This Book Study will begin October 2, 2016
In this rigorously researched and thoughtful study, a leading Jesus Seminar scholar reveals the dramatic story behind the modern discovery of the earliest gospels, accounts that do not portray Jesus exclusively as a martyr but recover a lost ancient Christian tradition centered on Jesus as a teacher of wisdom.
The church has long advocated the Pauline view of Jesus as deity and martyr, emphasizing his death and resurrection. But another tradition also thrived from Christianity’s beginnings, one that portrayed Jesus as a teacher of wisdom. In The Lost Way, Stephen Patterson, a leading New Testament scholar and former head of the Jesus Seminar, explores this lost ancient tradition and its significance to the faith.
Patterson explains how scholars have uncovered a Gospel that preceded at least three of those in the Bible, which is called Q. He painstakingly demonstrates how historical evidence points to the existence of this common source in addition to Mark—recognized as the earliest Gospel—that both Matthew and Luke used to write their accounts. Q contained a collection of Jesus’s teachings without any narrative content and without accounts of the passion, though being the earliest version shared among his first followers—scripture that embodies a very different orientation to the Christian faith.
Patterson also explores other examples of this wisdom tradition, from the discovery of the Gospel of Thomas; to the emergence of Apollos, a likely teacher of Christian wisdom; to the main authority of the church in Jerusalem, Jesus’s brother James. The Lost Way offers a profound new portrait of Jesus—one who can show us a new way to live.
- Log in to post comments
Week 8 Questions
The First Christians
1 – How do you understand (if you do?) Thomas 1, “Whoever finds the meaning of these words will not taste death.”? 223
2 – How do you understand baptism (if we didn’t finish that last week)? 226
3 – Extra credit: About when did sexual reproduction develop? 229
4 – How do you understand: “the truly wise know that they are children of God.”? 230
5 – How do you think Sunday morning would be different if the wisdom tradition of Christianity had prevailed over orthodoxy? 235
X – Paul is a fount of secret wisdom, not a font. 238
6 - “No one owns the water. It is a gift from God.” Comments? 241
The Lost Way
7 – Why is the Empire of God for those a the bottom? (unlike us, who are way up the scale) 245
8 – Is Paul the salesman the reason we don’t know about Q and Thomas? 247
9 – Why do you think The Way is worth remembering? 250
10 – How do you find the Empire of God? 254
My Responses to Week 8 Questions
Chapter 8 – The First Christians [continued]
1. How do you understand (if you do?) Thomas 1, “Whoever finds the meaning of these words will not taste death.” [p. 223]?
This image of not “tasting death” comes up in other sayings in Thomas (cf. 18:3, 19:4 and 85:2) and is very similar to John 8: 51-52. So it’s a recurring theme of whomever wrote or edited these sayings. It may even have been simply a way of speaking for those who lived in the Ancient Near East.
In keeping with most of these sayings, then, “death” here isn’t to be taken literally. It may be about speaking of “death” as spiritual stagnation or degradation. We, even today, speak of people that seem to be “dead inside.” So I don’t believe, at all, that this reference promises immortality. I think that once you understand the startling simplicity of life and the opportunities that it truly gives you (e.g., that you’ve been given all that you need), living day-to-day can become such a joy that it will become all that you care about. Death will no longer be a constant fear or concern (i.e. a bitter “taste” in your mouth); you’ll be too busy living into the good life that you have discovered is already right there in front of you.
2. How do you understand baptism [p. 226]? – [see last week’s #10]
3. Extra credit: About when did sexual reproduction develop [p. 229]?
The simple answer is that it developed at the time that the process of evolution created it. But not even evolutionary biologist can explain why animals moved away from simple asexual reproduction for the more inefficient sexual reproduction. How in the world did we arrive at two separate genders – each with its own physiology? As with most moves through the evolutionary spectrum, there must have been a reason, some advantage, for the shift. But nobody knows what that reason or advantage might have been. The fundamentalist theologians conclude that it was “God’s work” and further proof of an intelligent Creator. I don’t buy it. Life evolved from single-celled animals, like amoebas, then into intermediate organisms, which then much later evolved into amphibians, reptiles, mammals and, eventually, us. We never yet have learned exactly when, how or why independent male and female sexes originated. Like our various images for our Creator, it remains to be a Mystery.
4. How do you understand: “the truly wise know that they are children of God.” [p. 230]?
Knowing that you simply are a human being worthy of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” means that you are wise. Simply understanding that, then, you will come to accept the fact that you are as blessed as any other human being, past present or future – i.e., you are a “child of God.”
5. How do you think Sunday morning would be different if the wisdom tradition of Christianity had prevailed over orthodoxy [p. 235]? X – Paul is a fount of secret wisdom, not a font [p. 238].
If the wisdom tradition had prevailed we probably wouldn’t be so obsessed with the polarities of “right vs. wrong” (thus the emphasis upon “winners” and “losers”) but would come to appreciate different – and even differing – points of view about the meaning and purpose of life. Part of this bifurcation may have occurred as a result of the ways in which the early Church tried to separate and distinguish itself from Judaism – a much more vibrantly argumentative religion, at least historically, than Christianity and so much less rigid in its theology. And as Patterson notes here, these prophets and sages – “Sophia’s children” – were thoroughly Jewish.
As far as using “font” (as Patterson does) or “fount” (as, Peter, it seems you would prefer), that latter term, of course (an alternative term for “fountain”), has been used to imply the source of some kind of desirable entity or material – in this case, water – so it inspired the figurative use of the phrase “fount of knowledge.” A font, on the other hand, is whatever receptacle was used to hold the water used for baptism. But a “font” could just as well collocate with the idea of imparting wisdom. [NOTE: Coincidentally, both have the same etymological root, the Latin fontem, both “fountain” or “spring,” and fundere, meaning “to pour.”] So Patterson wasn’t as much incorrect, here, as he was just using a different image. In that old gospel hymn, “Come, thou fount of every blessing,” you very well could substitute “font” and so be reminded of the inferred blessing that comes from the “poured out” water of our baptism. So there.
6. “No one owns the water. It is a gift from God.” Comments [p. 241]?
There’s always somebody or group that thinks that they uniquely deserve the gifts of creation – i.e., food, shelter, sustenance, good health, meaningful work, etc. – more than others. Something as basic as clean, potable water should be available to everyone and not be made into currency or private property. That would fit with Patterson’s image, here, that “the intoxicating wisdom of God is there for anyone to discover,” not just the well-informed, enlightened few, or (I might add) the ordained.
