the Gospels

Now that Mel Gibson's the Passion of the Christ  is here I thought it'd be interesting to explore the gospels.

>Huh? Why?
Well, supposedly the movie is based upon Jesus' last twelve hours as depicted in the gospels
... so it's natural to ask if the gospels are truth or myth or allegory or oral tradition or invention ... or whatever.
So, after doing some Net surfing ...

>As an exercise?
Pay attention!
It seems that the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written well after the death of Jesus. In fact, the first mention of Jesus seems to be by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37 BC - circa 100 AD). In the year 93 AD he wrote:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.
        from Josephus' Jewish Antiquities, published in 93 AD in Rome, after Josephus adopted the Roman lifestyle.
There is much scholarly controversy concerning the phrases "if indeed one ought to call him a man" and "He was the Messiah", since this would be unlikely from a Jewish historian. Some current biblical historians believe that these were inserted by Christians, centuries later.
(Josephus also had a reference to "James, the brother of Jesus" which is also noted in the bible, including Mark 6:3)

It's interesting to note that, although the Roman historians were prolific writers, there are no references to Jesus in any of the Roman histories during his lifetime. The first mention of Jesus in Jewish rabbinical histories (which contain a great deal about, for example, John the Baptist), occurs in the 2nd century.

>So what about the gospels?
I guess the consensus (for many centuries) was that Matthew (one of the twelve apostles) was the first gospel (written by someone other than Matthew). However, in 1835, the German philologist Karl Lachman (1793-1851) presented evidence that the gospel of Mark was the earliest of the gospels and that the authors of Matthew and Luke copied extensively from it. I understand that that's the current belief.

>What do you think?
Me? You kidding? What do I know? I just surf and write about what I find interesting. I just report what I read. I just ...

>Yeah, yeah. Could we get back to the gospels?
Okay. There is some evidence that Paul, a disciple of Jesus, wrote many letters about his life, rules of conduct and his association with Jesus and that at least some of the gospels were taken from his writings ... many MANY years later.

>So, what does that have to do with Mel Gibson's the Passion of the Christ?
Well ... uh, I think that if Gibson was faithful to the gospels, then we have to wonder if the gospels are faithful to the historical events. Since the authors of the gospels have taken liberties, then it's not surprising that critics (of the movie) have accused Gibson of taking liberties.

>And do YOU believe the gospels?
What I think is of no importance, however ...
>So now you're going to tell me what you believe, eh?
Well ... I think we must take the gospels to be stories of Jesus' life, told years after his death by (unknown) authors who embellished and copied and ...
>And took liberties.
Yes. In particular, there's a question concerning a person who the New Testament calls a prostitute.
>Mary Magdalene?
>Jesus' wife?
I have no idea.

The Nag Hammadi
or   Gnostic Library      

Buried for over 2000 years in the desert sands (near Nag Hammadi, Egypt), scrolls were discovered in 1945 (in an earthen jar ... by a 31 year old camel driver). This collection of texts appears to be transcriptions of more ancient Greek and Aramaic manuscripts... produced in the early Fourth Century. They often paint a different picture than the scenarios presented in the new Testament. In fact, among these Gnostic documents is the Gospel of Thomas, believed (by some) to predate the New Testament gospel of Mark.

>Anything new ... in the Gospel of Thomas?
Some interesting excerpts:

(16):** Jesus said, "Men think, perhaps, that it is peace which I have come to cast upon the world. They do not know that it is dissension which I have come to cast upon the earth: fire, sword, and war. For there will be five in a house: three will be against two, and two against three, the father against the son, and the son against the father. And they will stand solitary."

(53): His disciples said to him, "Is circumcision beneficial or not?"
He said to them, "If it were beneficial, their father would beget them already circumcised from their mother.

(114): Simon Peter said to him, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life."
Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."

** Compare to Matthew 10:34

>Every woman who will make herself male? Your wife ain't gonna like that, eh?
I'm not letting her read this

However, the Gospel of Mary   "exalts Mary Magdalene over the male disciples of Jesus."
>Your wife will like that, eh?

