their fellow antisocietal members and not fall back into the margins of the groups from which they left or were ejected, some sort of alternative ideology along with emotional anchorage in the new collectivity is necessary. This necessity is best served by demonstrations of mutual care and concern on the part of those in the antisocietal group so as to establish strong affective identification on the part of newcomers into the group as well as those on its fringes ready to swing out. Of course, this describes the process of resocialization (see Mol 1976: 50-54; 142-201). Just as language is crucial to the social construction of reality and to the socialization of new members into that reality, so too antilanguage is crucial to the social reconstruction of reality and to the resocialization of newcomers into that reality. Jn is an instance of such antilanguage in the Christian tradition.
From the viewpoint of linguistics, the process of resocialization and solidarity maintenance makes special demands on the antilanguage. In particular, the antilanguage in question must facilitate the process of establishing strongly affective ties with both the reputational legitimate authority who is the central influence in the collectivity as well as with significant others in the group. And this process has to be geared to the individual group member, just as the original socialization process was. Now the linguistic genre most appropriate to this end is conversation and its implicit modes of reciprocity. In Jn again, there is ample evidence of distinctive conversations with Jesus that serve a resocialization function (Jn 3:1–4:42; 5:10 ff.; 6:22 ff.; 9:13–10:42; 11:1-44; 11:45–12:36a; 13–17). How these conversations unfold is common knowledge. Jesus begins to converse with some individual person, moves on to address that person in monologue fashion, and the monologue turns into an address to the reader/hearer. Throughout these text-segments, there is heavy foregrounding of interpersonal meanings directed to individuals. It seems that these conversations are the feature of Jn that hold constant and perennial appeal for persons in weak group settings: Jesus speaks to them in an individual way, not as group members as is the case in the rest of the Synoptics (or for the addressees of the remaining New Testament writings). It must be emphasized that it is Jn's weak group/low grid antilanguage that accounts for this feature of the gospel. (In this regard, the use of the pronoun "you" singular in Greek is distinctive: 60 times in Jn, 10 times in Mk, 18 in Mt and 26 times in Lk; similarly the pronoun "you" plural in Greek: 68 times in Jn, 11 in Mk, 30 in Mt, and 28 times in Lk—such emphatic use of the pronoun in Greek simply underscores the interpersonal dimension).
Halliday notes the importance of a further characteristic of antilanguages, namely that a given antilanguage is not simply a specialized variety, a technical variety of ordinary language used in a special way or in particular, technical contexts (e.g. technical jargons, argots and the like). Rather, an antilanguage arises among persons in groups espousing and held by alternative perceptions of reality, reality as experienced and set up in opposition to some established mode of conception and perception. Consequently, an antilanguage is nobody's "mother tongue," nor is it a predictable "mother tongue" derivative. Rather antilanguage exists solely in a social context of resocialization. Like any other language, it is a means of realizing the cultural script of the group in question, a means of expressing perceptions of the reality mediated by that script by actively creating and maintaining that reality by means of language. But unlike ordinary language, antilanguage creates and expresses a reality that is inherently an alternative reality, one that is constructed precisely in order to function as an alternative to society at large. In the antilanguage of Jn, it is the weak group/low grid variety of a group that emerged from and still lives among a strong group/low grid society, the society of first century Mediterranean Hellenism in general, and of Judaism in particular. Thus what is significant in antilanguage is not its distance from the language of strong group/low grid society, but the tension between the two. Both the society at large and the antisocietal group share the same overarching system of meaning, just as both are part and parcel of the same overarching social system. Yet they stand in opposition to and in tension with each other. The reason for underscoring this point is that to appreciate the new values and perceptions generated by a weak group/low grid, antisocietal collectivity, one must understand the larger society to which it stands opposed.
The counter-reality generated by weak group/low grid collectivities such as the Johannine community has certain implications. First of all, it implies an emphasis on new core values and an attempt to create standards and structures to implement those values. Then it likewise implies a preoccupation with social boundaries, with social definition and defense of identity by means of repeated and varied articulation of the new reality now so clearly perceived. Of course both of these points are realized in Jn's strong contrast between "the above, spirit," etc. and "the below, flesh," etc. and the forms of behavior proper to each. Further the counter-reality in question implies a special conception of information and knowledge—a feature more than amply highlighted in Jn. Finally such counter-reality implies that social meanings will be seen as oppositions; values are defined in terms of what they are not. Again, in Jn it is quite clear that Jesus' prodigies are simply not about what is going on, i.e. healing or rescue, but about something more and something other than one can ostensibly witness.
