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The Beatles’ Commentary on the Gospel of John

David Cowles

Jun 1, 2024

“Both Johns looked out their respective windows and saw their worlds on fire. Both Johns situated their profound and ultimately hopeful message in that apocalyptic context.”

When listing the 20th century’s leading theologians, John, Paul, George, and Ringo usually don’t make the cut. Quelle domage! Among other things, they produced a commentary on the Gospel of John that is well worth our attention. You know it by its title: I am the Walrus


When the Beatles have something to say, they don’t mess about; in this case, they get to the heart of the matter in the song’s very first verse:


I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.


The Fab Four are summarizing the core teaching of what’s known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to his apostles on the eve of his crucifixion - as it is recorded in the Gospel of John (John 13 – 17). We are not islands in the stream. There is a sense in which all of us are connected, a sense in which we share a common being.


Jesus delivers that message several times during the discourse:


“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (14: 10)

“I am in my Father and you in me and I in you.” (14: 20)


“May they all be one: as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so also may they be in us…that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me that they may be perfectly one.” (17: 21 – 23) 

…And earlier in the Gospel as well:


“I and the Father are one…The Father is in me and I in the Father” (10: 30, 38)


So let’s map this out. We are concerned with the Father (F), the Son (S), and the Apostles individually (A) and the Apostles collectively {A}:


S є F, F є S, A є S, S є A, A є {A}, {A} є S,  {A} є F.


The Son is in the Father, and the Father is in the Son; each apostle is in the Son and the Son is in each apostle. The apostles collectively (the church?) are in both the Son and the Father. 


This is the same non-traditional model of reality that the Beatles offer in the opening verse of Walrus: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Let’s map that:


I = H, Y = H, Y =  I; I, H, Y є {I H Y}


This same fundamental insight is expressed several times in the song’s chorus:


I am the eggman.They are the eggmen.I am the walrus.


The Eggman is Christ – the resurrected one, the logos, the mustard seed, the one from whom the universe was born (John 1: 1 – 5). The Apostles are Christ’s Eggmen; the Walrus, of course, is God, the Father, YHWH. 

The rest of Walrus, like much of John’s Gospel, is a meditation on the sorry state of ‘secular society’,  i.e., culture without Christ; let’s listen in:


See how they run like pigs from a gun; see how they fly; I'm crying. Sitting on a cornflake,waiting for the van to come, corporation T-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday, man you've been a naughty boy, you let your face grow long.


Mister city p'liceman sitting pretty, little p'licemen in a row. See how they fly, like Lucy in the sky, see how they run. I'm crying.


Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog's eye. Crabalocker fishwife pornographic priestess, boy you been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down.


Sitting in an English Garden waiting for the sun. If the sun don't come, you get a tan from standing in the English rain.


Expert texpert choking smokers, don't you think the joker laughs at you? See how they smile, like pigs in a sty, see how they snied. I'm crying.


Semolina pilchards climbing up the Eiffel Tower. Element'ry penguin singing Hare Krishna,Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.


How can we connect this 20th century apocalyptic imagery with John’s 1st century narrative? I mean, the things John didn’t know! Edgar Allan Poe and cornflakes to name just two. Both Johns looked out their respective windows and saw their worlds on fire. Both Johns situated their profound and ultimately hopeful message in that apocalyptic context.


Just as every fire ultimately reduces its fuel, whatever it may be, to a common flame, so every universe ends the same way: apocalyptically (e.g. Heat Death). There is only one apocalypse; everyone’s apocalypse is the same, but every culture, every age has its own apocalyptic imagery. 


It could be no other way. Apocalypse by definition negates what is. Therefore, symbols of that apocalypse must reflect what is, in other words they must be culturally specific. But no matter how apparently different they may be, the various images all refer to one common reality: Apocalypse Now! 


Although their writing is apocalyptic, both John and the Beatles were heralding the beginning of a new age. John the Evangelist celebrated the coming of the Age of Pisces (Christ); John the Beatle looked forward, a bit prematurely as it turns out, to ‘the dawning of the Age of Aquarius’ (Spirit). 


Let’s hear John E’s commentary on the state of contemporary culture, 1st century style:


“He was in the world, and though the world owed its being to him, it did not recognize him.” (1: 10) Absurd alienation is the coin of the realm without God.


“He found in the temple dealers in cattle, sheep, and pigeons, and money changers seated at their tables.” (2: 14) The sacred has been profaned.


“Is this not the man they want to put to death? And yet here he is, speaking openly, and they have not a word to say to him. Can it be that our rulers have actually decided that this is the Messiah?” (7: 26) Evil compounded by conspiracy. 


A plot to kill the Savior of the World (“through whom all things were made” – John 1: 2) is the ultimate expression of the Grandfather Paradox! What could be more absurd than a world that chooses to annihilate itself, retroactively, rather than accept the glorious truth? It’s really the paradigm of absurdity. (Camus, eat your heart out!) It is the triumph of pride over reason. 


It is one thing to deny that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. It is something altogether different to believe these things to be true …and then to kill him anyway.


I am the Walrus is not Guernica. It is a rather lighthearted take on The Absurd – more Ionesco than Kafka. As a result, it is even more convincing. We don’t all have the opportunity to put the Savior of the World to death (at least not knowingly). We do all have opportunities to run like pigs, sit on cornflakes (if we want to), and kick dead poets.


Postscript: Do I believe that the Beatles had it in mind to write a commentary on John? I do not, nor do I care. The intention of the artist is irrelevant. Everything is in the text and the text ‘cries Johnnie’.



 

David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at david@aletheiatoday.com.


 

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