The Case for a Proto-Gospel and John’s Editorial Techniques

In my previous post on The case for a Proto-Gospel I outlined the theological reasons behind John’s rewriting of Mark’s source document. In this post I will examine some of John’s editorial practices that frequently make it hard to recognize his use of a story appearing in Mark.

A major Johannine practice was to take multiple stories that shared a similar theme or some other common story details and integrating them into a single narrative such that the constituent stories no longer look like the original versions.

The Case for a Proto-Gospel and John’s Theological Biases

While it is almost universally recognized that Matthew and Luke used Mark as their prime source of information for their respective gospels, it is also well recognized that Matthew and Luke frequently add to, omit or change details present in Mark’s source story, occasionally in significant ways. This is largely attributed to Matthew and Luke editing Mark to fit their respective theological agendas. Yet, when stories in John appear to intersect with stories in the synoptic gospels, John is rarely accorded the same privilege.

While there is obviously a vast library of writings describing John’s theology and how it might differ from the synoptic gospels, there appears to be almost no effort to apply John’s theological principles to any of the synoptic gospels, using the theology as a filter for examining what changes John would likely have made if he knew the story. While there may be an isolated comparison between a Johannine story and a synoptic story here and there, I believe The Case for a Proto-Gospel presents the first scholarly study to provide a full-scale systemic look at all of John and how his theological principles interact with the synoptic gospel stories.

In this post, I will outline how John’s theological concerns can function as a filter for reading the synoptic gospels, which enables us to identify theological problems that would bother John and require corrections if he were to edit the synoptic story. In the next post, I’ll identify some of the editorial techniques John used to make these corrections. In subsequent posts, I’ll examine various synoptic stories and show how John’s theology and editorial practice come together to transform synoptic stories into Johannine versions that share the same underlying story elements present in the synoptic story but which often looks so different from the synoptic story.

Podcast: Does John know the synoptic gospels?

An interesting discussion between Mark Goodacre and Chris Keith about John’s interaction with the synoptic gospels. Both are well-respected scholars and they raise questions about the current consensus that John did not know the synoptic gospels. As a predicate (or follow-up) you may want to look at my article at the Bible and Interpretation site, Is John a Synoptic Gospel?

And, of course, if you want the full story, check out my new book, The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source behind Mark and John

“The Case for a Proto-Gospel” and the Luke-John Problem

One source criticism problem I explore in The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John concerns the known but surprisingly under-analyzed matter of the numerous synoptic-style parallels between Luke and John that not only agree with each other but which occasionally agree with each other against Mark or contain information missing in Mark. To cite just a few examples out of many:

The Case for a Proto-Gospel and Standard Source Criticism Theory

In order to follow my series of blog posts on The Case for a Proto-Gospel, it will be helpful to understand the basic principles of current gospel source criticism and where I introduce some new ideas that enhance our understanding of gospel origins.

We call Mark, Luke and Matthew the “Synoptic Gospels” because if you read them along side of each other you find numerous instances where all three gospels seem to be telling the same story, often using many of the same words, and these shared stories frequently followed in the same sequential order. This suggests that there is some sort of literary relationship among the three gospels involving at least one written source. Figuring out what that relationship is what scholars call “the Synoptic Problem.”

Further analysis shows that in most instances where two of the three gospels agree against the third gospel as to either words used or sequential order, scholars find that either Mark and Matthew agree against Luke or Mark and Luke agree against Matthew. This suggests that Mark is probably the hub gospel and the other two use Mark as a source. However, there a few “minor” instances where Matthew and Luke agree against Mark.

I’m Starting a Blog Series on The Case for a Proto-Gospel

In my new peer-reviewed academic study, The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John, I explore a number of new paths and insights into the origins of the gospels and early Christian History. It is, to the best of my knowledge, the first systematic study of every incident in the Gospel of John (except for speeches, discourse and “I Am” sayings) that cross-references almost every incident in the Gospel of Mark (except for speeches, discourses, parables, doublets and most exorcisms) and establishes a direct literary relationship between both gospels, both as to story content and substantial sequential agreement in story order. But, like many lengthy academic studies, it is expensive and targeted primarily to an academic audience. The cost probably exceeds the book-buying budgets of many of my readers and followers.