>Okay, back to the movie: the Passion of the Christ. Is it Truth?
Define Truth.
Besides, how would I know? I was too young, then.

But suppose, being a very religious person, you wanted to make a movie about what you believed to be the most important event in human history: the crucifixion of Christ.

So you pulled out your King James bible (which you believed to be written as the word of God) ... and you read:

  • Mark 10:
    [32] And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him,
    [33] Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles:
    [34] And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.
  • John 5:
    [15] The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
    [16] And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.
    [17] But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
    [18] Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
  • Luke 23:
    [1] And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate.
    [2] And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.
    [3] And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest it.
    [4] Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man.
  • Matthew 27:
    [22] Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
    [23] And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.
    [24] When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.

How, then, would you portray the Jewish high priests? How would you portray Pontius Pilate? How would you portray the crucifixion?

>But why would you turn to the bible if you think the gospels are ... uh, not necessarily "truth"?
Define Truth.
Besides, I'm just pointing to the sources for the movie. It's supposed to be based upon the gospels as written ... upon "biblical" history.

>Rather than "actual" history?
Define actual history.

>You mentioned the King James bible, but ...?
Aah, before King James there were others:
Tyndale's Bible (1525), Coverdale's Bible (1535), Matthews' Bible (1537), Cromwell's, or the "Great Bible" (1539) (later editions of which were known as Cranmer's Bible), the Geneva Bible (1557-60) and the Bishop's Bible (1568).

Then, in 1611, another version was commissioned by King Kames I. Forty seven commissioners were divided into six groups, two of which sat at Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster. Each group undertook a definite portion of the Bible, their instructions being to take the Bishops' Bible (which was in current use in the churches) as their basis ... but correcting it by a comparison with the Hebrew and Greek texts. It was apparently a great improvement over earlier versions.

>And that's the one we use today?
Uh, not exactly. I think Catholics are apt to use a somewhat different version based upon the Douai bible (or "Douay bible" or "Douai-Rheims Bible"), originally prepared in the town of Douai, France ... and published in 1609.

Of course, there's also a more recent bible released in 1989: the New Revised Standard Version, generated by Protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic church, the Greek Orthodox Church and a Jewish scholar.

>Mamma mia! Which one is ... uh ... truth?
Define Truth.

the King James Bible its origins
the King James Bible chapter and verse
Douai & King James comparisons
the Gnostic Library
Gnostic translations
musings on   who wrote the Gospel of Thomas?
about Gnosticism
New Revised Standard Version chapter and verse

>Okay, but what about that Dead Sea stuff?
Yeah, I guess we should say something about that ...

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Qumran caves
In 1948 a Bedouin shepherd found 7 scrolls in jars in a cave. Subsequently many thousands of scroll fragments were recovered in eleven caves near Qumran, on the dead Sea ... and approximately 800 different original manuscripts which contained old and new testaments remarkably similar (almost word for word) with the bible.

The supposed time of the composition, copying and storage of the Dead Sea Scrolls is prior to about 100 BC and (possibly) written by a religious sect: the Essenes. This monk-like sect practised a type of Christianity long before Jesus and apparently had their own founder and messenger of God ... centuries before Jesus: the Teacher of Righteousness.

>Could that be just another name for Jesus?
I have no idea, but one biblical scholar, in 1950, claimed:

Jesus appears in many respects as an astonishing reincarnation of the Teacher of Righteousness. The comparisons?
  • They both preached penitence, poverty, humility, love of one's neighbor, chastity.
  • Thwy were both the Elect and the Messiah of God.
  • They were the object of the hostility of the priests.
  • They were condemned and put to death.
  • They pronounced judgment on Jerusalem, which was taken and destroyed by the Romans.
  • They both founded a Church whose adherents fervently awaited his glorious return.
"All these similarities taken together," the scholar notes, "constitute a very impressive whole."

Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran: cave #7
Dead Sea Scrolls various questions re the Scrolls
the Essenes
the Teacher of Righteousness and an analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls
gospel of the Nazirenes.htm about the life of Yeshua / Jesus