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The Gospel of JesusIn Search of the Original Good News
By James M. Robinson
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 James M. Robinson
All right reserved.
The Lost Gospel of Jesus
The rash title of this book, The Gospel of Jesus, does not have in view the gospel about Jesus that Paul preached, which, following him, the Christian church down through the ages has believed as the one and only gospel (see Chapter 10). Rather, the title refers to the gospel that was Jesus' own message in Galilee during a very brief period, probably no more than a year, before his crucifixion. These two gospels are not the same, and, what is even worse, Jesus' own gospel has been lost from sight, hidden behind the gospel of the church.
This little book certainly does not tell everything you would like to know about Jesus. It does not even tell everything that can be known about him. It is not intended to satisfy your curiosity about odds and ends, but to focus on what Jesus was up to. So it does contain the core, what Jesus considered his own gospel.
Whatever might be added that would distract from that focus would not be faithful to Jesus, no matter how factual it might be. You also may not find here your "favorite" material of Jesus', which may well be unconsciously preferred precisely because it has been domesticated, watered down, or even just put on Jesus' lips, rather than being what was central to him, what he himself had to say. Listening to Jesus is not easy.
The disciples handed down sayings and stories that meant something to them, not just stray information that satisfied their curiosity. They stuck to what they considered basics.
Our real problem with Jesus is not the vast amount of detail we will never know, for most of that we do not need to know. The problem is that we have ascribed to him a different gospel from what he himself envisaged! We have put him on a pedestal and worshiped him, rather than walking in his footsteps. Put somewhat differently: we must work our way back through the church's own familiar gospel and its domestication of the gospel of Jesus. Only then do we strike upon what he really had to say, which was a brittle, upsetting, comforting, challenging gospel -- one the present book seeks to lay bare.
This situation calls for some explanation, before we turn to his message itself.
The Apostles' Creed
The Apostles' Creed, shared among almost all branches of Christianity, poses the problem clearly, even if unintentionally. It presents Jesus as the central figure in the Trinity in heaven, rather than as the individual he was in Galilee. Listen closely to the way the creed presents him. Before reporting that Jesus went to heaven, the creed only tells what was done for him:
conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary
and then what was done against him:
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried
But on his life between birth and death, Bethlehem and Golgotha, the creed is completely silent! Missing is what was said and done by Jesus, what Jesus himself actually had to say by way of gospel.
The present book seeks to fill in the missing gospel of that Galilean Jesus. It is he, even more than Mary, and surely more than Pontius Pilate, who is the central person in the Apostles' Creed, even if, so to speak, in absentia.
The name "Apostles' Creed" is itself a misnomer, if it is taken to mean that it was composed by the twelve apostles, indeed by any of Jesus' Galilean followers. It actually developed out of the baptismal confession of the gentile church of Rome, documented only from the second century on. How the original disciples themselves would have put it can be inferred only by going back through the Gospels to the oldest traditions they preserve -- which is precisely what I propose to do here.
The Sayings Gospel Q
The primary source for knowing Jesus is to be found in the pithy and memorable sayings he used to move his listeners to trust in God enough to go into action. They are what lived on after him, they are what his disciples continued to proclaim -- in spite of experiencing his utterly appalling execution (see Chapter 9). You might think the crucifixion would have crushed their faith in all that Jesus had said and silenced even their best intentions. But their experience of Jesus still calling on them to continue his message and lifestyle was the substance of the resurrection experience.
It was his sayings that kept alive stories about what Jesus had done, indeed engendered more and more stories about him. These oral traditions moved from Aramaic into the more literate Greek and came to be written into Gospels, which were ultimately preserved. They were included in the New Testament, which was established in the next centuries as the "canon," that is, as the standard for all that is to be considered Christian.
To gain admission to the canon, Gospels were attributed to apostles (Matthew and John) or to those dependent on apostles for their information (Mark and Luke). But today, these persons are not thought to have been the actual authors. None of the texts themselves give the author's name -- all four are anonymous. They were composed in the last thirty years of the first century, half a century after the facts. Their actual authors are unknown, but all four Gospels are of course cited here by their traditional names, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
In modern times, the quest of the historical Jesus has sought to bring to the surface the Galilean Jesus behind the Gospels. This quest began in the nineteenth century with the rise of modern historical scholarship. First of all, it was noted that the narratives of Matthew, Mark, and Luke contain many of the same stories in much the same sequence, whereas the Gospel of John goes its own way. Indeed, the Gospel of John is the latest of the four, from the last decade . . .
Excerpted from The Gospel of Jesus by James M. Robinson Copyright © 2005 by James M. Robinson.
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