short for the German word Quelle (which is source). Q is one of the two
sources for Matthew and Luke, the other being old Mark, but the unknown
lost source is now named Q. While this subject comes up under the subject
heading of Q hypothesis - (synoptics criticism), since the discovery of
the Gospel of Thomas, it really isn't a hypothesis anymore. But it looks
like that subject heading will stick. But more and more books are indexing
Q as Sayings Gospel Q. The first layer of Q is known as Q1.
11, 2005: Two
years ago I wrote a bit about Christianity
based on the research I had done up to that point. In recent months, I
have revisited the subject at the suggestion of several people, one of
whom promoted the book by Tony Bushby, The
Bible Fraud. This book was already on hand in our library, but
I had discarded it in disgust at the time I originally began to read it
(in 2002, I believe) because I had noted a "twisting" of the
facts in the first chapter. However, at the urging of a correspondent,
I revisited this book, reading it through to the end. Indeed, there were
a number of interesting references, but again I found it to be a frustrating
read because these references were often used in a very loose way intended
to support the incredible leaps of assumption, and a wholly fantastic
story. Bushby, like so many others, began with the assumption that at
least SOME of the "facts" of the narrative gospels were true,
however distorted or misrepresented.
any event, reading Bushby's book started me off on the search for Christian
origins again, and that led me to The
Lost Gospel by Burton L. Mack. Let me say in advance that I highly
recommend this book, and I hope that the excerpts I am going to present
here will stimulate interest in the details that Mack presents in his
fascinating discussion of the discovery of Q (the theorized source document
for the basic ideas of Jesus) and the subsequent analyses that helped
to extract the truth of early Christian history.
begins his discussion saying:
a time, before there were gospels of the kind familiar to readers of
the New Testament, the first followers of Jesus wrote another kind of
book. Instead of telling a dramatic story about Jesus' life, their book
contained only his teachings. They lived with these teachings ringing
in their ears and thought of Jesus as the founder of their movement.
But their focus was not on the person of Jesus or his life and destiny.
They were engrossed with the social program that was called for by his
teachings. Thus their book was not a gospel of the Christian kind, namely
a narrative of the life of Jesus as the Christ. Rather it was a gospel
of Jesus' sayings, a "sayings gospel." His first followers
arranged these sayings in a way that offered instructions for living
creatively in the midst of a most confusing time, and their book served
them well as a handbook and guide for most of the first Christian century.
book was lost... to history somewhere in the course of the late first
century when stories of Jesus' life began to be written and became the
more popular form of charter document for early Christian circles. [...]
first followers of Jesus, the importance of Jesus as the founder of
their movement was directly related to the significance they attached
to his teachings. What mattered most was the body of instructions that
circulated in his name, what these teachings called for in terms of
ideas, attitudes, and behavior, and the difference these instructions
made in the lives of those who took them seriously. But as the Jesus
movement spread, groups in different locations and changing circumstances
began to think about the kind of life Jesus must have lived. Some began
to think of him in the role of a sage, for instance, while others thought
of him as a prophet, or even as an exorcist who had appeared to rid
the world of its evils. This shift from interest in Jesus' teachings
to questions about Jesus' person, authority, and social role eventually
produced a host of different mythologies.
that is most familiar to Christians of today developed in groups that
formed in northern Syria and Asia Minor. There Jesus' death was first
interpreted as a martyrdom and then embellished as a miraculous event
of crucifixion and resurrection. This myth drew on Hellenistic mythologies
that told about the destiny of a divine being (or son of God). Thus
these congregations quickly turned into a cult of the resurrected or
transformed Jesus whom they now referred to as the Christ... The congregation
of the Christ ... experienced a striking shift in orientation, away
from the teachings of Jesus [...]
gospels began to appear. [...] These gospels combined features of the
martyr myth from the Christ cult with traditions about Jesus as he had
been remembered in the Jesus movements, thereby locating the significance
of Jesus in the story of his deeds and destiny. Naturally, these gospels
came to a climax in an account of his trial, crucifixion, and resurrection
from the dead. They followed a plot that was first worked out by Mark
during the 70s in the wake of the Roman-Jewish war. The plot collapsed
the time between the events of Jesus' life and the destruction of the
Jerusalem temple which took place during the war. Mark achieved this
plot by making connections between two sets of events (Jesus' death
and the temple's destruction) that could only have been imagined after
the war. His gospel appears to have been the earliest full-blown written
composition along these lines, but once it was conceived, all the narrative
gospels used this same basic plot. [...]
followers of Jesus could not have imagined, nor did they need, such
a mythology to sustain them in their efforts to live according to his
teachings. Their sayings gospel was quite sufficient for the Jesus movement
as they understood it. [...] Even after the narrative gospels became
the rage, the saying gospel was still intact. It was still being copied
and read with interest by ever-widening circles. And it was available
in slightly different versions in the several groups that continued
to develop within the Jesus movement. Eventually, the narrative gospels
prevailed as the preferred portrayal for Christians, and the sayings
gospel finally was lost to the historical memory of the Christian church.
not for the fact that two authors of narrative gospels incorporated
sizable portions of the sayings gospel into their stories of Jesus'
life, the sayings gospel of the first followers of Jesus would have
disappeared without a trace in the transitions taking place. [...] But
Matthew and Luke each had a copy of the sayings gospel... It was this
fortuitous coincidence that made it possible in recent times to recover
the book [...]
