What Does it Mean To You?

Commentary on Burton Mack’s book, “The Lost Gospel Q*

 

I find it exciting to read Burton Mack’s book, “The Lost Gospel Q*,  I find his account of the early days of Christianity fascinating, when, as a result of Jesus’ life and teaching, the discovery of God as being within was so vividly first articulated in the near-western world. And it is just as exciting to observe how this wonderful teaching almost immediately went awry – how it was so soon abandoned when early (and later) Christians returned to a largely external search for God. It would appear that in those early times there were not enough people devoted to moving forward in this search within to build and sustain an inner-searching Christian religion.

The question is, is it possible now?

Judging from the plethora of self-help and self-search practices in the secular world the past several decades – psychiatry, psychology, etc., ours is an opportune time to be expanding the religious search within. As an example of the beginnings of directions afoot within our religious world, I choose to think that theologians like Elaine Pagels are pointing toward this when they write as she does in The Gnostic Gospels (1979): “Only now that there are enough people searching for what lies beneath the Christian orthodoxy is it timely to revive the search for what Jesus learned and taught. If this knowledge, I claim, long lain hidden in the Gospels, especially those of Thomas and Q, is supplemented now by social and scientific  knowledge, including philosophies and other world religions  it may reveal a Christian theology and worship which will speak in far more meaningful terms than present orthodoxy – to modern seekers.”

But continuing with Mack, he identifies three historical phases in the Q gospel, from a first phase which speaks of introspection and compassion, to the second which begins sounding fearful, and then on to the third phase which introduces even more fear and oppression by addressing the final days of judgment. This is a drastic change in Jesus’ original message, which leads one to question whether the later developments came from Jesus.  In what Mack identifies as “Q1” the words of Jesus are recorded as follows: 

“I am telling you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” 

“As you want people to treat you, do the same to them.”

“Don’t judge and you won’t be judged.” 

“Be merciful as your father is merciful.”

 

Then, later in the Q community’s history, Jesus’ teaching suddenly changes to one of fear and judgment. Q2  quotes Jesus as saying:

“I am telling you, Sodom will have a lighter punishment on the day of judgment than that town.”  (the town that does not receive you).”

“And you, Capernum, do you think you will be praised to high heaven? You will be told to go to hell.”

 

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and the one who does not gather with me scatters.”

And finally, in the last phases of the Q gospel, Q3 has Jesus announcing the arrival of the day of judgment:

“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be on the day of the son of man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, right up until the day when Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and took them all.”

“In the days of lot it was the same – they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built. But on the day when Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.” 

“This is how it will be on the day when the son of man appears.”

 

Somehow the Christian community of that time found the latter fear-instilling message far more appropriate and captivating than the original. And so it has been for the past two thousand years. This is perhaps understandable since messages like that of Q2 and Q3 shock searchers into obeisance and submission, motivating them to examine themselves, but also giving an authoritarian church far more manipulative power to rule than the message of Q1. Did not Constantine employ this strategy? And perhaps he was right in doing so at the time, since his drastic action may have assured the survival of the Christian church.

On this point it is appropriate to again refer to Elaine Pagels when she points out that our present-day Christianity very likely owes its survival to the early Q2-Q3 orthodox message. In other words, without Q2 and Q3 the original theology of Q1 very likely may not have survived.  Pagels page 142: “I believe that we owe the survival of the Christian tradition to the organizational and theological structure that the emerging church developed”. So, regardless of how we got here, we are here now, and a new approach to Christianity is sorely needed. I call for serious re-consideration of the more inner-searching Christian message of Q1, which incidentally is supported by similar messages in the Gospel of Thomas.

May I offer more quotes from Mack’s book that speak to this point:

P 213: “The importance of these conclusions for a revision of Christian origins is enormous. Q’s story puts the Jesus movements in the center of the picture as the dominant form of early group formations in the wake of Jesus, and it forces the modern historian to have another look at the congregations of the Christ. The congregations of the Christ will now have to be accounted for as a particular development within the Jesus movements, not as the earliest form of Christian persuasion …”

P 216:  “The kerygma [of Jesus’ death and resurrection] developed in the congregations of Jesus people in northern Syria (Antioch and beyond) and appears to have overshadowed, if not erased, the memories and importance of Jesus as a teacher.”

P238: “Q challenged the New Testament account of Christian origins by offering another more plausible account of the first forty years. The Jesus movement is a more believable group of people than the disciples and first Christians who are depicted in the narrative gospels. Q provides a documentation for the Jesus movement that the narrative gospels cannot provide …”

P 246: “There is no indication that any of the Jesus movements were interested in salvation by personal, spiritual transformation on the model of the Christ event.”

P 247: “The narrative gospels can no longer be read as the records of historical events that generated Christianity. Q puts us in touch with the earlier history of the Jesus movements, and their recollections of Jesus are altogether different.”

 

If we now revive this new (old) interpretation of Jesus’ teaching, it changes everything. For one thing, it removes the stigma and guilt for those who have sincere difficulty believing those requirements of the orthodox message that demand belief in such things as the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus’ physical body, the final judgment of souls, and any other externally-imposed conformances – by offering a stronger emphasis on Christian inner exploration based on love, respect, honesty and self awareness.

The unique teaching of Q1 offers the opportunity to add new liturgies, new music, new preachments, new progressive Christian education, that can better fill the void facing those who have left the church because of disillusionment and dissatisfaction. And it offers a new hope to those who remain faithful to the church, but who suffer inwardly from suppression of long-hidden questions and uncertainties.

