The subject of the formation of the New Testament canon is of perennial interest among both students and practitioners of Christianity. While the idea of canon is a theological idea, and the postulation of a canon is not fully supportable from purely historical study, clear and profitable thinking on it does require a lot of toilsome—but for some, fascinating—historical work. The early Christian sources can tell us much about how the idea of a collection of Christian scripture took hold in the Church, and much about the process of canon forming. The motivation behind the present project is the wish to shed light on the origin of one very significant portion of the New Testament canon, the Johannine corpus, and the process by which these books were recognized as scripture within the Church at large.
Anyone very familiar with Christianity will also have some impression of how influential in this religion are those books which have traditionally gone under the name of John the son of Zebedee, the apostle of Jesus: the Gospel according to John, the First, Second, and Third Epistles of John, and the Revelation of John. Yet despite their profound and far-reaching impact upon Christian theology, piety, art, and even upon modern, secular culture, nearly every aspect of the origins and early reception of these books is obscure and has been under dispute for quite some time. The model which for decades has been dominant in Johannine studies has often been criticized as highly conjectural but has retained its supremacy in the absence of a more thorough and convincing alternative. Though there are important differences among scholars holding to this basic model, several characteristics are commonly agreed upon today. One is the tendency to recognize multiple stages of writing within the Fourth Gospel, and within the entire corpus, corresponding roughly to describable stages in the history of the 'Johannine community'. Usually from four to seven distinct individuals, including a 'beloved disciple', an 'evangelist', one or more Gospel redactors, at least one 'elder' and a seer named John, are thought to have been involved in the production of the Johannine corpus, and this is not counting the 'elders' which are often said to stand behind the plural 'we' in John 21: 24.
A passing acquaintance with Christian sources of the second century shows that this kind of sophistication was utterly lost upon them. It appears that only one, or at most two, persons by the name of John were known as the authors of the entire corpus, and the geographical setting of the Apocalypse in Asia Minor is, as far as we can tell, accepted as the backdrop for