Browning's "A Death in the Desert" is the poet's imagination of what John might have said, or ought to have said, when he was dying. On the whole the poem does gross injustice to him who spake so clearly and wrote so simply, and for lucidity of thought and simplicity of style Browning had studied John to no purpose. But here and there he makes John say something sensible and comprehensible. One instance is where John refers to his great age and how when he dies the last eyewitness will be gone:
If I live yet, it is for good, more love
Through me to men: be naught but ashes here
That keep awhile my semblance, who was John,—
Still, when they scatter, there is left on earth
No one alive who new (consider this!)
—Saw with his eyes and handled with his hands
That which was from the first, the Word of Life.
How will it be when none more saith, "I saw"?
Anyone who has done historical writing or investigation is familiar with the variant accounts of any historical event. Take, for example, the Gettysburg speech of Abraham Lincoln. From those who ought to have been in a position to know the facts as to the composition and delivery of this famous speech we get the most irreconcilable accounts. But the thing about the Four Gospels in their narrative of the death and resurrection of Jesus which sets off this event from all other events is their grand agreement as to the one great fact—that Christ, who predicted his resurrection, was crucified, dead, and buried, and that he rose again the third day.