This is what I get from reading Mack’s book – that it is time to pay more attention to the spiritual evolution of individual seekers that to only preserving the 2000 year-old orthodox practices and traditions of the church. And in so doing, the church may indeed be revived – but in a new light. Hopefully speaking for many of us, it is time to listen more attentively to the original words of Jesus than to the later human-sculpted interpretations of his early words. And after that, we will need to better learn how to apply that knowledge to present day worship and living.

This – what many may call a far more progressive approach, could well cause a huge paradigm shift in Christianity – from the more outer-seekings  to the more inner-seeking – at least it could amount to as much of a shift as evolved from the Jewish orthodoxy of Jesus’ time – to his new interpretation of the kingdom of God.

My claim is – that it is time to get more serious about this inner seeking. Is it really true that once we dig past the garbage that is in each of us – we begin to discover God? Jesus appears to be saying “yes”!

This is what I get from reading Mack’s book.

“What does it mean to you”?

 

Robert Rock

rrock2822@charter.net

A Westar Associate

2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Q  stands for the German word “Quelle”, or “source”.  It is a gospel which has never been found in writing, but which is affirmed to have existed due to its being found imbedded throughout the four canonical gospels, indicating it existed prior to, and influenced these canonical gospels.

 

REFERENCES

 

A selection of books that speak of the Gospels of  Q and Thomas

 

Stephen Patterson

May 1990  The Q Thomas Reader,

 

Elaine Pagels

Feb 2006  The Gospel of Thomas -

 

JamesRobinson

—  2005  The Sayings Gospel Q: Collected Essays, also 2002: with Parallels to Mark & Thomas,            

Aug 2001  From Quest to Q,

—  2000  The Critical Edition of Q: with Matthew, Luke, Mark & Thomas, in                                German/French,                    

—   1996  Documenta Q: Reconstructions Through Two Centuries of Gospel Research,

 —   1993  The Lost Gospel, Book of Q, Burton Mack

 

John R. Mabry

—   2007  The Way of Thomas … from the Secret Sayings of Jesus

 

Dale Allison

Oct  2000  The Intertextual Jesus: Scripture in Q,

 

Marcus Borg

Mar 1999  The Lost Gospel Q,

 

Ronald F. Hock

July 1996   The Infancy Gospels of James and Thomas,

 

 

A selection of books that speak of the search within

 

 

Pagels, Elaine

Apr 2006  Gnostic Gospels

Feb 2006  The Gospel of Thomas

 

Tolle, Eckhart,

—   2005, A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

 

King, Karen L.

Apr 2005  What is Gnosticism?

 

Khan, Pir Vilayat

–   2000, Awakening.

Ludemann, Gerd

— 1999  The Great Deception: What Jesus Really Said & Did        

             — 1998  Suppressed Prayers: Gnostic Spirituality in Early Christianity

 

Viktor E. Frankl

—  1992  Man’s Search for Meaning

 

Speeth, Kathleen Riordan

—  1989, The Gurdjieff Work

Brook, Peter Video,

–  1978, Meetings with Remarkable Men: Gurdjieff’s Search for Hidden Knowledge

Gurdjieff, G.I.

—  1973, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson

Indries Shah  –  1971, The Sufis.

 

Nicoll, Maurice

— 1964 Psychological Commentaries

 

Ouspensky, P.D.

—  1949, In Search of the Miraculous

 

A gathering of books that speak for a change in the interpretation of our Christian religion:

 

Marcus Borg

Apr 12, 2011, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their                                        Meaning `and Power – And How They Can Be Restored

Oct  2007  The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Birth

Mar 1995  Meeting Jesus Again ..For the First Time

 

John Dominic Crossan,

Mar 6, 2012 The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus

—     1991, The Historical Jesus

Feb     1999  The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years                               Immediately after Jesus’ Execution

 

Bart D. Ehrman,

Mar 22, 2011 Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not                      Who We Think They Are 

Jul   2005  Lost Christianities: Battles for Scripture & the Faiths We Never Knew,

Jan   1996  The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture

 

Funk, Robert W.

Oct 1997    Honest to Jesus

Jan  1997    The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus

 

Geering, Lloyd

            Sep 2002  Christianity without God

Mar 2001  Christian Faith at the Crossroads

July 2001  The World to Come: from Christian Past to Global Future

 

Hedrick, Charles W.

Jun  1999  When History and Faith Collide: Studying Jesus

 

Ludemann, Gerd

— 1999  The Great Deception: What Jesus Really Said & Did

 

Mabry, John R.

—  2007 The Way of Thomas … from the Secret Sayings of Jesus.

 

Mack, Burton

Sep  2003  The Christian Myth

 

Needleman, Jacob

Sep  2003   1993 & 1985   Lost Christianity: A Journey of Rediscovery

REFERENCES (Cont’d)

 

(Books that speak for a change in our interpretation of the Christian religion)

 

 

Pagels, Elaine

Feb 2006  The Gospel of Thomas

Apr 1979  Gnostic Gospels

 

Patterson, Stephen J.

            May 1998  The God of Jesus

Apr  1993  Gospel of Thomas

 

Robinson, James M.

Feb 2007   Jesus According to the Earliest Witness

 

Smith, Huston

Sep  2006 The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition

 

 James M. Robinson and Helmut Koester,

—    2006 Trajectories Through Early Christianity

Sep 2006 Gospel of Jesus: In Search of the Original Good News, James Robinson.

 

John Shelby Spong,

Nov 2011, Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World,

            Sep  2002  A New Christianity for a New World

May 1999  Why Christianity Must Change or Die

 

Taussig, Hal

May2006  A New Spiritual Home: Progressive Christianity

             —   2002  Re-imagining Life Together in America: A New Gospel of Community

—   1997  Re-imagining Christian Origins

 

Wink, Walter

            Jul   2006  Jesus’ Third Way

 

 

 

 

Review & Commentary

or, use the form below to post a comment or a review!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>