Chapter 9 – The Lost Way
7. Why is the Empire of God for those at the bottom (unlike us, who are way up the scale) – [p. 245]?
Hold on. If it isn’t for everybody then it isn’t “the Empire of God.” Certainly it would’ve appealed more to “those at the bottom” because they were those most in need of it. In this Empire, as Patterson points out, “the hungry were to be fed, the sad made happy, and the persecuted prophets honored.” So, yes, sadly, there is such a thing as being too comfortable and complacent. If we’ve been so well-fed that we’re just “fat and happy” as well as so privileged that we’ve never known or experienced real persecution, then we wouldn’t even be looking for an alternative to the empire in which we already live. And that is part of the problem. In the Empire of God “the distinction by which human beings draw up and divide, order and rank were to be swept away.” We privileged few all too often wouldn’t like that to happen. So it doesn’t.
8. Is Paul the salesman the reason we don’t know about Q and Thomas [p. 247]?
I’ve no way of knowing. Paul (along with all of the others) just put his “spin” on what the life and teachings of Jesus must’ve meant. To be sure, he was one of the more charismatic and prolific “salesman” among the People of the Way. And as Patterson points out, “It was not a teacher they needed, but a savior who could do battle with demons and drive evil from the earth” [p. 249]. Those that read or heard about Paul were attracted to his message (apocalyptic or not) and from that the nascent theological movement evolved into the Church.
9. Why do you think The Way is worth remembering [p. 250]?
Because “The Other Way” (our way – the way of elitist clerics, bishops, popes and the institutional Church) hasn’t worked very well for everyone but only for the privileged few. So I think it’s important to remember the Platonist roots of “The Way” and how “the Way became the way home, the way back to God, Plato’s God, the creator from whom they had come and to whom their destiny now propelled them” [p. 249]. In drifting away from “The Way” to our way, again as Patterson points out, “the Jewish God of shalom becomes a violent overlord, and the Prince of Peace becomes a supernatural warrior, a fire-breathing monster who lays waste the earth, its forests, its animals, and all but a remnant of its people – the chosen few” [p. 250].
10. How do you find the Empire of God [p. 254]?
First, you become aware that it’s been there, right in front of you and within you, all along. It is recognizing this – i.e., that you’ve been given a life and a fully-equipped creation that is pure gift providing all that you need to become all that you were meant to be – that then ought to lead you to finally begin to live that incredibly free and ultimately blessed life.
Week 7 Questions
The First Gospel
1 – If Thomas was written (collected?) at the same time as Matthew, why are the crucifixion / resurrection not mentioned? 185
2 – What is a significant difference between oral and written culture? 189
3 – What kind of input did (your idea of) God have in producing the New Testament? 192
4 – Comment on the author’s development of the “first gospel”. 195
5 – How would you make the double comparison of Jesus’ Kingdom of God vs. Roman Empire with the USA under Clinton or Trump? 198 (Have you been wondering about our future since the election, as I have?)
6 – What new insight did you receive from Patterson’s descriptions of Jesus’ stories? 196 – 204
7 – Compare Christians who knock on our doors today with those in Jesus’ stories. 206
8 – Is honor greatly overrated? Was Jesus shameless? 208
9 – Does your God “distinguish between the good and the evil, the just and the unjust.”? If so, how? 211
The First Christians
10 – What meaning of baptism do you like, and what meaning do you dislike? (as far as you
want to read into this chapter)
My Responses to Week 7 Questions
Chapter 7 – The First Gospel
1. If Thomas was written (collected?) at the same time as Matthew, why are the crucifixion / resurrection not mentioned [p.185]?
The simple answer is that Thomas is a “sayings gospel.” I believe that was the only form that the earliest memories of Jesus took. It’s what he said that was most memorable, not the mythic stories that began to circulate – probably in attempts to explain away why he was so easily judged, convicted and ignominiously crucified.
2. What is a significant difference between oral and written culture [p. 189]?
Obviously, one requires that the majority within the culture be literate. Beyond that, a written culture would be more educated and therefore more erudite – exposed as it would be to writings from cultures beyond its own.
3. What kind of input did (your idea of) God have in producing the New Testament [p. 192]?
None. The biblical authors’ assumptions about God, however (inherited, of course, from their own culture and religion), gave rise to their image and that then inspired their writings. As I’ve long said, we human beings made God in our own image, not the other way around. All too often it just meant the biblical authors – looking at their own reality – borrowed from what they saw were the most powerful rulers of that age and then "injected them with steroids" to create their image for God – i.e., the image then became not just powerful but omnipotent, not just preeminent but omniscient, not just well-known but omnipresent, even infinite (in, above, and beyond all things), Divinity itself.
4. Comment on the author’s development of the “first gospel” [p. 195].
I would agree with Patterson that, most probably, “the collection of sayings that we know as the Gospel of Thomas was not created all at once. It is a list, and probably grew incrementally over time.” What’s more, “They are our window into the oral tradition – a much larger window than we ever had before” [p. 194].
I would also agree, though, that not everything from the oral tradition would’ve, necessarily, “found its way into Q and Thomas” [p. 195]. The way that sayings would’ve been passed on by word-of-mouth across the countryside inevitably would’ve reshaped, emended, even changed some of what was first heard (e.g., It would be similar to the parlor game where one whispers something in the ear of the person next to him/her and then he/she passes it along the same way until it makes its way all around the room. What the last person then says what he/she heard is rarely, if ever, the same thing that actually was whispered to the first person.).
What all of these sayings had in common, though (as Patterson rightly points out, I believe), was that they were all part of a well-known wisdom tradition already deeply ingrained within most of the cultures of the Ancient Near East – this probably would include “parables and sayings of social critique.”
I do think it’s fascinating to consider that the teachings and perspectives of the philosopher, Plato, heavily influenced the agenda of Thomas [p. 196]. The author took “a wisdom tradition consisting of proverbs, aphorisms, parables, and sayings of social critique” and injected them with Platonic imagery – i.e., with a greater emphasis on the purely spiritual and not the physical, that our experiences are copies of transcendent ideas, and that these ideas represent true knowledge if we would just think deeply enough about them. That, “in a nutshell,” is Platonism.
5. How would you make the double comparison of Jesus’ Kingdom of God vs. Roman Empire with the USA under Clinton or Trump [p. 198]? (Have you been wondering about our future since the election, as I have?)
I don’t think that I’d find either “comparison” helpful. In my mind they simply do not compare – i.e., they’re more of a contrast: “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” The “empire” which Jesus envisions turns the Roman Empire – all worldly empires for that matter – on its head. And while HRC’s vision may have been more egalitarian and compassionate than Trump’s (but we’ll never know), neither one would’ve compared or will compare to the radical and world-changing community advocated by Jesus. Most human beings still think Jesus’ teachings naïve and impractical at best, foolish and impossible at worst.
