Many people who think about how the Gospels circulated in early Christianity have a pretty simple — or rather, overly simplified (in my view) — understanding of how it all worked. I include among those “many people” a number of Gospel experts. In fact, including a lot of the top experts. The issue is this: what earlier accounts of the life, sayings, deeds, death, and resurrection were in circulation and used in the production of later accounts (say at the end of the first and into the second century). I’ll talk about it here with reference to Papyrus Egerton 2, about which I’ve only said a few things.
Scholars have traditionally thought of the four canonical Gospels as THE Gospels that were available, so that when a new Gospel like the Unknown Gospel in Papyrus Egerton 2 appeared the question always was: WHICH of the canonical Gospels was the author familiar with (and which did he use). I challenged that view in my earlier post. We shouldn’t think that there were basically FOUR, and everything else was dependent more or less on the four. There were lots floating around all at the same time. The four became THE four only by the end of the second century at the earliest.
But I’m still wrestling with how to imagine the situation at the end of the first and beginning of the second century. For some years now I’ve imagined two scenarios, and I’m not sure which is better.