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Fun with the Jewish Christian Gospels

Yesterday in my graduate seminar we spent three hours analyzing the three so-called “Jewish-Christian Gospels.” These are very tricky texts to deal with. We don’t have any manuscripts of them – even small fragments. They come to us, instead, in the quotations of church fathers such as Origen, Didymus the Blind, Jerome, and Epiphanius. These (orthodox) church fathers sometimes quoted or referred to one or the other of the Gospels in order to relate what it said; and sometimes it was in order to attack what it said. There are all sorts of questions raised about these no-longer surviving Gospels in these quotations.

A good part of the problem is that some of these fathers – especially Jerome, on whom we depend for most of our information for two of the three Gospels – quite obviously confused things, or were confused themselves in what they had to say, since what they have to say about these Gospels doesn’t add up and in the end doesn’t make sense. On this every scholar who works on these things agrees.


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Harmonizing the Gospels
My PhD Seminar: Early Christian Apocrypha



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    toddfrederick  September 11, 2013

    That is fascinating. I am so interested in what all of these other sources have to say.

    What I appreciate most is that from these gospels we realize that there were many other groups who wrote about the Jesus event and that there was (and is) more than one way of looking at it. Not just the “orthodox” groups.

    On a contemporary note, related to your blog entry today, there was an article in our local newspaper, The Fresno Bee, regarding the Syria situation. It has to do with a tiny town named Maaloula, about 35 miles northeast of Demascus along the border with Lebanon. This is a very ancient Christian town and the residents speak ancient Aramaic, according to the news report. It has the Shrine of St. Takhla.

    It was just captured by the rebels, the Farouk Brigade, who said, “We cleansed Maaloula from all the Assad dogs and all his thugs.” This group is related to the Nusra Front and they posted many videos on Facebnook about the capture of this small town.

    These are strict Muslim fundamentalists, and there is great concern for the safety of the Christian occupants and the ancient Christian sites in that area that the strict Muslim rebels captured since they vow to destroy all things Christian.

    The author of the article is Mitchell Prothero who is with the McClatchy Foreign Staff. If you are interested I can email a copy of this article…it is rather short on details however. I would like to know more.

    My reason for mentioning this is that I thought Aramaic was a “dead” language as far as being used in a conversational way, as this article stated:

    “Its residents, who still speak Aramaic, the language Jesus is thought to most likely to have spoken, are loyal to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.”

    This got me thinking about what ancient languages are still used today.

    When I was teaching elementary school, I had a few students who were Assyrian Christians and said they spoke a form of Assyrian at home. How about Coptic and Koine Greek? Any other ancient languages still spoken?

    This would make for a very interesting blog entry…”What ancient languages are spoken today?”

    What do you think about this question and also about the town of Maaloula?

    Thank you

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 11, 2013

      Yes, I did know that a form of Aramaic still survives. Greek of course is still spoken, but it’s very different now. Latin is spoken, but it’s the ancient Latin that is spoken. Coptic still survives in modern dress as well. And Hebrew. So, well, most of the ones that people are familiar with!

  2. gmatthews
    gmatthews  September 11, 2013

    This sounds like a fascinating subject and I’m looking forward to whatever else you have to say about it. Something that you said reminded of a question I’ve been wondering about for some time. You said that you were particularly intrigued by the Gospel of the Ebionites. What other “hot topics” in early Christian writings are there at the moment that have your attention?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 11, 2013

      Ah, lots! I mention a number of them onthe blog. Right now I’m spending lots of time on Apocryphal Gospels broadly.

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    EricBrown  September 11, 2013

    It would seem odd to me that the Ebionites (if the naming of the Gospel has any relationship to the same-named sect as decribed in the definitive Teaching Company Course by one Prof Bart Ehrman) would seek to harmonize the canonical gospels. I thought they wouldn’t have come close to liking the Christology of any of them (except perhaps some watered down version of Mark?), so why would they try to harmonize texts they rejected completely?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 11, 2013

      Great quesiton! My sense is that the author is simply trying to explain how there could be three versions of the same event. Maybe he wasn’t actually thinking about Matthew, Mark, and Luke — but simply of the three versions he had heard.

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    Pofarmer  September 11, 2013

    On another site http://www.strangenotions.com/questioning-the-historicity-of-jesus/# They are discussing where Nazareth came into the synoptic Gospels, as there really doesn’t seem to be much mention of it in an OT prophesy. Is it possible that whatever prophesy was part of something lost from these essentially lost groups?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 11, 2013

      I’m not quite sure what you’re asking. Nazareth does not show up in any source (OT or otherwise) before the NT. But it certainly existed. Archaeologists have dug parts of it up!

      • Avatar
        Pofarmer  September 12, 2013

        Thank you Dr. Ehrman. For some reason, I was thinking that the actual city/town of Nazareth hadn’t been found. That will teach me to Google!

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    dewdds  September 11, 2013

    Fascinating. This begs another Q though. As I understand it, the Diatessaron is a Gospel harmony of sorts for its own community of Chrisitians at its time. Dr. Ehrman, are you familiar with how this work addresses the baptismal scene with John the Baptist and Jesus?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 11, 2013

      Well, no one is, since we no longer have any copies of the Diatessaron! I’ll say a few words about it on the blog soon.

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    dennis  September 11, 2013

    ” that it was in fact an altered version of the canonical Gospel according to Matthew ” Would it not make more sense that the Gospel ( s ) written in the language of the actual participants was the original and what we now have as the Gospel of Matthew is the altered version ?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 11, 2013

      Yes, some ancient authors thought that as well. But not about the “heretical” version in Hebrew!!

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    RonaldTaska  September 11, 2013

    It is my understanding that during the Protestant Reformation, Protestants dropped 7 books of the Septuagint from the canon. I am trying to find out why this was done. Can you explain this and can you give me any references summarizing this matter? Thanks.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 12, 2013

      The Apocrypha are books in the Septuagint, included in the Jewish Bible, but not found in the Hebrew Bible. And so Jews and Protestants do not count them as among the biblical books. You can probably get decent information just by googling Apocrypha.

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