And, yes, like everybody who’s heard the news, I wonder about “our future since the election.” But I don’t think Trump really believes half of what he actually says; he just plays to his audience – tells them what they want to hear – so that he can get them on his side. With Trump it’s all about winning. After that he’s a chameleon and will “change his color” depending upon what he thinks will be the next winning position. He’s a man of the present moment. I really believe that following his shocking and surprising election, he was sitting up in his Trump Tower and saying to himself, “What the hell do I do now?” Whichever way the wind blows.
6. What new insight did you receive from Patterson’s descriptions of Jesus’ stories [pp. 196 – 204]?
I can’t say that I really have a “new insight” as I’ve long had a very “this-worldly” image of Jesus – i.e., heaven, salvation, an afterlife, etc., all of that never really ever was a part of my theology. So I remember having a very visceral response to the image that this “kingdom, it turns out, is all about the here and now” [p. 197]. My response was to say to myself, “Yes!” Just…yes. While I can understand members of a subsistence society feeling like they were being slowly crushed under the boot of Rome, so looked for deliverance, I don’t then make the leap that some kind of divine savior is going to do it. If salvation is to happen, it’s up to us.
If Patterson has given me some kind of a new insight it’s his description of the Roman Empire, itself, as “a religious crusade” – “that the gods had chosen them to bring peace to the world, even if it meant waging war” [p. 198]. I’d always assumed that the Roman emperors never actually thought of themselves as divine; they just found it politically expedient to convince “the unwashed multitude” that they were. How would the long line of emperors ever have been able to explain their own (often violent) deaths? Did they just “lose their divinity” the way others “lose their virginity?” On the other hand I’ve come to learn to never underestimate another person’s conviction of infallibility – they may truly believe in their delusion. If that’s true of Donald J. Trump, then “heaven help us!” But then I don’t believe in such a “heaven.” It’s still up to us.
I do find another observation of Patterson’s to be very insightful, however: “This wisdom tradition is nothing if not thought provoking. You have to think about these images, consider them, meditate upon them. If you don’t, nothing happens. Wisdom requires effort” [p. 200]. Indeed it does.
A further insight is Patterson’s observation that “In the empire of God no one is lost” [p. 201]. Ultimately, we all can find our way home. But we need to listen and pay close attention to the wisdom being given to us by those who’ve gone before – especially those who “once were lost” themselves but, now, “have been found.”
A corollary to this observation is knowing “that loss is easier borne in the company of others.” Comfort is more than just a religious, economic or political concern, it’s fundamentally “a human concern” [p. 204]. This is why – when it’s at its very best – the Church works. As one very insightful 12-year-old girl shared with us at a confirmation retreat once, “Community just means knowing that we all have the same needs; it’s our “common unity.” Indeed. “…and a little child shall lead us” [cf. Isaiah 11: 6].
7. Compare Christians who knock on our doors today with those in Jesus’ stories [p. 206].
The only people these days who might knock on my door to “share their faith” with me (i.e., to proselytize from their narrow point of view) would be missionaries from the LDS Church. But what their Book of Mormon teaches is pure fiction and, in depth, truly bizarre.
So, there’s no relation at all between this and the teachings of Jesus or those who actually were the first People of the Way.
8. Is honor greatly overrated? Was Jesus shameless [ p. 208]?
Honor is not overrated. To some extent, I agree with Patterson when he says, “Honor comes from knowing one’s place in the world and having a certain ability to function successfully in that place.” But honor also infers things like honesty, fairness, and the respect that is given to someone for the integrity of his/her beliefs – beliefs that are then revealed by his/her actions. We would then be able to say, “This is an honorable person.” He/she shows himself/herself to be worthy of respect. In that, honor is vastly underrated.
“Was Jesus shameless?” If you mean by that “audacious” or “bold,” most certainly he was. He was not, however, “depraved” or “immoral” – or any other such interpretations of being “shameless.” From the point of view of the Romans, however, as well as most of the leaders of the Jewish synagogue at that time, his conduct was improper (after all, he “ate with sinners”), he was insolent, presumptuous, and outrageous. In that, yes, he was unashamed. He was a troublemaker who needed to be silenced. So he was. Or…so they thought.
9. Does your God “distinguish between the good and the evil, the just and the unjust.”? If so, how [p. 211]?
Since I don’t think of God as a sentient being this question is a non sequitur.
We learn to distinguish between these two polarities through the careful tutelage of our culture – initially through our parents and then through our schooling and community relationships. If this is a “God thing,” it differs from culture to culture. What, then, does that make of the concept of God? Given that conundrum, I agree with Patterson’s statement that “Nature itself teaches the basic truth that God does not distinguish between the good and the evil, the just and the unjust.”
Ultimately, God is a profound Mystery. The Force behind creation may never be fully explained, but out of chaos has come order, from order has come life, and from that first life has come…us. We’ve learned that the things that are life-giving and life-sustaining are “good” and that the things that are death-dealing and life-destroying are “evil.” If we are true to ourselves we are, as Patterson points out, seekers after truth: “If you would have truth, you must seek the truth, and when you find it, you must advocate for it” [p. 214]. Jesus was one of those. And “the tradition did not die with him.” Now it’s our turn.
Chapter 8 – The First Christians
10. What meaning of baptism do you like, and what meaning do you dislike [pp. 225-231]? (as far as you want to read into this chapter)
I like to view baptism as a liturgical symbol welcoming the baptized into the community. I dislike the idea of it being viewed as either a figurative or a literal sign of “washing away sin.” And inasmuch as some believed that in baptism “the recipient was said to receive the Holy Spirit” and so then “was recognized as a child of God” [p. 226], that could be a fine symbol. But he or she was already a sacred blessing and, therefore, not in need of baptism to make it so. The rite ought to simply affirm what is already a present reality. In the final analysis, then, you shouldn’t have to go through this just in order to become “a member of the club.”
And as far as “cultic nudity” is concerned, whatever symbolism and custom that you and your community find acceptable, I’d say go for it! For some, then, being baptized as naked as you were when you first entered this world might be a moving and egalitarian symbol. I would not, however, take away a person’s right to remain clothed for baptism should he or she choose to. As the amount of water that’s used is superfluous (i.e., that you have to be completely dunked for it to “work right”), you also shouldn’t have to “skinny dip” in order to be accepted into the community.
I would agree with Patterson’s observation, then, that “the truly wise know that they are children of God. Baptism signaled it; spiritual gifts bore witness to it” [p. 230]. You and I are already a sacred gift. We need to act like it.
