Review: The Lost Gospel : The Book of Christian Origins by Burton L Mack publ.1994

· Christianity, Evolution, Reviews


Like some others, I began to search for the “Historical Jesus” and the “Historical Gospel Authors”  in my quest to rationalise the Biblical stories found in the Gospels and to my surprise I discovered that many theologians and academics had already been along this same path in recent years. But this continued search for the origins and truth of our Biblical history has only surfaced in more recent years with the majority of theologians and scholars confining their search from within the ‘box,’ Biblical writings, so that they would not be immediately rejected as heretics. Authors like D.M.Murdock who wrote, “The Origins of Christianity and the Quest for the Historical Jesus Christ” was published in January 2011, or James K. Bielby and Paul R. Eddy who wrote, “The Historical Jesus: Five Views,” in Feb 2010,  or Washington Gladden who wrote, “Who Wrote the Bible? A Book for the People” in July 2008, all stayed well within the ‘box,’ the Gospels,  and thus were not able to throw much new light on the “historical Jesus” that was not already obvious. The Gospels have always been accepted by evangelicals as the “historical stories?” of Jesus, his miracles, his resurrection, his being the son of God,  and his being the Messiah without question. The Gospels, and her editors have created a masterpiece with their literary skills to present today’s edited and re-edited works into a polished book accepted by Christians all over the world. But there still exists sceptics even among scholars and theologians and the lay public.

One such scholar of early Christian history and the New Testament, and Wesley Professor emeritus, who was sceptical of of traditional Christian New Testament was Professor Burton L Mack. Being an academic and still sticking within the bounds of the box, Prof.Mack has attempted to analyse the culture and society of the peoples at the time when Jesus lived in order to understand how those people must have thought, analysed and rationalised their social problems that led to the development of their religious ideologies. Being pragmatic and logical, Prof Mack began to realise that the early Gospel writers all had some similar and common themes, wisdom teachings,  that ran through their gospels and this could be due to their acceptance of one another’s concepts or that they were related to influences as yet not discovered by us.

Nag Hammadi Manuscripts found in 1945

The discovery of the Nag Hammadi Manuscripts in 1945 produced the missing link that many Christians never knew existed. They found a collection of, “sayings of Jesus” called “the Gospel according to Thomas” that was translated by Marvin Meyer, 1992. Prof. Mack was soon on the track of, “The gospel according to Thomas” and the revelation of the origins of the early recording of the “Wisdom statements and teachings of Jesus” the similarities with the book of Q. With Prof Mack’s intimate knowledge of the early Christian history he has painfully separated the early teachings of Jesus from that of the Gospels, and to visualise the early “followers of Jesus,” who were not Christians, and showed how the Book of Q  clearly influenced the later authors of the Gospels.

The Book of Q

This book contains a chapter quoting, “the Book of Q” which I found most edifying and convincing. But what was astounding was that these early Jesus followers  “made no reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus,”  “no mention of Jesus as the Christ,” and “no mention of instructions to Peter and the other disciples about continuing Jesus mission and baptising converts into the church.” Q1 was dated as appearing about 50 CE, Q2 about 60 CE and Q3 about 70 CE. It is also to be noted that the Gospel of Thomas used Q1 and Q2 but was not aware of the existence of Q3. This is significant because it clearly shows that the New Testament Gospels have been very cleverly draped with mythology in order to alter the perception of Jesus as Christ and the Messiah. The purity of the Q does challenge the authenticity of the New Testament. The Gospels were of course written very much later and it becomes evidently clear that much of their wisdom sayings and its elaborations were taken from Q. Most interesting is Prof Mark’s Appendix B which tabulates the Lukan texts and the Parallels with Q showing how Q was used as the foundations by the Gospel writers when writing their gospels. The evidence provided by Prof Mack is elaborate and convincing. If Prof Mack has provided sufficient evidence that the Gospel myths were elaborated upon the foundations of the unadulterated Q, then the whole of the New Testament will have to be looked at with a renewed light. Unfortunately, once the Gospels had established their stories, there were no further need for Q as it would have undermined the originality the Gospels.

A convincing read for those who  are seeking the historical Jesus and historical Gospel writers.

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