The Gospel According to Jesus

The Gospel According to Jesus

by Stephen Mitchell


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060923211
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/01/1994
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 270,523
Product dimensions: 0.00(w) x 0.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Stephen Mitchell's many books include the bestselling Tao Te Ching, Gilgamesh, and The Second Book of the Tao, as well as The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, The Gospel According to Jesus, Bhagavad Gita, The Book of Job, and Meetings with the Archangel.

Read an Excerpt


One of the icons on the walls of my study is a picture of Thomas Jefferson, an inexpensive reproduction of the portrait by Rembrandt Peale. The great man looks down over my desk, his longish, once-red hair almost completely gray now, a far collar draped softly around his neck like a sleeping cat, his handsome features poised in an expression of serenity, amusement, and concern. I honor his serenity and understand his concern. And I like to think that his amusement--the hint of a smile, the left eyebrow raised a fraction of an inch--comes from finding himself placed in the company not of politicians but of saints.

For among the other icons on my walls are the beautiful, Jewish, halo-free face of Jesus by Rembrandt from the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin; a portrait of that other greatest of Jewish teachers, Spinoza; a Ming dynasty watercolor of a delighted bird-watching Taoist who could easily be Lao-tzu himself; a photograph, glowing with love, of the modern Indian sage Ramana Maharshi; and underneath it, surrounded by dried rose petals, a small Burmese statue of the Buddha, perched on a three-foot-tall packing crate stenciled with CHUE LUNG SOY SAUCE, 22 LBS.

Because Jefferson was our great champion of religious freedom, he was attacked as a rabid atheist by the bigots of his day. But he was a deeply religious man, and he spent a good deal of time thinking about Jesus of Nazareth. During the evening hours of one winter month late in his first term as president, after the public business had been put to rest, he began to compile a version of the Gospels that would include only what he considered the authentic accounts andsayings of Jesus. These he snipped out of his King James Bible and pasted onto the pages of a blank book, in more-or-less chronological order. He took up the project again in 1816, when he was seventy-three, eight years after the end of his second term, pasting in the Greek text as well, along with Latin and French translations, in parallel columns. The "wee little book," which he entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus off Nazareth, remained in his family until 1904, when it was published by order of the Fifty-seventh Congress and a copy given to each member of the House and Senate.

What is wrong with the old Gospels that made Jefferson want to compile a new one? He didn't talk about this in public, but in his private correspondence he was very frank:

The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills. (To John Adams, January 24,1814)

We must reduce our volume to the simple Evangelists; select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.(To John Adams, October 12, 1813)

Jefferson's robust honesty is always a delight, and never more so than in the Adams correspondence. The two venerable ex-presidents, who had been allies during the Revolution, then bitter political enemies, and who were now, in their seventies, reconciled and mellow correspondents, with an interest in philosophy and religion that almost equaled their fascination with politics-what a pleasure it is to overhear them discussing the Gospels sensibly, in terms that would have infuriated the narrow-minded Christians of their day. But Jefferson, too, called himself a Christian. "To the corruptions of Christianity," he wrote, "I am, indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian in the only sense in which he wanted anyone to be: sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other." It is precisely because of his love for Jesus that he had such contempt for the "tricks" that were played with the Gospel texts.

Tricks may seem like a harsh word to use about some of the Evangelists' methods. But Jefferson was morally shocked to realize that the words of Jesus had been added to, deleted, altered, and otherwise tampered with as the Gospels were put together. He might have been more lenient if he were writing today, not as a member of a tiny clear-sighted minority, but in an age when textual skepticism is, at last, widely recognized as a path to Jesus, even by devout Christians, even by the Catholic church. For all reputable scholars today acknowledge that the official Gospels were compiled, in Greek, many decades after Jesus' death, by men who had never heard his teaching, and that a great deal of what the "Jesus" of the Gospels says originated not in Jesus' own Aramaic words, which have been lost forever, but in the very different teachings of the early church. And if we often can't be certain of what he said, we can be certain of what he didn't say.