Week 6 Questions
1 – Put one of the verses back into the third person singular as it was probably written. 160
2 – Since there are no new ideas presented by our author in this chapter, proposing questions is difficult. What I suggest is that you each pick a few sayings you would like to discuss. Please pick at least one about which you feel you have some insight, or have changed your understanding over time. Then select another which you still find totally confusing and wish you could understand better. Perhaps we can help each other make some progress.
My Responses to Week 6 Questions
Chapter 6 – Thomas Translated
1. Put one of the verses back into the third person singular as it was probably written [p.160].
Okay, I’ll try Saying 18: “The followers said to Jesus, ‘Tell us how our end will be.’ Jesus said, ‘Have you discovered the beginning then, so that you are seeking the end? For where the beginning is, the end will be. Fortunate is [he] who stands at the beginning: [For he] will know the end and will not taste death.’”
2. Since there are no new ideas presented by our author in this chapter, proposing questions is difficult. What I suggest is that you each pick a few sayings you would like to discuss. Please pick at least one about which you feel you have some insight, or have changed your understanding over time. Then select another which you still find totally confusing and wish you could understand better. Perhaps we can help each other make some progress.
a. sayings about which I feel I have some insight, or have changed my understanding over time:
Saying 3: “…the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you.” We very much embody the reality of God (in a panentheistic sense) – not that God’s “image and likeness” has been remade into us, but that we have held that profound Reality within our being from the very beginning. To know oneself and to know creation itself, then, is to “know” the reality of the presence of God.
Saying 13: “”…you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring which I have dug.’” To me this simply means that we have come from the same source of sustenance as Jesus himself. Compare this with Saying 108: “Jesus said, ‘Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person….’” This is similar to the language about becoming a “twin” like Thomas. We are soul mates. Further, in that same Saying 13, we read, “…Thomas said to them,…’you will pick up rocks and stone me’….” I think that refers to the fact that considering such a blasphemy as Jesus has just revealed to Thomas (i.e., that Jesus is not only a revelation of God, but that same source of “divinity” can be revealed in us as well), it would then lead the others to stone Thomas to death for revealing such a thing.
Saying 50: “…’We have come from the light…We are its children.’” This sounds to me much like Kabbalistic mysticism. The opening prologue to the Gospel According to John refutes this (i.e., John 1: 5 “…the world did not ‘grasp’ it” and especially in John 8): You’ve just got to believe that Jesus is God, exclaims John!
Saying 70: “Jesus said, ‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you.” etc. For me, this is closely mirrored in Abraham Maslow’s concept of “self actualization.” Each of us has been created to be, fully, who we are. The task of growth and maturation is to do just that. To settle for anything less is to be diminished of everything we could be – and for some, sadly, that’s a whole lot.
Saying 77: “Jesus said, ‘I am the light that is over all things.” …. To me, this is an excellent example of panentheism – of the imago dei, the image of God that suffuses all that is and yet isn’t any one single thing.
Saying 108: “Jesus said, ‘Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person,….” Here’s that image of the “twin” (like Thomas) again – i.e., in recognizing the divinity within oneself, one becomes like Jesus, in effect, his “twin.” We are, in fact, every bit as much a “child of God” as Jesus was.
Saying 113: “….’the father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it.’” To me, this must be the saddest thing of all about the revelation that Jesus offered. We expect that the perfect life is somehow beyond us and outside of our reach when all that we need has already been given to us – in this life, not some mythical afterlife. And we remain blind to that simple fact – through ignorance, selfishness, cruelty, greed, fear, blindness or just plain stupidity.
b. sayings which I still find totally confusing and wish I could understand better:
Saying 19: “Jesus said, ‘Fortunate is one who came into being before coming into being.” What? Then in this same saying he speaks of “five trees in paradise” that remain the same – summer or winter – “and their leaves do not fall. Whoever knows them will not taste death.’” What in the world is going on here? First, what does “coming into being” really mean and how would you do it before you do it? Then, what’s the significance of “five trees” and how does simply knowing them make one immortal? It’s all just a bit obtuse to me.
Saying 42: “Jesus said, ‘Be passersby.’” Walk on by? By what and why are we being told to do so? At our JSOR meeting with Patterson in Auburn, he believes this to mean something like "become itinerants," "travel lightly in the world" because "life is short." As it's been said, "be in but not of the world." -cf. John 15: 19 and John 17: 14-16
Saying 56: “Jesus said, ‘Whoever has come to know the world has discovered a carcass, and whoever has discovered a carcass, of that person the world is not worthy.’” What? Does that simply mean that if we think that the world is a dead thing then we are not worthy of it? But then how can you “know” it as dead when it isn’t? And how could the world, itself, not be worthy for such a person? This convoluted imagery just strains my brain.
Saying 74: “He said, ‘Master, there are many around the drinking trough, but there is nothing in the well.’” Who’s “he” here – someone addressing Jesus, or Jesus himself [as in the saying right before]? What’s the well and why is it empty? Is it a reference to “empty Judaism?” It could be simply about "water rights." As Patterson pointed out at our JSOR in Auburn, the majority of these people lived at the subsistence level. Consequently, much of civilization clustered around sources of water and it was very important to know who controlled access to it and, therefore, who had enough and who was constantly thirsty.
Saying 105: “Jesus said, ‘Whoever knows the father and the mother will be called the child of a whore.’” Say…what? Explain that to me.
Week 5 Questions
1 – When you hear about “The Secret Sayings of….”, what pops into your head? 111
2 – Did Jesus have a twin brother? 115
3 – How do you understand “James the Just, the one for whom heaven and earth came into being.”? 115
4 – What differences would you expect in proto-Christian communities that a) grew up under Roman rule and b) grew up in a relatively free area such as Edessa? 117
5 – How do you prefer to interpret “the living Jesus”? How do you think the phrase was understood almost 2000 years ago? 118
6 – What do you think of the idea that humans were created in two steps, first the mind, the sovereign element of the soul, and second the mortal flesh part? 120
7 – How do you “bear the image of God”? 127
8 – Do you think the exchange of food for care can improve the world of today’s homeless? How? 139
9 – Comment on the idea that early Jesus communities were successful only to the extent that they were organized and run by women without the standard patriarchal hierarchy? 143
10 – Has Hillary Clinton “made herself male”? 146
11 – Everyone in Christendom would come to believe in Plato’s immortal soul. Comments? 154
Response to Week 5 Questions
Chapter 5 - Plato’s Gospel
1. When you hear about “The Secret Sayings of….”, what pops into your head [p. 111]?
What makes them “secret” and why? Is that an attempt by the author to make them seem more authentic or reserved only for “people in the know?” As Patterson points out here, Paul supposedly writes of wisdom teaching that is “secret and hidden” intended “only for the ‘mature’ and ‘spiritual’” and so “not for ordinary believers.” “We can only surmise”, as Patterson continues, “that in calling these sayings ‘secret’ our author intended only to add mystery and value to his collection and to raise the expectations of readers” [p. 113]. But that doesn’t then make them
the “actual” words of Jesus.