Therefore, in order to share my discoveries with a wider audience, over the next several weeks I will blog about a number of my interesting discoveries on the origins of the gospels and early Christian history. If this interests you, and you’re not a subscriber to this blog, I recommend that you subscribe. There is no charge and your subscription will generate an email notice any time I post something new. Just enter your email address in the subscription box and click “subscribe.” The subscription box appears somewhere on the home page, depending on what sort of device you use for browsing.

“The Case for a Proto-Gospel” is now available.

I just received my author copies from Peter Lang for “The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the common written source behind Mark and John.” Now i feel like it is officially published. It’s a big book, over 700 pages, and peer-reviewed.

In the course of the work I examine every biographical episode in John’s account of Jesus’s life (excluding speeches, discourses, and “I Am” sayings) and cross-reference them against Mark, looking for literary patterns. My primary technique was to examine the theological differences between Mark and John and show what John would object to in Mark’s gospel and what corrections John would want to make if he knew versions of the same story.

Ultimately, I demonstrate that John knew Mark’s written source (but not Mark itself) and John had profound theological differences with it. He wrote his gospel as a substitute for the earlier source and in a very large number of incidents even follows Mark’s sequence of events with rewritten stories that explored the same issues and themes present in the Markan stories.

Because of the many changes and alterations John made to Mark’s stories, it is difficult to see that John and Mark frequently describe the same incidents from different perspectives. In effect, John serves as a thorough-going critique of Mark’s gospel, challenging it on many levels, theological and historical. There is even some evidence that this earlier source, which I refer to as the Alpha Gospel, preceded Paul’s letters.

From the book’s back cover

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.

This link will take you to the Peter Lang page where you can find a Table of Contents.

Is “Judaism” a Jewish concept? Daniel Boyarin doesn’t think so.

Daniel Boyarin is one of the world’s foremost Talmudic scholars. In a recent book, Judaism: The Genealogy of a Modern Term, he argues that the use of the term “Judaism” as the “name” of the religion of the Jews was a Christian invention, and not necessarily a friendly usage. “Judaism,” he argues, wasn’t used by Jews as the name of their religion until modern times, as the Christian term took hold. In his deeply detailed linguistic study, he traces the use of the word “Judaism” over the course of history down to modern times. The thesis is, of course, controversial. The LA Times Book Review assembled several scholars to comment on the book. You may want to check it out.

He starts with how the term “Judaism” (in its original Greek formulation), was used in in the first centuries just before and after Jesus. He argues, based on linguistic parallels with the Greek usages, that the term did not reference religious beliefs. Rather it referred to a regional ethnic identity for people living in a specific geographical area. Judaism was, then, a term that referred to the behavior of people living in the country called Judah. A “Jew” was someone who behaved like people who lived in Judah. It applied to general behavioral considerations and the word didn’t specifically reference religious beliefs. It encompassed a wider range of regional behaviors. I’m not sure I’m fully or accurately capturing Boyarin’s argument here. The book is not a casual or easy read.

Centuries later, he says, the term was understood to define a set of legal values or doctrines. Citing example from some medieval texts, when an inquisitor (I’m not talking church inquisition here) asked a Jewish teacher to explain what Judaism meant, the Jew was expected to describe their legal practices or doctrines, what rules they applied to assorted situations.

Modern Jews might take offense at this distinction, arguing that their laws are their religion, that the two concepts are indistinguishable from a religious perspective. But that is not quite the issue that Boyarin raises. The question is whether prior to modern times, did Jews use the word “Judaism” as the name of their religion. He argues that there is no linguistic record of the Jews using that term as the “name” of their religion until modern times and that there is evidence that the term “Judaism” was used to name something that did not mean just their religion.