Since completing this manuscript I have found a letter from Dodd, whose contents I had entirely forgotten. It was written evidently in response to a first intimation of my rethinking the date of the gospel of John, in which I must have adumbrated the implications as I began to see them for the chronology of the whole New Testament. Since I have presumed to put some questions to Dodd's own views – he did not live to see these - I thought it would be fair, as well perhaps as interesting to others, to reproduce a letter which reveals what, at the age of eighty-eight, openness of mind in a very great scholar can mean. Could any author ask for more?
Wellington Road, St Giles, Oxford 19 June, 1972
My dear Robinson,
It is a long time now since I received from you a letter, very kindly written, which gave me much pleasure, and also aroused no little interest. In the meantime I have been through a rather rough patch, when I was not much in the way of serious letter-writing. I had to go into hospital for an operation, and came out to lead a semi-invalid existence. That however has not prevented me from thinking much about the challenging views on the Fourth Gospel which you put forward. For all I know, you may already have published these in some form, but I am simply going on your letter. Your volte face takes one's breath away, though you may well say that you prepared the way by various articles, starting with the 'New Look'. As you know, I am very much in sympathy with a view which makes it possible to derive from John not only valuable light on the primitive church, but even authentic information about the Jesus of history. But I can't help thinking that you will find it difficult to persuade people of the very early date which you now wish to assign. It is true that Bultmann was prepared to date it early, but that was on his presupposition that Christianity began as a kind of gnosticism, and was only later Judaized' and so historicized. For myself, with every motive for assigning an early date, I found this encountered too many difficulties for me to get over. However, I am open to conviction. You are certainly justified in questioning the whole structure of the accepted 'critical' chronology of the NT writings, which avoids putting anything earlier than 70, so that none of them are available for anything like first-generation testimony. I should agree with you that much of this late dating is quite arbitrary, even wanton, the off-spring not of any argument that can be presented, but rather of the critic's prejudice that if he appears to assent to the traditional position of the early church he will be thought no better than a stick-in-the-mud. The whole business is due for radical re-examination, which demands argument to show, e.g., that Mark must be post-70 - or must be so because anything earlier than that could not present such a plain, straightforward story: that would be to neglect the findings of the fashionable Redaktionsgeschichte. It is surely significant that when historians of the ancient world treat the gospels, they are quite unaffected by the sophistications of Redaktionsgeschichte, and handle the documents as if they were what they professed to be (Sherwin-White, with all his limitations, is the latest instance). But if one approaches them in that way, does not the case for late dating collapse? I look forward therefore to your damaging assault on the system of late date. But I still feel that the Fourth Gospel has reasons of its own for resisting attempts to place it very early in the time-scale. But you will be airing the whole discussion in published form - or may already have done so; I am so out of touch. I hope I have not darkened counsel by words without knowledge, or wearied you with the product of muddled thinking (for I am conscious that I do get muddled nowadays).
With kind regards,