The Non-Canonical Gospels

Having read some apocrypha and “lost gospels” (admittedly, a long time ago), I had a lot more respect for the Bible canonizers limiting their selection to the Big Four. The others didn’t so much “confuse” me as bore me. After having gobbled down Matt, Mark, Luke, and Jack, I was looking for more Real Jesus.

There were many collections of stories and sayings about Jesus floating about, copied and passed around like some emails forwarded today. (Except the ancient copiests were probably more careful and accurate – heh). What made it into those collections ran the full range of veracity. Even with the Internet, it can be hard to verify or refute stories. Multiply that infinitely in ancient times, and add the pre-scientific, not-always-skeptical mode of thought, and a willingness to believe just about anything (especially about someone who really was working apparent wonders), and you’ll get a lot of fable and error mixed with your fact. The childhood stories of Jesus striking a playmate dead which you mentioned and randomly bringing a dead bird back to life were especially disturbing. No ring of truth to those for me!

The last bit of Thomas does not strike me as true, but I’ve always found it amusing. The apostles ask Jesus to send Mary off “because women are not worthy of the life.” But Jesus replies, “See, I shall lead her, so that I will make her male, that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” The apostles’ sexism (think about them disbelieving Mary’s report of the resurrection) sounds vaguely plausible, but Jesus’ reply doesn’t sound much like him, does it? Still, I read it tongue-in-cheek. He couldn’t convince the entrenched boys club to admit women, so he redefined the terms for their limited understanding. [grin] (Otherwise, it’s pretty ugly sexism, all around.)

The Gospel of Thomas is a great example of those “forwarded email” collections of sayings attributed to, and stories about, Jesus. That may be how one or more of the Gospels started out or had as source for some of the material. Just for one personal example (again, Biblical inerrantists, just look the other way for now), my truth bells don’t chime on Jesus withering of the fig tree. YMMV.

Which gives me an opportunity to bring up this: “Personally, I regard Luke as the ablest reporter, the most careful researcher, and by far the finest writer in the New Testament, and recommend that you read his gospel first.” That’s Louis Cassels, onetime religion editor for AP, in my well-worn copy of his “This Fellow Jesus,” 1973, Family Library, which I read early-on in my post-”rebirth” adult religious studies. Wow! Here it is on Amazon. Cool.

Trust in the Spirit of Truth.

A Mindful Webworker February 8, 2013 at 9:03 pm
Can’t… be… concise…!

Ting February 8, 2013 at 10:35 pm

You may not be concise, but you are very, very interesting! I will check out the Cassels book – I took a course long ago on the historical Jesus – what scholars think is true based on historical standards, and disregarding any religious beliefs. It was really hard to separate the two in my mind but an interesting endeavor.

chrissythehyphenated February 9, 2013 at 12:57 am

What Ting said.