As Halliday has observed, the overlexicalization of antilanguages is a form of variant in linguistics. In general, a variant is an alternative realization of a linguistic element on the next, or some higher level of abstraction in the linguistic system. A higher level realization always has the same meaning in some respect as the items falling beneath it. For example, the lexical items, "fruit," "vegetables," "meat," and "bread" have "food" as their variant. "Food" is an alternative realization of a linguistic element such as "bread" or "meat" on a higher level in the linguistic system. Similarly, this higher level realization, "food," always has the same meaning in some respect as the items falling beneath it, in this case, "fruit, vegetables, meat, bread." Thus "fruit" can mean "food," "vegetables" can mean "food," "meat" can mean "food," and "bread" can mean "food," while the lexical item "food" can be used to mean any of the foregoing; they are technically variants of the word, "food." Similarly, in Jn "spirit, the above, life, light, not of the/this world, freedom, truth, love" are all variants of the "new reality" which Jn identifies with and in Jesus of Nazareth. On the contrary, "the flesh, the below, death, darkness, this/the world, slavery, lie, hate" are all variants of what Jn and the collectivity addressed in the work oppose, the "old reality" of the strong group/low grid society from which they came.
However the significant thing about the lexical items (words and sentences) distinctive of an antilanguage, as Halliday notes, is that many of them have no equivalent meanings at all in the standard language of the broader society. Sentences such as: "I and the Father (= God) are one" (Jn 10:30); "Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am (8:58); or the identification of Jesus of Nazareth with the pre-existing Word of God become flesh (1:1 ff.) would simply be meaningless in the language of the broader society. This does not mean that they could not be understood and judged to be meaningless, or that they could not be translated (after all, our English versions do them adequate justice). Rather, what it does mean is that such propositions do not function as meaning bearing language in the semantic system of regular language, even the regular "religious" language of contemporary early Christianity and Judaism. It is quite significant to note that there are no such sentences in the writings of Paul or the other gospels and non-Johannine New Testament documents.
The foregoing considerations point to the fact that an antilanguage is a metaphor for the regular language of society at large. Metaphorization takes place when some common, often implicit, quality proper to one entity is predicated of another, e.g. "My brother is a lion." Here the implicit property is strength or ferocity; thus the explicit sentence would read: "My brother is as strong as/as ferocious as a lion." In antilanguage, such a metaphorical quality appears all the way through the system. Halliday tells us that it is this metaphorical quality that defines an antilanguage. In Jn, this metaphorical quality can be seen in the "I am . . ." statements where Jesus says of himself: "I am bread, light, a door, life, way, vine," and the like. The metaphorical quality inherent in the list of ambiguity—misunderstanding—clarification sequences noted previously also point to the same thing. Metaphor constitutes the element of antilanguage that is present in all language to some extent. For much of everyday language is in fact metaphorical, e.g. horsepower in an automobile, a cell in biology, conceiving ideas. Yet the metaphorical quality of everyday language is lost and has come to be identified with regular speech, with reality itself. On the other hand, what distinguishes an antilanguage is that when it is compared with the existing language system of the culture in which it emerges and the society against which it stand, it is itself a metaphorical entity. Hence in antilanguage, metaphorical modes of expression are the norm. Metaphorical modes of expression are an antilanguage's regular pattern of realization.
As pointed out previously, the main form of discourse used in socialization and in reality maintenance is conversation. The reality generating and maintaining power of language lies in conversation. It is cumulative and depends for its effectiveness on continuous enforcement in social interaction. In Jn, all the great Johannine metaphors emerge in conversations. Their metaphorical points are made in conversation, thus maintaining the resocialization quality of the work in the reader's/hearer's being addressed by Jesus in these conversations as the dialogue becomes monologue. In the resocialization process conversation relies heavily upon foregrounding and highlighting interpersonal meanings, and the great Johannine conversations surely do that. Finally, conversation depends for its power to generate reality on its being casual. In Jn, again, Jesus' many and frequent conversations so often point to casual encounters with individuals with whom the weak group reader/hearer can empathize and thus take on the role of conversation partner as Jesus moves on to monologue in the second part of these conversations.
A final point Halliday makes is that within the ideational mode of meaning (what is being talked about), an antilanguage may adopt linguistic structures and lexical collocations that are self-consciously opposed to the norms of established language. This is typical of the more intellectual antilanguages. Now there is evidence of this feature in Jn, although many such items are "translated out" in English versions, e.g. in Jn the verb "to believe" most often has the preposition "into"; Jesus refers to his death as "being lifted up"; and for Jn seeing is believing throughout the story of Jesus' activity. Consequently, the modes of linguistic expression in antilanguage, when seen from the standpoint of the established language, appear diffuse, round about and metaphorical—and so they are from that angle.
But seen on their own terms, they appear direct and forceful, powerful manifestations of the linguistic system in the service of the construction of reality. It is the reality being constructed and newly maintained that is oblique, since it can only be seen as a metaphorical transformation of the "true" reality of strong group/low grid society. But the function of an antilanguage text with respect to that reality is a reinforcing one, all the more direct because it is a reality which needs much reinforcement. It is the new reality, the new experience and perceptions, of a weak group/low grid collectivity.