2. Did Jesus have a twin brother [p. 115]?
Who knows? I don’t think so. There’s no real evidence that Jesus ever had a biological twin. Thomas is often understood to mean “twin” because in the ancient Syriac language (a form of Aramaic – the language that Jesus spoke) Tau’ma means “twin.” But this character also appears in the Gospel According to John and there he’s just one of the disciples, called the “twin.” What’s more, as Patterson points out, the “name” Didymos actually is a word that means “twin” in Greek [p. 115].
Maybe people just came to see the two as “blood brothers” or that being a twin was symbolic and only meant spiritually. In an obscure text, known as the Book of Thomas the Contender (also found at Nag Hammadi), Jesus supposedly addresses this Thomas as his twin as “one who knows himself.” One of the themes of the Gospel of Thomas is to truly know yourself (e.g., “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”) – i.e., that each of us has to go on a kind of spiritual quest of our own to discover who we are and in doing so we’ll discover that each of us is, in fact, a child of God just like Jesus was – in effect, we’re “twins.”
3. How do you understand “James the Just, the one for whom heaven and earth came into being.” [p. 115]?
To be the human being that each of us is meant to be, a key attribute must be that we are “just” – i.e., ethical, fair-minded, decent, dependable, or embodying everything that most people would consider to be trustworthy and honorable. In Jesus’ opinion, his brother was all of those things.
4. What differences would you expect in proto-Christian communities that a) grew up under Roman rule and b) grew up in a relatively free area such as Edessa [p. 117]?
As we’ve come to understand, they wouldn’t yet be known as “Christian” but as communities that just were followers of the itinerant sage, Jesus – or, at most, people of “the Way.” I would expect that those groups that “grew up under Roman rule” would be much more secretive and careful because to be labeled as a follower of this charismatic rabbi could literally get you crucified. Many of these people, though, quite probably had even seen Jesus and heard him speak – or they knew someone who had.
To be an outlier from Edessa, however – and therefore away from the “eyes and ears” of the agents of Rome – might mean that you were freer to openly exchange your own ideas about this man, Jesus, and what his often enigmatic says could mean for you and your community. I can see how the kinds of ideas and interpretations that the Edessans would come up with about Jesus could, then, be much more creative and expansive – less orthodox if you will.
5. How do you prefer to interpret “the living Jesus”? How do you think the phrase was understood almost 2000 years ago [p. 118]?
If your head and heart are in alignment with the teachings and person of Jesus – i.e., with everything that he stood for – he, indeed, “lives” in you.
2000 years ago, however, Jesus probably was wrapped in a far more mythical or larger-than-life image. What’s more, to be considered heroic and charismatic at that time would have people then begin to view you as god-like – much like Caesar himself: at one with divinity. It also, by the way, would explain how the doctrine of the Trinity came to be created by the nascent Church.
Up to a point, I do agree with Patterson when he says that the “Living Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas is not the risen Jesus, but the immortal Jesus, whose wise sayings promise to guide others to discover the source of their own immortality” [p. 121] – but I’d replace that final phrase with something like “what we have in common with him.” None of us – not even Jesus – will ever be immortal in any physical sense.
6. What do you think of the idea that humans were created in two steps, first the mind, the sovereign element of the soul, and second the mortal flesh part [p. 120]?
This sounds a bit like the proverbial question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” I don’t think that the mind (or “soul”) is aware of itself until some time long after birth.
[NOTE: By the way, the “egg” came first; in the beginning it wasn’t anything like what would later stir from within its shell and hatch as a “chicken.”]
7. How do you “bear the image of God” [p. 127]?
Not very comfortably – if at all. What does that phrase really mean anyway? I never have literally believed in the line from Genesis that we were created “in the image and likeness of God.” We invented this “image” of “God” in the first place. The Mystery of our origin – let alone the universe that contains us – is far, far beyond even our current scientific understandings.
8. Do you think the exchange of food for care can improve the world of today’s homeless? How [p. 139]?
I don’t see the connection, unless it were some kind of barter system – i.e., “We will work (or provide care) for food.” This also would have to assume that, first, those who provide the food have work that must be done (or care that is needed) and, second, that the homeless who eat their food can do the work (or provide the care) that is required. In the final analysis, though, the problem of homelessness, along with any solutions to finally do away with it, are much more complicated than simply exchanging “food for care.”
9. Comment on the idea that early Jesus communities were successful only to the extent that they were organized and run by women without the standard patriarchal hierarchy [p. 143]?
I’m not sure that the added phrase “only to the extent” is helpful here. Without a doubt, the role of women among the people of the Way was much more egalitarian and inclusive than it was in the surrounding culture. It came closer to balancing the “gifts and graces” of both genders than was exemplified in the society at large. But that the “early Jesus communities” could not have succeeded without them is a bit of a stretch and arbitrarily diminishes the role of the men involved. I’ve long believed, however, that several (if not more) of Jesus’ disciples were women (witness Ann Graham Brock’s book Mary Magdalene the First Apostle: the Struggle for Authority, for example), but it took both men and women, together, to build and nurture these communities into existence – and it took both men and women to keep them going (never mind how the misogyny of the Roman Catholic Church removed women from leadership roles). They did it together. As a slogan in today’s politics recognizes, we truly are “stronger together.”
10. Has Hillary Clinton “made herself male” [p. 146]?
In both the Pauline and Gospel of Thomas sense, HRC is that kind of a legitimate leader. She has certainly claimed and exemplified equality with men – and rightly so. In that sense, she has “made herself male” – however absurdly antiquated that phrase truly is. As a feminist myself (i.e., one who advocates social, political, legal and economic rights for women equal to those of men), no woman ever needs a male image to prove herself worthy. Every woman is a fully capable human being regardless of her gender or however much the society at large has conspired to show and tell her that she is not.