In this book I have followed Jefferson's example. I have selected and translated, from Mark, Matthew, Luke, and (very sparingly) from John, only passages that seem to me authentic accounts and sayings of Jesus.

What People are Saying About This

Michael Ventura

"Mitchell's translations of the Tao Te Ching and The Book of Job are widely regarded as masterpieces; this book is even more valuable. We live in a civilization based on a twisted compromise of Jesus' teachings, and this very credible account of what Jesus may have actually said is a small but potent antidote."

Robert Coles

"Stephen Mitchell restores the lovely, fiery, utterly brave and unique voice of Jesus to us--and the result is a real gift, a blessing, even (one dares think) a moment of grace."

Jim Harrison

"A masterpiece of immense power and permanence."

Studs Terkel

"Very provocative and very thoughtful--a remarkable book."

Harvey Cox

"Mitchell has culled through the synoptic writings and given us brisk and accurate renderings, paired with his fascinating reflections on them and some apt comparisons to other philosophers, Zen masters, visionaries, and poets. This approach succeeds brilliantly. Jesus, or at least Mitchell's attractive portrait of him, leaps into life and will fire the interest of believers and nonbelievers alike."

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Gospel According to Jesus: A New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Stephen Mitchell, whose translation of the Tao Te Ching I cannot recommend highly enough, continues the work Thomas Jefferson started in trying to isolate the actual teaching of Jesus from the deadweight of the Gospels. Do not let the words of mainstream Christians mislead you: Mitchell manages to find the universal truths Jesus shares with Lau Tzu and other sages. This is not an alternative to the canonical gospels, but a source which can energize your reading of those works. I give it four stars mainly because it wasn't long enough.
bordercollie on LibraryThing 5 months ago
An inspiring scholarly look at the four synoptic gospels. The author succeeds in separating genuine Jesus accounts from the artificial "Jesus" stories inserted in the 400 years after his death by the early church. He notes the roots of institutionalized anti-Semitism added long ago, and the judgmental, condemnatory words that Jesus would not have uttered. Most poignant was his observation that people "believe" because they have not had the experience. Jesus had the experience of being one with God and tried to convey to others what he had felt. He taught the basic laws of the Torah: love for God and love for one's neighbor. The story of the good Samaritan was to illustrate that all are our neighbors. Much interwoven dialogue with Buddhist, Taoist, and Christian scholars make this a delight.
jveezer on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I have several of Mitchell's translations of sacred texts and really enjoyed this one. It attempts to peel away the dogma and hubris of two millennium to get at what Jesus actually said and taught. What would I have heard if I was there to hear him speak? It's about peace and love.
werechick on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Mitchell did well in general, but his mistranslation of "mamzer" irked me, especially considering that it was an easily corrected error. The closest English equivilent is "bastard," yes, that's true, but it's not exact, it's an approximation. Mamzer is, however, more specific, and only applied in cases of a child concieved out of incest or adultery.Still, his consolidation of Jesus' teachings was very good, and his introduction (longer than the rest of the book) was also, generally, well thought out.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
It is obvious to an unbiased reader that Mitchell is not an unbiased writer, but has an ax to grind against traditional Christianity. Mitchell considers only those teachings of Jesus that he agrees with as 'authentic.' By contrast, 'unauthentic teachings' are simply those that Mitchell defines as such because he apparently does not agree with them. This is not scholarly research or even careful thought, but rather an attempt to delete the teachings of Jesus that Mitchell views as offensive. The New Testament, which contains Jesus' teachings, is the best attested historical document that exists. An unbiased examination of the history of and the research into the New Testament will reveal that a 'new translation' is unneeded. Save your money and your time. If you want to know what Jesus taught, read the New Testament. Read all of it, not a filtered version of what a (non)scholar wants you to think Jesus taught.