The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic

The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic

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by John Shelby Spong

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John Shelby Spong, bestselling author and popular proponent of a modern, scholarly and authentic Christianity, argues that this last gospel to be written was misinterpreted by the framers of the fourth-century creeds to be a literal account of the life of Jesus when in fact it is a literary, interpretive retelling of the events in Jesus' life through the medium


John Shelby Spong, bestselling author and popular proponent of a modern, scholarly and authentic Christianity, argues that this last gospel to be written was misinterpreted by the framers of the fourth-century creeds to be a literal account of the life of Jesus when in fact it is a literary, interpretive retelling of the events in Jesus' life through the medium of fictional characters, from Nicodemus and Lazarus to the "Beloved Disciple." The Fourth Gospel was designed first to place Jesus into the context of the Jewish scriptures, then to place him into the worship patterns of the synagogue and finally to allow him to be viewed through the lens of a popular form of first-century Jewish mysticism.

The result of this intriguing study is not only to recapture the original message of this gospel, but also to provide us today with a radical new dimension to the claim that in the humanity of Jesus the reality of God has been met and engaged.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
If he's written it once, Spong (The Sins of Scripture), like many Biblical scholars, has written dozens of times: do not take the Bible literally. He is adamant that readers must not take the Gospel of John as history. Spong, the high-profile former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, stands on solid scholarship with these ideas: the Gospel of John was written over decades by several authors; Jesus did not speak the words ascribed to him in the book of John; none of the miracles happened; most of the book's charac-ters, the Marys and Nicodemus and Thomas, are just that -- literary characters, not literal men and women. More important than the negatives to the profoundly persuasive author is the unburnished pos-itive: divorced from latter-day fictions, John is one powerful gospel. To prove its base in Jewish mys-ticism, Spong paces through the signs, the farewell discourses, the passion narrative, and resurrection stories. The Fourth Gospel, Spong argues, calls on the faithful to believe that Jesus achieved "the mys-tical oneness with the God who is the source of life...." (June)
Booklist (starred review)
“Spong is writing for a lay audience, and he does so magnificently. His thoughts are bracing, his writing exciting, and his conclusions thought provoking. Those who love reading about religion in general and Christianity in particular may want to go through this volume more than once.”
Michael Dowd
“No one has done more to articulate a vibrant, post-mythic vision of Christianity than John Shelby Spong. Bishop Spong’s masterful interpretation is destined to become a classic.”
Karen Armstrong
“We now approach our scriptures with a literalism that is unparalleled in the history of religion. This new and imaginative book by John Shelby Spong will liberate many people from this unnecessary complication of the religious life.”
Tat-siong Benny Liew
“Bishop Spong’s in-depth struggles with and work on the Gospel of John have resulted in a book that challenges dominant assumptions and interpretations. This book will help anyone who cares to think about faith in open, dynamic, hospitable, and inclusive ways.”
David Felten & Jeff Procter-Murphy
“Leave it to Bishop Spong to uncover a message of universal hope that is deeply rooted in Jewish mysticism. Spong’s synthesis of Johannine scholarship will lead both clergy and lay readers to a new appreciation of the surprising origins and message of the Fourth Gospel.”
Fred C. Plumer
“Spong is always readable and informative, but this book reads like a cross between a detective story and an adventure saga that is founded on excellent scholarship. I could not put it down.”
Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan
“Spong invites readers on a stimulating and challenging journey to read the gospel of John afresh and to consider Christianity from a new perspective. This is a must read for every Christian who has tried to make sense of this gospel.”

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Meet the Author

John Shelby Spong, the Episcopal Bishop of Newark before his retirement in 2000, has been a visiting lecturer at Harvard and at more than 500 other universities all over the world. His books, which have sold well over a million copies, include Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy; The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic; Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World; Eternal Life: A New Vision; Jesus for the Non-Religious, The Sins of Scripture, Resurrection: Myth or Reality?; Why Christianity Must Change or Die; and his autobiography, Here I Stand. He writes a weekly column on the web that reaches thousands of people all over the world. To join his online audience, go to He lives with his wife, Christine, in New Jersey.

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The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read several works by the author, and this one continues to give insight into the authentic Christianity that the author has been advocating for decades now. The form of Christianity espoused in this book, like in many other works by this author, maybe hard to swallow for some, but to me, it rings true. I was a little apprehensive about the content because of the title, but I'm glad I decided to add this book to my collection. It was a fast read for me, and like his other books, mind-blowing in its revelations. It actually made me want to go back and read the Gospel of John again, now being able to see the story of Jesus in a brand new light.
GrandpaGuy More than 1 year ago
In this book (probably Bishop Spong's last), we see a challenging interpretation of the fourth gospel (according to john). The author claims that the primary characters in the gospel are invented to tell a story, to illustrate the meaning of the life of Jesus. That concept is a challenge to literalists, and confounding to non-Christians. This book, by one of my favorite authors, gave me a new understanding of an important book in the Bible. I recommend reading both. Quote worth remembering: "One cannot know the essence of love until one can love another - not because another deserves love, but because another simply is.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ragg_Mopp More than 1 year ago
I'm a big fan of Bishop Spong, and hesitate to criticize the work of such an icon, but in the Nook edition I found two curious errors: Near the beginning is a reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls found near Nag Hammadi on the Dead Sea (I skipped over this assuming it represented a simple digitizing issue of the sort we see when publishers contract with somebody in Baluchistan), then near the end is another reference to the Gospel of Thomas claimed to be part of the Dead Sea Scrolls! Nag Hammadi is in Egypt, nowhere near the Dead Sea. And the Gospel of Thomas was actually part of the Nag Hammadi Library, not the Dead Sea Scrolls. I'm flabbergasted.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago