The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John

By Gary Greenberg

Table of Contents

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In this landmark study of the literary relationship between the gospel of John and the synoptic gospels, Gary Greenberg presents compelling evidence for the existence of a written pre-canonical Alpha gospel that contained almost all of the main episodes in the adult life of Jesus (excluding major speeches, such as discourses, parables, and “I Am” sayings) and which became the written source for the core biography of Jesus in Mark, Luke, John, and Matthew. While Mark used the Alpha gospel with only slight variations, John had profound theological disagreements with it, objecting to its theological message about how to obtain eternal life, the depiction of Jesus, and other matters. This induced him to rewrite the Alpha gospel so that it conformed to his own very different theological agenda. Consequently, John’s gospel functions as a thorough theological critique of Mark, but the changes he introduced made it difficult to see how he and Mark worked from the same written source. By using John’s theological concerns as a filter for reading and understanding what objections John would have with Mark’s Jesus stories, The Case for a Proto-Gospel reverse-engineers the editorial path taken by John and reconstructs the content of the Alpha gospel. Finally, the author discusses the relationship of the other two synoptic gospels to the Alpha gospel, asserting that Luke also knew the Alpha gospel but used Mark as his primary source, and that while Matthew did not know the Alpha gospel, his use of Mark as a primary source ensured that his core biography of Jesus also derived from this earlier source.


Gary Greenberg is a superb intellectual detective, following up on tantalizing clues in ancient texts to uncover sources and insights that others have missed. In this latest work, he traces similarities between the Gospel of John and the earlier Gospel of Mark. In so doing, he makes a remarkable discovery about the relationship between these two texts. Carefully crafted, well written, based on historical and literary analysis, Greenberg’s book enhances our understanding not only of the Gospels of John and Mark but the process whereby the gospels themselves came to be. Barrie Wilson, Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar, Religious Studies, York University, Toronto. Author, How Jesus Became Christian; co-author, The Lost Gospel.

Table of Contents

1. The Problem of Mark Versus John
2. A Trail of Breadcrumbs
3. The Paralytic on the Mat
4. True Kindred and the Devil
5. You Can’t Go Home Again
6. The Mission Begins
7. Jesus’ Last Visit to Jerusalem
8. The Plot to Kill Jesus
9. The Jewish Trial of Jesus
10. The Lazarus Conundrum
11. The Roman Proceedings
12. The Crucifixion
13. The Day of Preparation
14. The Resurrection
15. The Proto-gospel Restored with Brief Commentary
16. Proving the Case for a Proto-gospel