So who was the Beloved Disciple of John’s Gospel? The “one whom Jesus loved”?
I am fascinated by the theories. Tradition has it that the gospel itself was written by John the Apostle, brother of James and son of Zebedee. But he couldn’t possibly still be living when the gospel was written in 90-100 AD, could he? And clearly there are parts written by someone else, as they refer to the Beloved Disciple’s death.
Some speculate the Beloved Disciple was Lazarus of Bethany, the brother of Martha and Mary. The siblings certainly enjoyed a close relationship with Jesus. He was often in their home. And the beloved disciple of the gospel was a person of some influence. He had cachet with local authorities and was able to win entry for him and Peter to the courtyard of the high priest. Here’s a GoogleBook link to a page from Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels that explains the reasoning of J.N. Sanders on the subject, then dismisses it entirely: http://books.google.com/books?id=9ntwNm-tOogC&pg=PA462&lpg=PA462&dq=J+N+Sanders+Who+was+the+Disciple+Whom+Jesus+Loved?&source=bl&ots=oEsopTkkpx&sig=wtgQy5VfH1ug0dJgt9dtZMhccHI&hl=en&ei=8qdyTaHDD4KC8gbN4ZDEDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CFUQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=J%20N%20Sanders%20Who%20was%20the%20Disciple%20Whom%20Jesus%20Loved%3F&f=false
Then, of course, there are those who suggest that he is a she – Mary Magdalene. Novelist Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code) hypothesizes that it is she who was seated next to Jesus at the Last Supper and pictured in DaVinci’s painting with flowing locks, smooth face, no beard.
Scholars today believe a disciple who knew Jesus was a major source for the gospel, but other sources were used: signs or miracles, sayings, the passion and resurrection narrative. The Beloved Disciple serves as the model of a faithful believer. By never naming the mysterious disciple, the gospel allows each of us to enter into the story ourselves, as one whom Jesus loves.
Want to know more on the authorship issue? There’s an exhaustive article, with 82 footnotes, on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/Authorship_of_the_Johannine_works
Side note: Actually, I believe John the Apostle could have been still alive at the time the gospel was begun. In the synoptic gospels, he and James seem to have been young and impetuous– the “sons of thunder.” Boys were considered men at 14, doing their father’s work and, sometimes, starting families. Had he been 16 at the time of the call, John would have been in his late 70s at the time the writing began. In any case, I like to think that Jesus took a fatherly interest in young John the apostle.