11. Everyone in Christendom would come to believe in Plato’s immortal soul [p. 154]. Comments?
Many Christians do. But everyone hasn’t. I haven’t. In this I remain to be an agnostic. As much as I’d like to think that my “soul” will remain intact somewhere after my death, I’ve no way of knowing that it will. In that sense it’s just “wishful thinking.” There is no sound or current scientific evidence that proves “Plato’s immortal soul” exists – let alone anyone else’s. If his spirit does exist it’s as other human beings have embodied it. That’s as true for Plato just as much as how we have made Jesus “immortal” – or anyone else for that matter.
Week 4 Questions
1 – What difference do you think the order makes in reconstructed Q? 85
2 – Since there are no new ideas presented by our author in this chapter, proposing questions is difficult. What I suggest is that you each pick a few sayings you would like to discuss. Please pick at least one about which you feel you have some insight, or have changed your understanding over time. Then select another which you still find totally confusing and wish you could understand better. Perhaps we can help each other make some progress.
Response to Week 4 Question + Invitation
Chapter 4 – Q Reconstructed
1. What difference do you think the order makes in reconstructed Q [p. 85]?
It makes no difference to me at all.
2. Sayings in which I feel as if I have some insight:
Fragment 57 [p. 99] …v. 34 “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Whatever consumes you to the point of ruling your life has, indeed, become your “treasure.” That could be a good thing. Sadly, on the other hand, that “treasure” really may not be worth very much. What’s more, it could eat you alive. Either way that’s definitely not a good thing.
Fragment 85 [p. 106] …v 21 “Nor will anyone say, ‘Look here!’ or ‘There!’ For, look! The empire of God is in the midst of you!”
As we’ve learned by now, hopefully, the kingdom/empire of God/heaven isn’t something “out there” or “up there” or even “beyond” us. It’s right in front of us at every moment of our lives – and, yes, even in the most difficult and painful moments. The disturbing thing about that fact is that all too often we don’t see it or choose it – or, worse, we do see it but choose something else.
3. Sayings whose meaning, or my understanding of them, has changed:
Fragment 72 [p. 103] …v. 26 “Anyone who does not hate father and mother cannot be my disciple; and anyone who does not hate son and daughter cannot be my disciple.”
For me, the word “hate” here should be replaced with something like the phrase “see the errors of” – the mistakes, misjudgments and prejudices of both parents and children ought not to be passed on or repeated. Let it end with this generation or the cycle will continue to repeat itself – as, sadly, it so often has. If we say that we are “followers of Jesus,” then let’s do that.
Fragment 79 [p. 105] …v. 18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and (re)marries commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”
In the ancient culture of this pronouncement, men had the power to shamelessly divorce their wives for any reason at all; women had very little or no power in this area. This saying was trying to address that injustice but, instead, has compounded it. So it should be disregarded. Any just and ethical decision ought to be more about respecting the sanctity of marriage than becoming a commandment to remain in an abusive or unhealthy one. Divorce is the recognition of a failure, but all too often it is still the right, good, healthy – even ethical – choice for everyone involved.
4. A saying which I wish that I could better understand:
Fragment 87 [p. 106] …v. 34 “Where the corpse (is), there the eagles will gather.”
I simply think that this is a reference to Rome – that a corrupt and decaying Judaism will inevitably be destroyed by those legions. However, it’s been said (by some pastors) that this means that wherever life is gone, wherever a church or nation is decaying, there will the vultures of destruction “be sent by God” to do their work in order to leave room for new forms of life to come. I might agree with that if you’d just take “God” out of it. Sometimes circumstances do call for a good death in order that something better can be born. But to make God the Destroyer-in-Chief just sounds bizarre to me and perpetuates the image of a vengeful god.
How have any of you heard this one “explained?”
Week 3 Questions
The Galilean Gospel
1 – Patterson argues that a Q document MUST have existed to produce our canonical Gospels. Can you think of another way our Gospels may have been developed? 47
2 – How do you feel about differences like “she served them” vs. “she rose and served them”? 55
3 – VOTE: Do you think we will ever find Q? 57
4 – Why do you think Matt. 5:3 added “in spirit” to the poor? 61
5 – Why do you think only small towns are mentioned in the Gospels and not the big cities? 66
6 – Do you prefer the modern Lord’s Prayer of the (possibly) original version? Why? 72
7 - “But seek his empire and all these things will be provided to you.” How do you understand this statement today? 73
8 – Why do you think the Kingdom (Empire) of God moved from earth to heaven? 75
9 – What is an example of a utopian visionary who is both caring and vindictive? Do you think this is representative of Jesus? 80
Response to Week 3 Questions
Chapter 3 – The Galilean Gospel
1. Patterson argues that a Q document MUST have existed to produce our canonical Gospels. Can you think of another way our Gospels may have been developed [p. 47]?
I think that so many of these stories about Jesus and his sayings were circulating during that first century that there could’ve been quite enough of an oral tradition for any documentarian to draw from and then be able to put his own spin on them. Simply because the documents that we do have “often agree almost verbatim from gospel to gospel” and are “in the same order,” doesn’t, just by virtue of all of that, absolutely discount use of an oral tradition.
2. How do you feel about differences like “she served them” vs. “she rose and served them” [p. 55]?
You could infer that both Matthew (the most Jewish of the canonical gospels) and Luke wanted to make a point of the inclusion of women within the people of the Way. Saying that “she rose” from their midst could mean that women were included in the audience – and not just relegated to the fringes (or in the kitchen) only to be called upon when the men wanted to be served. Women were regularly included with the men who followed Jesus even if the culture of that time did not yet consider them to be quite equal to the men.
3. VOTE: Do you think we will ever find Q [p. 57]?
No. Too much time has passed and virtually all of the archeological sites now have been pored over to such an extent that the likelihood of ever finding Q has diminished to the point of improbability.
4. Why do you think Matt. 5:3 added “in spirit” to the poor [p. 61]?
Matthew, being very much a Jewish gospel, could very well be making a theological point – i.e., You don’t have to be without money or destitute to be impoverished. No matter what your economic circumstances, you can feel empty and disconnected from your spirit. The real issue, finally, isn’t about money – how much of it you have or don’t have – but the state of your spirit.
5. Why do you think only small towns are mentioned in the Gospels and not the big cities [p. 66]?
Jesus came from a small town. He was a prophet of the people who also lived in small towns. It’s out there that the real separation from the Roman Empire (represented by the urban centers) was most acutely felt and that the idea of a different kind of empire could strike the imagination of those people.
6. Do you prefer the modern Lord’s Prayer or the (possibly) original version? Why [p. 72]?
Neither. I continue to find the imagery of God in both to be profoundly problematic – i.e., the “big daddy in the sky” who rules from on high and seeks to impose “His” will upon “His” pitifully powerless people. This point of view doesn’t just undermine our will as human beings, it completely disempowers it – as if we’ll never be able to do it on our own but will always need some kind of divine help. It’s not just dehumanizing, I think it’s bad theology.
