“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.

So, where did the holiday name Easter come from?

The name “Easter” is widely used for the holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, but the word doesn’t appear to have any biblical origins. The linguistic evidence suggests that the name is a variation on the name of several “dawn” goddesses in the Indo-European language families. More specifically, Eostre was a Germanic goddess whose name was assigned to the month in which the celebratory event usually occurred. Eventually, the coincidence of the holiday falling in the month named after the goddess led to the holiday being called Easter. At least that’s one widely held theory. Here’s a link to a Wikipedia article that discusses some of these issues.

Some light reading for these apocalyptic times

Phil Long over at Reading Acts has been blogging on Revelation. Here’s a couple of links.

A Rider on a Red Horse – Revelation 6:3-4

A Rider on a Black Horse – Revelation 6:5-6

A Rider on a Pale Horse – Revelation 6:7-8

The Fifth Seal: Martyrs in Heaven – Revelation 6:9-11

The Sixth Seal – Revelation 6:12-17

Who Are The 144,000 in Revelation 7?

March 2020 Biblical Studies Carnival now posted

Brent Niedergall has posted the March 2020 Biblical Studies Carnival.

Welcome to the Biblical Studies Carnival 169 for March 2020! After weeks of social distancing, you can now peruse the best of biblical studies—the thrills, the fun, and all the excitement churned out across the Internet and curated here. And don’t miss the tempting prizes and games! There’s an exclusive steal of a coupon code for Carnival readers courtesy of Baylor University Press, an amazing giveaway from Lexham Press, and all kinds of free stuff from Randy Leedy of NTGreekGuy.com. Special thanks to Baylor University Press, Lexham Press, and NTGreekGuy.com for sponsoring this Carnival! 

“The Case for a Proto-Gospel” officially published

I have been advised today that Peter Lang has officially released my book, The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John. It can be ordered from Amazon and many other book sellers. It is also available on the Peter Lang website in Hardcover, EPUB and Kindle editions. Academics interested in publishing a review should contact marketing@peterlang.com.

Barrie Wilson, Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar, Religious Studies, York University, Toronto, says of my new work,

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 Gary traces similarities between the Gospel of John and the earlier Gospel of Mark. In so doing, he makes a remarkable discovery — lurking behind both gospels is an earlier document that each has used, independently of the other. Here is a new source document that sheds important light on the crucial decades following Jesus’ death.

Carefully crafted, well written, based on historical and literary analysis, Gary’s book enhances our understanding not only of the Gospels of John and Mark but the process whereby the gospels themselves came to be.