John is, indeed, different from the other gospels. The foregoing considerations deriving from sociolinguistics point up precisely why this is the case. Further, the metahistorical model superimposed on and outfitted with grid/group dimensions equally provides explanation for the distinctive qualities of Jn. These models provide the historical interpreter with a set of heuristic tools and testable conclusions lacking in the usual intuitive and impressionistic approaches to biblical texts. While the sociolinguistic level of analysis is simply a first step to understanding the Johannine group by means of its shared story, it is an important first step. For it furnishes an explanation for the distinctive Johannine ways of describing God and human relations with God. This explanation, of course, is rooted in the social behavior of Jn's collectivity, used as analogy to explain the God revealed in Jesus. Further, this mode of analysis enables the interpreter to come to know and appreciate the personages who embodied faith in Jesus in first century, Mediterranean weak group/low grid contexts—their willingness to identify Jesus with the divinity of Jewish tradition, their self-distancing from their original mooring in strong group/low grid Judaism, and their emphatic stance relative to interpersonal commitment within their group. And it helps the modern student to discover social persons in that difficult yet exhilarating social location, persons who made sense of the overarching meaning of human existence "in Jesus" in highly creative and significant ways. Finally, such analysis highlights the ever present problem of weak group/low grid persons and the group, i.e. the need to return to stable society and an articulation of Christianity befitting such society. Perhaps the Johannine letters intimate this movement, with the beginnings of the dissolution of Jn's antisocietal group.