7. “But seek his empire and all these things will be provided to you.” How do you understand this statement today [p. 73]?
In all things we ought to support the well-ordered and supportive creation that we’ve been given and not destroy both it and each other in the process. Do this and we will not need anything more. All that we need has already been given to us. We just haven’t been very good in taking care of creation so are suffering the consequences of our bad choices. This reminds me, yet again, of Deuteronomy 30: 19 which says, in effect, “I’ve set before you this day life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants might live.” If we fail at that we will continue to experience little more than death and curses.
8. Why do you think the Kingdom (Empire) of God moved from earth to heaven [p. 75]?
In the era in which all of this was recorded, the limitations of science assumed that we lived in a three-tiered universe (Heaven above, Earth here, and Hell below). It was also a time dominated by the power and reach of Rome – nothing on earth compared with it. The only place greater, then, must exist in some other plain and so not of this earth. People came to believe – and even long for – a place that would deliver them from their endless suffering. If they could see nowhere on earth where that was possible, “heaven” became that place.
9. What is an example of a utopian visionary who is both caring and vindictive? Do you think this is representative of Jesus [p. 80]?
I don’t see any way that those two attributes can exist in the same person. They are incompatible. You cannot be a compassionate person and still be vindictive. And, in my opinion, it certainly is not representative of the Jesus that I have come to know and love.
Week 2 Questions
1 – Egyptian civilization is far older than European, but did not advance as far. What do you thin causes some cultures to advance faster than others? 21
2 – Where did Papias live? Does this help determine if Grenfell & Hunt’s findings were from Papias? 26
3 – Why are copies of Gospel Parallels not found all around churches today? 28
4 – Why do you think we have found no scraps of Q in archeology? 32-5
5 – Why do you think there are two different kinds of Gospels, the sayings type and the life story type?
6 – Any question(s) you would like to contribute?
Responses to Week 2 Questions
Chapter 2 – Discoveries
1. Egyptian civilization is far older than European, but did not advance as far. What do you think causes some cultures to advance faster than others [p. 21]?
I think that the more tribal and brutal a civilization is, the less advanced it will become and consequently the shorter its period in history will be. I also think that when learning and the drive for discovery (e.g., the establishment and growth of higher education and the sciences) are more important than the conquering of territory, a civilization will tend to flourish. I think it also drives other cultures to want to emulate the more advanced ones out of admiration of their achievements.
2. Where did Papias live? Does this help determine if Grenfell & Hunt’s findings were from Papias [p. 26]
Papias was the Bishop of Hierapolis in Phyrgia during the latter part of the 1st century. He was, according to Irenaeus, “a hearer of John the apostle”…“a companion of Polycarp” and “an ancient man” (i.e., an elder of the primitive days of Christianity). Phrygia is the Greek name of an ancient state that once existed in the central to western part of present-day Turkey. It later became the Roman province of Galatia.
Papias was criticized by Eusebius for his chiliastic theology – i.e., the doctrine that claimed that Jesus as the Christ would return to reign on earth for 1,000 years; it’s also known as millennialism (ref. Revelation 20: 1-7). That’s how Papias came to be associated with the so-called “Revelation of John.” Others later came to look on that doctrine as simply meaning a time of general righteousness and happiness, but that it would happen at some indefinite point in the future.
Papias seems to have known about the first three canonical gospels and was thought to have been the one who began the earliest tradition about the authorship of the Gospel of Mark – i.e., that Mark was Peter’s interpreter and wrote down accurately as many things as he could recall from memory of the things either said or done by Jesus. By the way, Papias’ five-volume collection was numbered this way: 1) Preface and John’s Preaching, 2) Jesus in Galilee, 3) Jesus in Jerusalem, 4) The Passion, and 5) After the Resurrection.
I doubt whether or not all of this helped “determine if Grenfell & Hunt’s findings were from Papias.” Those two just got lucky. But it seems that at least they were looking in the right place.
3. Why are copies of Gospel Parallels not found all around churches today [p. 28]?
The simple answer is that it’s not a priority for the church (its pastors and its laity). Every church library ought to have a copy, however, as just being able to read similar passages side-by-side – as well as noting where one or more says nothing – makes for fascinating speculation as to why one author said it one way and another slightly different and still another nothing at all.
4. Why do you think we have found no scraps of Q in archeology [pp. 32-35]?
The simplest answer is that there’s just been a far too lengthy passage of time since the creation of this “document.” Between the weather, sectarian disputes, and outright cross-tribal warfare, this part of the Middle East has rarely (if ever) been a good place in which to live and work – for archaeologists, biblical scholars, or much of anybody else.
5. Why do you think there are two different kinds of Gospels, the sayings type and the life story type?
I think that the memory of Jesus’ sayings (his parables, aphorisms and teachings) led them to be the first to be preserved and the more memorable ones were then passed down from one generation to the next – initially, only by word of mouth as oral history was always the first source of such transmission. As time passed following those first letters of Paul, however, more and more interest came to be generated toward knowing about the day-to-day life of Jesus. So the stories and myths began. As the stature of Jesus was elevated by his followers to the point of divinity, these myths took on the kind power that many of his followers then began to claim as fact.
I’ve always loved what John Dominic Crossan has said about this kind of expansion of the story however:
My point, once again is not that those ancient people told
literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them
symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we
are now dumb enough to take them literally.
6. Any question(s) you would like to contribute?
* David Friedrich Strauss was clear that by using the word “myth” he did
not mean some invented, imaginary, or fictitious idea, concept or story. By “myth” he meant “a deeply structured narrative by which a deeper religious truth comes to expression.” What’s more, “Their sole purpose was to convey a singular, deep eternal truth: that God is incarnate in humanity” [p. 28]. In that same sense, as you’ve come to understand the Bible – but, more importantly, the life and teachings of Jesus – how much of it do you consider to be factual (e.g., If they’d had “live TV” back then you could see the actual event and hear, word-for-word, what was being said.) and how much of it do you consider to be myth? Does it matter?
* Why do you suppose the Gospel According to John is so different from the so-called Synoptic Gospels [p. 30]? Does it matter? Why or why not?
* Does it matter that Q, the lost gospel, is “still lost” [p. 41]? Why or why not?
Week 1 Questions
1 – in 25 words or less (if possible) EITHER a) What is Christianity? OR What should Christianity be? 2
2 – Have you read Q and Thomas? How well do you feel you know them? 4
3 – What other Gospels have you read? How did they differ from “The Four”? 7
4 – Why trust Jesus, but not the theologians? What are some problems with this? 12
5 – How do you feel about the wisdom tradition in Christianity? 17
6 – Since there are only five questions here, what question would you like to contribute?
