A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts

( 3 )

Overview

It is time for a new New Testament.

Over the past century, numerous lost scriptures have been discovered, authenticated, translated, debated, celebrated. Many of these documents were as important to shaping early-Christian communities and beliefs as what we have come to call the New Testament; these were not the work of shunned sects or rebel apostles, not alternative histories or doctrines, but part of the vibrant conversations that sparked the rise of Christianity. Yet these ...

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A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts

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Overview

It is time for a new New Testament.

Over the past century, numerous lost scriptures have been discovered, authenticated, translated, debated, celebrated. Many of these documents were as important to shaping early-Christian communities and beliefs as what we have come to call the New Testament; these were not the work of shunned sects or rebel apostles, not alternative histories or doctrines, but part of the vibrant conversations that sparked the rise of Christianity. Yet these scriptures are rarely read in contemporary churches; they are discussed nearly only by scholars or within a context only of gnostic gospels. Why should these books be set aside? Why should they continue to be lost to most of us? And don’t we have a great deal to gain by placing them back into contact with the twenty-seven books of the traditional New Testament—by hearing, finally, the full range of voices that formed the early chorus of Christians?

To create this New New Testament, Hal Taussig called together a council of scholars and spiritual leaders to discuss and reconsider which books belong in the New Testament. They talked about these recently found documents, the lessons therein, and how they inform the previously bound books. They voted on which should be added, choosing ten new books to include in A New New Testament. Reading the traditional scriptures alongside these new texts—the Gospel of Luke with the Gospel of Mary, Paul’s letters with The Letter of Peter to Philip, The Revelation to John with The Secret Revelation to John—offers the exciting possibility of understanding both the new and the old better. This new reading, and the accompanying commentary in this volume, promises to reinvigorate a centuries-old conversation and to bring new relevance to a dynamic tradition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This brilliant contextualization of the familiar New Testament in the context of other early Christian writings illuminates both. It is important both historically and theologically. Readers will not be able to see the New Testament in the same way again."

—Marcus Borg, author of The Heart of Christianity

"A New New Testament does what some of us never dreamed possible: it opens the treasure chest of early Christian writings, restoring a carefully select few of them to their rightful place in the broad conversation about who Jesus was, what he did and taught, and what all of that has to do with us now. This new constellation of early Christian scriptures adds brilliant facets to the diamond of divine revelation, waking up those of us who thought we knew it all. While this book will be a welcome addition to the academic courses in New Testament, Christian origins, and theology, I expect it will have its greatest impact in churches, as people of faith become better acquainted with some of their first forebears in faith."

—Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Leaving Church and An Altar in the World

"A New New Testament offers its readers an expansive opening onto the world of the early Christians. For the first time, modern readers can explore a range of voices and theological perspectives that have not been heard for centuries, set side-by-side with well-known biblical books. Old texts become freshly vibrant, and new texts open ancient avenues for renewed reflection and spiritual practice. A New New Testament will be a vital resource for the 21st century."

—Karen L. King, Hollis Professor of Divinity, Harvard Divinity School "Remarkable...Not meant to replace the traditional New Testament, this fascinating work will be, Taussig hopes, the first of several new New Testaments."

Booklist, starred

"A culminating work of the Jesus Seminar era and of others influenced by it, this collection of manuscripts serves to complete and update the standard Christian New Testament."

Kirkus


 

From the Publisher
"This brilliant contextualization of the familiar New Testament in the context of other early Christian writings illuminates both. It is important both historically and theologically. Readers will not be able to see the New Testament in the same way again."

—Marcus Borg, author of The Heart of Christianity

 

"A New New Testament does what some of us never dreamed possible: it opens the treasure chest of early Christian writings, restoring a carefully select few of them to their rightful place in the broad conversation about who Jesus was, what he did and taught, and what all of that has to do with us now. This new constellation of early Christian scriptures adds brilliant facets to the diamond of divine revelation, waking up those of us who thought we knew it all. While this book will be a welcome addition to the academic courses in New Testament, Christian origins, and theology, I expect it will have its greatest impact in churches, as people of faith become better acquainted with some of their first forebears in faith."

—Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Leaving Church and An Altar in the World

 

"A New New Testament offers its readers an expansive opening onto the world of the early Christians. For the first time, modern readers can explore a range of voices and theological perspectives that have not been heard for centuries, set side-by-side with well-known biblical books. Old texts become freshly vibrant, and new texts open ancient avenues for renewed reflection and spiritual practice. A New New Testament will be a vital resource for the 21st century." —Karen L. King, Hollis Professor of Divinity, Harvard Divinity School

Kirkus Reviews
A culminating work of the Jesus Seminar era and of others influenced by it, this collection of manuscripts serves to complete and update the standard Christian New Testament. In addition to the established canon of New Testament books, this book includes 10 "recently discovered" works, varying greatly in form and content. The book also features extensive introductory matter written by Taussig (Union Theological Seminary; In the Beginning Was the Meal: Social Experimentation and Early Christian Identity, 2009, etc.). The work of choosing which manuscripts to include, and guidance in translation for all the texts, was accomplished by "a council of wise and nationally known spiritual leaders," somewhat pretentiously referred to throughout the book as the New Orleans Council. While the "Council" does indeed include some well-known progressive Christian scholars--e.g., John Dominic Crossan and Barbara Brown Taylor--it also consists of several less-credentialed individuals, a charge often lobbed against the Jesus Seminar itself. It is, indeed, laudable to make any ancient manuscript more readily available for widespread study. However, what this collection attempts to do is to present these newly discovered texts as equal to established New Testament writings in virtually every way, without viewing them critically. While some texts, such as "The Acts of Paul and Thecla," are certainly important and relevant to modern Christian study, others, such as "The Thunder: Perfect Mind" and "The Secret Revelation of John," are simply bizarre and scream of Gnostic and mythic underpinnings. Though that does not make them without merit for study, it does mean they are not equal to the established New Testament, in that they may not even be considered "Christian" in origin. Not a substitute for the real thing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547792101
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/5/2013
  • Pages: 603
  • Sales rank: 141,064
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 2.10 (d)

Meet the Author

A founding member of the Jesus Seminar, HAL TAUSSIG is a pastor, professor of Biblical literature and early Christianity, and author of numerous books. He teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. 

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Read an Excerpt

Introducing A New New Testament

It is time for a new New Testament. A New Testament that causes people—inside and outside church—to lean forward with interest and engagement. This is meant to be that book. It contains astounding new material from the first-century Christ movements and places it alongside the traditional texts. Among its offerings are a new gospel whose primary character is a woman, a previously unknown collection of songs in Christ’s voice lifting to God, another gospel with more than fifty new teachings from Jesus, and a prayer of the apostle Paul discovered in the sands of Egypt less than seventy years ago.

This New New Testament is not simply the product of one author. The ten added books have been chosen by a council of wise and nationally known spiritual leaders. An eclectic mix of bishops, rabbis, well-known authors, leaders of national churches, and women and men from African American, Native American, and European American backgrounds have studied many of the recent discoveries from the first two centuries, deliberated rigorously together, and chosen those new books.

What have these deliberations produced? Where did it come from? And what do readers need to know before immersing themselves in this new New Testament experience?

 

Where did these new books come from?

How could new books from the first centuries of Christianity, ones not in the New Testament, just suddenly appear? Where did they come from? And why aren’t they in the New Testament to begin with? There is no simple answer to these questions. And these are not questions that need to be in the foreground of our experience of A New New Testament. So, they are addressed them in a number of chapters that follow the scriptures included here, a "Companion to A New New Testament: Basic Historical Background for This New Book of Books."

But there is a short answer to these important questions that can be summarized here. In the past hundred years a number of new works from the first centuries have been discovered in the desert sands of Egypt, the markets of Cairo, and the libraries of ancient monasteries. In some cases, scholars already knew about the existence of these books because they were mentioned in other, more familiar ancient texts, but the books themselves had never been found. In other cases, these newly found documents from the beginnings of Christianity had never before been heard of at all. In still other cases, some of these "new" documents have actually been in hand for quite a while but have been ignored, repressed, or known only to scholars.

There is no reason, then, to think that the Gospel of Thomas, which is not in the traditional New Testament, was read any less in the first and second centuries than the Gospel of John, which is in the traditional New Testament. Indeed, in the ancient world the Gospel of Thomas was distributed widely and translated into at least two languages. Early Christian writings that did not make it into the New Testament had, in their time, similar status to the works that did find their way into it. There was no "stamp of approval" until at least three hundred years after Jesus’s birth.

Wait a minute! Wasn’t the New Testament written, selected, and collected very soon after Jesus?

No. The New Testament did not exist for at least the first three hundred, if not five hundred, years after Jesus. Some of its books appear to have been written some twenty to thirty years after his death, but others probably not for at least 140 years after Jesus.

In the early centuries of Christianity the only hints of a sacred collection of texts are several lists of some gospels, letters, and apocalypses suggested for reading, with different Christ communities following different lists, and many communities not following any list. The second through fourth centuries after Jesus did see some actual bound books of collected early Christian works, but none of them are identical to, or even progenitors of, the New Testament. In other words, as is shown in more detail in the "Companion to A New New Testament" at the back of this book, these new additions to the New Testament existed for many years and during the crucial early period of Christianity alongside the books we know, without any privilege of one over any other, for a very long time. This "new" New Testament, then, in a very real way restores the kind of mix of early Christian documents about Jesus that existed in the first centuries.

