Erich Lessing

The evangelist John rests one hand on his gospel book, in this 83-inch-tall marble sculpture carved by Donatello in about 1415 for a niche in the facade of the Cathedral of Florence. John’s is the only New Testament gospel that claims to be an eyewitness account. Yet modern scholars trying to reconstruct the life of Jesus tend to dismiss the Fourth Gospel as theologically driven and unhistorical.

In the accompanying article, D. Moody Smith recognizes that three-quarters of John’s account is not repeated by Matthew, Mark or Luke (called the Synoptic Gospels), and that John is more interested than other gospel writers in explaining and proclaiming the divine nature of the man called Jesus. But Smith insists that, however grand and mysterious the Gospel of John may seem, there is much history mixed in with the theology, and that John’s version of events is sometimes more plausible than the Synoptics’.