1. I use the word "text" as it is used in linguistics, i..e. "meaningful configurations of language intended to communicate" (De Beaugrande 1980: 1). A sentence from a biblical text is a text-segment; only rarely can a lexical item (sentence or word) be a text, e.g. "Beware of dog." In this usage, sentences express complete thoughts and can be understood, but not interpreted. Texts, on the other hand, can be both understood and interpreted. Interpretation requires some larger frame of reference; texts have these built in as a rule due to their "texture" (see Halliday 1978). For a model of reading that explains how squiggles on some surface come to communicate, I follow the conclusions of Sanford and Garrod 1981.

2. Some might consider this procedure to be circular. However such circular procedure seems normal to human perception: "The question of what happens first (perception of an object as a whole or perception of salient general features composed to perceive an object as a whole) has been much discussed by students of perception. In order to perceive that something is, say, a table, it would seem necessary to use information about its location, size, and shape, but how is it possible to judge its attributes until we know what 'it' is? Which comes first, the attributes or the whole? Experience with modern systems for processing information has taught us that such circles need not be vicious. Minsky and Papert remark in this connection that it is quite common in computer programs—and presumably in thought processes—for two different procedures use each other as subprocedures. When the system is forming a percept, object-forming procedures can call on shape-recognizing procedures as subprocedures; when it pays attention to shape, shape-recognizing procedures can call on object-forming procedures as subprocedures. The assumption that one set of procedures must in every case precede the other imposes a rigid and unnecessary constraint on the complexity of our hypothesis about object perception" from Miller and Johnson-Laird 1976: 46.
It bothers some people when a large number of societies covering hundreds and at times thousands of years, with multiple and unrelated languages are compared so simply in terms of four social locations and story lines. It might be of interest to those with such objections to consider Thom's mathematical demonstration for the existence of only eight ultimate shapes in four dimensions. If human beings can perceive only eight shapes in their limited four dimensional perspective, then, as Thom himself suggests, perhaps there can only be eight ultimate social structures within the human experiences of humankind (see Thom 1969, with applications for the social sciences in Thompson 1979, and more recently in anatomy by Warwick and Williams 1981: 85-92).

3. The fact that a goodly number of U.S. scholars in the humanities favor this mode is indicative of the pervading German and British influence upon U.S. scholarship and its gatekeepers, including publishers (see Hynes 1981: 87-114 for biblical scholarship; and on typically U.S. values and experience, see Williams 1970).

4. The weak group/low grid social location of Jn, I believe, explains the role of Jn's gospel in nearly every enthusiastic movement in this history of Christianity; Kung 1967: 191-203 offers a painless overview. Further it equally explains the great popularity of Jn in the individualistic U.S. Aside from banners at national, professional football games and roadside billboards, the gospel of Jn has figured prominently in the national, saturation T.V. advertising for free copies of the booklet, Power for Living, by Jamie Buckingham, commissioned by the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation to celebrate the civil religion's year of the bible (1983). Jn figures quite prominently in that book, and the mailing features an enclosed pamphlet containing only Jn in paraphrase. Apart from Jn, the New Testament makes few points for individualism and individualistic religion.

5. Weak group is the individualism dimension of the group axis. Jn is the only N.T. writing in the weak group quadrant, hence a writing with resonance for individuals. However further specification of types of individualism seems necessary, given the fact that in one sense every human being is an individual. To begin with the U.S. case, I have noted elsewhere that "Clifford Geertz has observed that our conception of the individual as " . . . a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgment and action organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against its social and natural background, is, however incorrigible it may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world's cultures" (Malina 1981b: 54; citing Geertz 1976: 225; the U.S. mainstream is characterized by "institutional" individualism. In strong group/high grid, only persons occupying peak positions in hierarchies are expected to be such institutional individuals; the rest of such societies feature dyadic personality. Hence I would call strong group/high grid individualism "hierarchic" individualism. Strong group/low grid, on the other hand, consists of individuals without hierarchic location, "networking" individuals or "prescribed" individuals. Finally in weak group/low grid, persons find themselves in antisocietal limbo, in liminal communitas, hence as "generalized" individuals. In Jn, this generalized individualism finds its expression in Jesus as simply "the anthropos," as in Jn 19:5; see further Malina 1979a; 1981b: 51-68; and the discussion inaugurated by Dumont 1982, with responses by Bellah, Burridge and Robertson 1982 and Eisenstadt 1983.

6. This feature, too, relates to the observation in note 4.


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