The assumption that the existing New Testament was always the privileged, authorized book about Jesus is not true. The New Testament did not somehow descend from God after Jesus was gone. Christian churches spent centuries engaging in arguments and political deals to decide which early books would be included in their most sacred collections. This, of course, does not mean that the New Testament is fraudulent or less meaningful. It simply means that the historical record shows that collection to be a product of complex human negotiation over a long period of time.

So, if the New Testament as a collection of early Christian books did not come into existence in the first century, where did all these different books from the traditional New Testament and beyond it come from? And when were they written?

The introduction to each ancient text in A New New Testament gives an approximate date for when it might have been written. But it is difficult to know these dates exactly. None of these individual books make note of when they were written, and historians are left with many imponderables in dating them. It is reasonably clear that Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Corinthians were written in the 50s CE (AD). On the other hand, the Gospel of Luke could have been written anywhere from 60 CE to 140 CE, according to different historians. Many scholars now argue that the Gospel of Thomas (not included in the traditional New Testament but included in this New New Testament) was written much earlier than the Gospel of Luke. We will look more closely at the difficulties and approximations of when the books in and outside of the traditional New Testament were written later, in both the individual introductions to each ancient text and in the "Companion to A New New Testament."

The books inside and outside the traditional New Testament specify little about the conditions in which they were written, though from their hints at times, places, and real-life circumstances it is clear that they were written by and for particular people. The precise origins of the individual works of the traditional New Testament are in many cases just as elusive as the new additions to this new New Testament.

It can be shocking to learn just how many ambiguities and unknowns surround the origins of these documents, both familiar and new. However, it is worth stepping back from specific questions about individual texts to look at the bigger picture of the things we do know about them—because all of these documents have much in common. For instance, none of the traditional New Testament was written after 175 CE; so the 2012 council that chose the new books also did not allow books definitely written after 175 CE. Although there is little certainty about when, by whom, and for what these individual works were written, there are some general similarities in all of them. They were all—traditional and new—composed by and for people between 50 and 175 CE, somewhere around the Mediterranean Sea, with certain similar themes and within certain realities of life. All these books had a life of their own long before they were in the New Testament—not unlike the new books added to this new New Testament.

Why are certain books in the traditional New Testament and others are not?

Many people acknowledge that the books of the New Testament were written and assembled by humans, but they still assume that some sort of reasonable criteria must have been in place to determine which books were included and which were not. The common assumption holds that the books that became the New Testament must have been in some way more true, more divinely inspired, or more historically accurate than the ones that weren’t. One goal of A New New Testament is to rethink that misconception. The Gospel of Truth contains poetry about Jesus that is as beautiful as anything found in the traditional New Testament. The Gospel of Thomas records sayings of Jesus found nowhere else that are every bit as likely to have come from his lips as any of those in the New Testament. The Odes of Solomon provide us with more material from early Christian worship than the entire existing New Testament.

This New New Testament means to assist both the general public and scholars in getting beyond the overly simplistic readings of the existing New Testament and the new early Christian documents as either orthodox or heretical. Based on my experiences teaching the new documents and the existing New Testament side by side in churches and seminaries for the past twenty years, this project embodies a new way of thinking about what belongs in the heritage of early Christianity. It invites the reader to see how this new mix illuminates spiritual seeking, ethical issues, patterns of belief, and social practice. It calls for scholars and religious leaders to listen carefully to the way the public receives and responds to this new mix, and to provide fresh and solid ideas about how to make sense of the ways the various documents belong to each other and to the contemporary world.

What is in A New New Testament?

A New New Testament offers thirty-seven works of scripture from the early centuries of Christianity. It places new discoveries alongside familiar texts and groups them into six sections in an effort to create further contact and contours to their reading. These books include gospels, teachings, prayers, and prophecies.

A New New Testament also offers key summaries and introductions to each ancient book. These include discussions of their inspirations, important historical background, suggestions for ways to use the texts with and against the others in the collection, and potential meditations for broader and deeper understanding of the texts on a spiritual level.

Finally, after the last ancient book—the Secret Revelation of John—we present "A Companion to A New New Testament." These six chapters help the reader with major questions about how the new books were found, how the traditional New Testament came into being, what the new books have in common with each other and with the traditional ones, the specifics of how A New New Testament came into being, what twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholarship says about the new books, some of the meanings produced by reading the recently discovered and the traditional books together, and what the future of A New New Testament might be.

