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In the Beginning was the Word

In the Beginning was the Word

An Annotated Reading of the Prologue of John

By Anthony Esolen

334 pp

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About the Book

In this extended meditation, Anthony Esolen looks, phrase by phrase, at the majestic Prologue to the Gospel of John, which with good reason he calls “the most influential paragraph in the history of man.” He unfolds its theological richness by showing how the Apostle John has in mind, not only what he saw Jesus do and heard him say, but also the whole witness of Scripture before the time of Jesus, and the way the young Church proclaimed him. A unique feature of this remarkable work is how Esolen “hears” (and we with him) the Hebrew/Aramaic underlying John’s Greek (which was not his mother tongue), echoing those languages in such a way that, all at once, what we thought could never be more profoundly expressed bursts forth in a renewed poetic splendor that brings into ever keener relief the whole panorama of the theology of the God-Man. Esolen’s decades-long immersion in Christian poetry and Scripture uniquely positions him as a guide to the astonishing and life-changing “poem” of the Prologue. He says it best: “My hope is not only to illuminate what John wishes us to hear, but to show that, when it comes to this poetry, John is not the originator; he is, rather, the beloved disciple who caught the habit from the Lord Himself.”


“This book is more than biblical interpretation. It is poetry — and poetry about the greatest work of poetry ever generated: the Prologue to John’s gospel. Anthony Esolen writes with erudition that never encumbers his eloquence. He situates the New Testament text in its Old Testament context, and he calls the saints and sages to witness to the truth and beauty that are obscured in clumsy modern (even official) translations. I closed the book feeling gratitude and awe.”


co-author of The Decline and Fall of Sacred Scripture: How the Bible Became a Secular Book

“Anthony Esolen uses the magnifying glass of his vast erudition like a detective to inspect ‘the most influential paragraph in the history of man’ — the first eighteen verses of the Gospel of John. In a word-by-word commentary that is accessible and scholarly, robustly orthodox, and poetically inspiring, the great translator of Dante sheds new light on St John’s meditation on the incarnation and thus opens our eyes and our hearts to the deep truths embedded there.”


author of Letters on Liturgy


“Here philological expertise — not only in Greek, but in the Hebrew and Aramaic that underlie it — is brought to bear on the paragraph of text that is arguably the most pregnant with meaning of any ever written. Above all, this exegesis is open to and sensitive to poetry: the poetry of the beloved disciple’s love and (even more importantly) the poetry of his Divine Master’s teaching, which points us to what is beyond words. The weight, force, and ordering of each word is considered in the context both of John’s gospel and of the Bible as a whole. The discussion is informed by a wide awareness of poetry, liturgical texts, and theological thought, but, shining through it all, is love, not just for these words, but for the Word Incarnate — a love that works to open the reader’s heart and mind to the Savior.”


author of The Meaning of Blue: Recovering a Contemplative Spirit


“Holy Scripture is an inexhaustible source of wisdom even though contemporary translations often render it lifeless and unimaginative. In this splendid gem of a book, Anthony Esolen reminds us that all Scripture — perhaps especially the Gospel of John — sparkles and delights, if only we would see its theological, philosophical, and poetical brilliance. You won’t find a better guide than Esolen if you want to understand the beauty of the Good Book.”


author of Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire


“The most famous prologue in the world does not precede its logos, but rather articulates it. Herein sounds the Utterance that made the world, with vocabulary and meter both logical and lyrical. No one better than a translator of Dante could help us to hear not only the doctrine, but also the poetry, of this Word. Augustine and Aquinas wrote their own marvelous commentaries, but their Latin could not always do justice to the Greek subtleties and the Semitic atmospheres at work in St John’s mind. Anthony Esolen here reveals something of the original tongues that fed into this theological overture, allowing our souls to resonate with the allusive overtones of the Logos that tells us our Story.”


author of The Other World We Live In: A Catholic Vision of Angelic Reality


And the Word became flesh. Standard literary criticism cannot do justice to these all-important words that tower over all others. Anthony Esolen guides us in a sapiential exploration that delves into them as inspired literature, eliciting a profound love for all the particularities of the sacred word. This unique, arresting book allows a mere eighteen verses to shed their light into the very heart of life and culture!”


author of The Beer Option: Brewing a Catholic Culture Yesterday & Today

About the Author

ANTHONY ESOLEN is a professor of humanities, and writer in residence, at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts. He has written or translated twenty-five books, on language, literature, culture, and the Christian faith, including a three-volume translation and edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and, most recently, his own book-length poem The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He lives in Warner, New Hampshire, with his wife Debra and their two children, Jessica and David.

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