Responses to Week 1 Questions
1. In 25 words of less (if possible) EITHER
a. What is Christianity? OR
b. What should Christianity be [p. 2]?
While Patterson recognizes that his questioner would probably think that he’s given a “wrong” answer, in fact I agree with him that “Christianity is many things” [p. 3] – and so, in that sense, question “a” cannot have any single answer – no matter how many or few words you use. So I’d choose “b” to try to say what I think Christianity ought to be:
Christianity should be as close to the teachings and life-witness of Jesus as we can make it.
2. Have you read Q and Thomas? How well do you feel you know them [p. 4]?
I have read both. I don’t know them well enough, however, to be able to quote them chapter and verse. I do recognize some of the more controversial sayings in Thomas that, while nearly parallel to Q, have a distinctive difference. The translation (always an interpretation) that Patterson chooses to use, is only slightly different from the one that I was first exposed to: The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus as translated by Marvin Meyer and further interpreted by Harold Bloom (a first edition copyright dated 1992). At my first reading, I was immediately intrigued by a line in Saying 3: “…the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you” (Patterson, as he explains, chooses to use the word “empire” here instead of “kingdom.”) [p. 161]. What’s more, in the margin of Meyer’s book I at least began to try to note parallels of these sayings that could be found in the canonical gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – but I’ve never completed those comparisons throughout all of the sayings.
I also immediately responded to the line in Saying 70: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you.” It reminded me of Abraham Maslow’s ultimate level in his hierarchy of needs: “self actualization” – i.e., each of us has within us the capacity to be (or become) all that we’ve been created to be. We must have both good teachers and a positive learning environment to do so, but each of us has that potential within us if we would just take the time and make the effort to realize it.
The second half of this saying, however, is both cryptic and disturbing: “If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you [will] kill you.” I think of all of those human beings that never even came close to realizing their fullest potential, and if it didn’t literally lead to their deaths, it did so figuratively – in incrementally small to much greater and more significant ways. As Saying 92 puts it, “Seek and you will find.” Sadly, far too many of us give up seeking after the truth and far too soon.
Being a lifelong panentheist – even before I knew of the term – my awareness of my surroundings (both of my immediate environment and the larger cosmos beyond me that I first experienced as a child) also resonated with the latter part of Saying 113: “…the father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it” [p. 183]. It reminds me of one of my more favorite biblical quotes: “This day…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
My exposure to Q began with my reading over twenty years ago Burton L. Mack’s book entitled The Lost Gospel: the Book of Q & Christian Origins (1993 edition – Mack was professor of New Testament at the School of Theology at Claremont at the time.). A key quote, for me, came in Mack’s prologue:
Q’s purpose in attributing sayings to Jesus and its careful design can be
seen as the creation of a highly crafted and profoundly effective myth of
origin. This myth of origin claimed epic and divine authority for Jesus as
a founder figure without any need to entertain mythological notions of a
crucified and resurrected messiah [p. 7].
I must admit, though, that I’ve not made my self as familiar with Q as I might have, so I wouldn’t be able to immediately recognize its “voice” within the other gospels that I have read and with which I’m more familiar.
3. What other Gospels have you read? How did they differ from “The Four” [p. 7]?
Besides The Gospel of Thomas, I’ve read Karen King’s exposition of The Gospel of Mary of Magdala; and while she refers to quite a few others (e.g., the Gospel of the Nazarenes, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of the Savior, and the Gospel of Truth among them) I’ve not read each of them by themselves. I’ve read John Dominic Crossan’s book Four Other Gospels in which he, too, not only outlines Thomas, but The Egerton Gospel, The Secret Gospel of Mark and The Gospel of Peter.
My time and the space here precludes being able to adequately point out how each one differs from the canonical gospels, but I will say that they’re all significantly related: they try to make sense of the life and teachings of Jesus. Where one seems to be dependent on another, I find it fascinating to compare how the author either followed or interpreted what went before. As my professor of Koiné Greek at Duke University, Dr. Mickey Efird, always pointed out, “Every translation is an interpretation.” Why shouldn’t the same be true of how people experienced the life and teachings of Jesus? Every witness (consciously or unconsciously) introduces his/her own point of view – heavily influenced by his/her own “Zeitgeist” (i.e., those dominant sets of ideals and beliefs that motivate the actions of the members of any society at any particular period in time).
As Crossan points out, “They are all parallel traditions. … The essential difference is not that [one] is heterodox and [the canonical gospels are] orthodox but that [one] is a discourse gospel [while the canonical gospels] are narrative gospels” [p. 129 of Four Other Gospels]. Most, if not many, of these “other” gospels, then, are more concerned with the words of Jesus than they are with connecting them with what he did – more concerned with his teachings rather than with how he lived and died. Many biblical scholars also contend that there are earlier sources that we don’t even know about (e.g., a “Passion-Resurrection Source”). Throughout it all the hermeneutical process is ongoing (i.e., the process of interpreting, explaining, re-interpreting, then orthodox “correcting” and re-explaining, etc.). I’ve come to appreciate, more and more, the question that Dr. Efird left with us in all of this dialogue about who said what, when, to whom and why: “How do you know what you know?” Indeed.
4. Why trust Jesus, but not the theologians? What are some problems with this [p. 12]?
I have to say that Jesus, himself, was a theologian, so this first question is a bit of a non sequitur. All of us who care about a rational pursuit of truth have journeyed into ongoing theological and/or philosophical dialogues in that pursuit. I don’t “trust Jesus” any more or less than I do other teachers of wisdom. The problems begin when we will accept only one expression as truth because it agrees with our preconceived notions or cultural point of view while denying it when it doesn’t.
5. How do you feel about the wisdom tradition in Christianity [p. 17]?
I feel that the wisdom tradition is at the heart of who Jesus was and behind what he actually said, so – at least for me – understanding his own tradition is crucially important to coming to understand what Christianity ought to look like. So I agree with Patterson’s observation that “the sayings collections express one of wisdom theology’s most basic claims: wisdom and insight lie at the heart of the well-led life….”
6. Since there are only five questions here, what question would you like to contribute?
Patterson notes that the “sayings collections are all very early – some earlier than the first biblical gospel, Mark.” If that’s true (and I believe that it is), what do you think that the Church ought to do with it? What, if anything, do you think that the 1st UMC of Napa (or the local church with which you identify) ought to do with all of these other perspectives on the life and teachings of Jesus?