How was this new New Testament brought into being?

In the second through eighth centuries, early synods and councils often brought a group of spiritual leaders together to decide important issues. In honor of this tradition, I invited spiritual leaders from across North America to form a council that would decide which of the seventy-five or so additional early Christian documents should be collected together to create A New New Testament. After more than six months of preparation, a group of nineteen such leaders convened in February of 2012 in New Orleans; the results of that invaluable discussion and decision-making process are what you hold in your hands. The names and brief biographies of the members of that council are listed in the back of this book, and the process of the council’s deliberation is described in the "Companion to A New New Testament," also at the end.

As the bishops, authors, rabbis, and scholars of the New Orleans Council finished their work on a windswept day in 2012, they were tingling with excitement. They were confident of the integrity of their conversations and the literature they had just added to the traditional New Testament. Several worried that they had not added enough new books. All were certain that more discussion lay ahead and that this contribution would provide many opportunities for reconsidering how we imagine and encounter the story of Christianity. May your reading help this ongoing deliberation, as this new world of possibilities unfolds.

.

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Table of Contents

Foreword xi
Preface xvi
Preface to the Translations xx
Introducing A New New Testament xxiii
How to Read A New New Testament xxviii

The Books of
A New New Testament

An Ancient Prayer from the Early
Christ Movements

The Prayer of Thanksgiving 5
Gospels Featuring Jesus’s Teachings
The Gospel of Thomas 15
The Gospel of Matthew 27
The Gospel of Mark 64
The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles 89
The Acts of the Apostles 127

Gospels, Poems, and Songs Between
Heaven and Earth

The First Book of the Odes of Solomon 172
The Thunder: Perfect Mind 183
The Gospel of John 189
The Gospel of Mary 224
The Gospel of Truth 231

The Writings of Paul and an
Introductory Prayer

The Prayer of the Apostle Paul 243
The Letter to the Romans 246
The First Letter to the Corinthians 265
The Second Letter to the Corinthians 283
The Letter to the Galatians 296
The Letter to the Philippians 304
The First Letter to the Thessalonians 369
The Letter to Philemon 314

Literature in the Tradition of Paul with a Set of Introductory Prayers

The Second Book of the Odes of Solomon 320
The Letter to the Ephesians 328
The Acts of Paul and Thecla 337
The Letter to the Colossians 347
he Second Letter to the Thessalonians 351
The First Letter to Timothy 355
The Second Letter to Timothy 361
The Letter to Titus 365

Diverse Letters with a Set of Introductory Prayers

The Third Book of the Odes of Solomon 372
The Letter of James 379
The Letter to the Hebrews 386
The First Letter of Peter 401
The Letter of Peter to Philip 409
The Second Letter of Peter 414
The Letter of Jude 418

Literature in the Tradition of John with an Introductory Set of Prayers

The Fourth Book of the Odes of Solomon 427
The First Letter of John 434
The Second Letter of John 439
The Third Letter of John 441
The Revelation to John 445
The Secret Revelation of John 467

A Companion to
A New New Testament
BASIC HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
FOR THIS NEW BOOK OF BOOKS

A Preamble 483
1   The Discoveries of New Documents from Old Worlds 485
2   The Books of A New New Testament: An Overview 491
3   Two Surprising Stories: How the Traditional New Testament Came to Be; How A New New Testament Came to Be 500
4   What’s New in A New New Testament? 519
5   Giving Birth to A New New Testament
 and Retiring the Idea of Gnosticism 529   
6   A Rich Explosion of Meaning 537

Epilogue: What’s Next for A New New Testament? 544

The Council for A New New Testament 555
Acknowledgments 559
Appendix I: Sixty-seven Major Writings of the Early Christ Movements 560
Appendix II: The Books of the Nag Hammadi Library 567
Appendix III: Study Guide 569
Appendix IV: Recommended Reading 582
Subject and Author Index 584
Scriptural Index 000

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted April 26, 2013

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    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent

    “The New New Testament” is a well thought-out compilation of early Christian non-canonical and canonical works selected by scholars and church leaders that opens lay discussion of the formation of early Christianity. It considers options not accepted initially and roads once explored but abandoned. I think it a terrific work for lay people like me.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2014

    Revelation 22:18-19 I warn everyone who hears the words of the p

    Revelation 22:18-19 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 12, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    High praise for Taussig and Team!

    Congratulations to Hal Taussig and his team of scholars and Church leaders for bringing us this book. It's a highly readable translation of the New Testament, with several "new" books for the Church to consider.

    He also includes a history of the Nag Hammadi find and a study guide that I highly recommend to others in the Church.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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