Q carefully, it is possible to catch sight of those earlier followers
of Jesus. We can see them on the road, at the market, and at one another's
homes. We can hear them talking about appropriate behavior; we can sense
the spirit of the movement and their attitudes about the world. A sense
of purpose can be traced through subtle changes in their attitudes toward
other groups over a period of two or three generations of vigorous social
experimentation. It is a lively picture. And it is complete enough to
reconstruct the history that happened between the time of Jesus and
the emergence of the narrative gospels that later gave the Christian
church its official account of Christian beginnings.
thing about the people of Q is that they were not Christians. They did
not think of Jesus as a messiah or the Christ. They did not take his
teachings as an indictment of Judaism. They did not regard his death
as a divine, tragic, or saving event. And they did not imagine that
he had been raised from the dead to rule over a transformed world. Instead,
they thought of him as a teacher whose teachings made it possible to
live with verve in troubled times. Thus they did not gather to worship
in his name, honor him as a god, or cultivate his memory through hymns,
prayers, and rituals. They did not form a cult of the Christ... The
people of Q were Jesus people, not Christians. [...]
In Q there
is no hint of a select group of disciples, no program to reform the
religion or politics of Judaism, no dramatic encounter with the authorities
in Jerusalem, no martyrdom for the cause, much less a martyrdom with
saving significance for the ills of the world, and no mention of a first
church in Jerusalem. The people of Q simply did not understand their
purpose to be a mission to the Jews, or to gentiles for that matter.
They were not out to transform the world or start a new religion.
to the popular conception of Christian origins is therefore clear. If
the conventional view of Christian beginnings is right, how are we to
account for these first followers of Jesus? Did they fail to get his
message? Were they absent when the unexpected happened? Did they carry
on in ignorance or in repudiation of the Christian gospel of salvation?
If, however, the first followers of Jesus understood the purpose of
their movement just as Q describes it, how are we to account for the
emergence of the Christ cult, the fantastic mythologies of the narrative
gospels, and the eventual establishment of the Christian church and
religion? Q forces the issue of rethinking Christian origins as no other
document from the earliest times has done. [...]
in view the entire landscape of early Christian history and literature
has to be revised. [...]
gospels can no longer be viewed as the trustworthy accounts of unique
and stupendous historical events at the foundation of the Christian
faith. The gospels must now be seen as the result of early Christian
mythmaking. Q forces the issue, for it documents an earlier history
that does not agree with the narrative gospel accounts. [...]
raised are profound and far reaching. [...] They strike to the heart
of an entrenched reluctance in our society to discuss the mythic foundations
for attitudes and values, both shared and conflictual, that influence
the way we think, behave, and construct our institutions. Q can hardly
be discussed without engaging in some honest talk about Christian myth
and the American dream. [The
Lost Gospel by Burton L. Mack]
you can say that again!
as a whole, are not comfortable with myth. Again and again we hear stories
about this or that group of Fundies that want to ban such things as The
Wizard of Oz, or Harry Potter, or Grimm's Fairy Tales.
We hear stories of censorship and exclusion of other ideas. The Christian
mentality takes itself and its own myths way too seriously. They have
to in order to maintain their "rightness." This "rightness"
is fundamental to the lynchpin of Christianity: Faith.
can "move mountains" is promoted by Christianity as the necessary thing
that the "faithful" must cultivate in order to receive the benefits that
are promised by the religion. And so it seems that admitting, reading,
discussing, myths in general is perceived as opening a door to the insinuation
that maybe - just maybe - Christianity itself might be a myth.
of Abrahamís willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, has been trotted
out for ages as the supreme example of how one is to approach the "god".
One must be willing to give the god anything and everything! This "Faith"
is an essential part of the "covenant" with the god - a sort of "act of
trade", so to say. You must "believe in Jesus and his atonement"
to be saved.
happen if a good Christian was to read the myths of other cultures and
discover that the story about the almost sacrifice of Abraham in the Bible
is actually nearly identical to a Vedic story of Manu? Mack writes about
the Christian resistance to myth as follows:
resistance [to myth] is ... a peculiarity integral to the Christian
myth itself. The Christian myth was generated in a social experiment
aware of its recent beginnings, and because the myth was about those
beginnings, early Christians imagined their myth as history. The myth
focused on the importance of Jesus as the founder figure of the movements,
congregations, and institutions Christians were forming. Thus history
and myth were fused into a single characterization, and the myths of
origin were written and imagined as having happened at a recent time
and in a specific place.
of the second, third, and fourth centuries found themselves troubled
by the resemblance of their myths to both Greek and Jewish mythologies.
They could distance themselves from these other cultures and distinguish
their myths from the others only by emphasizing the recent historical
setting of their myths and the impression given by the narrative gospels
that the myths really happened. [The
Lost Gospel by Burton L. Mack]
to be so is that it is generally individuals who have been "disenfranchised"
or who feel helpless and at the mercy of the forces of life - whether
they manifest through other people or random events - who are those most
likely to seek such faith, such a surety that their myths, and theirs
alone, are the RIGHT ones. They feel acutely their own inability to have
an effect in the world, and they turn their creativity inward to create
and maintain their subjective "faith" in opposition to objective reality.
then spend an enormous amount of energy editing out all impressions that
are contrary to their system of illusion. They become "The Right
Man" (or woman). It
is extremely important to get others to believe in their illusion in order
to confirm its "rightness", even if they claim, on the surface, that "everyone
has the right to their own opinion". The fact is, they cannot tolerate
anyone elseís opinion if it is different from their own because it threatens
their "rightness". And this is the reason that they are so "serious"
and rejecting of such frivolity as myths, fairy tales, and so on.
must be maintained at all costs because, deep inside, the Right
Man (or woman) is usually struggling with horror at their own helplessness.
Their rightness is a dam that holds back their worst fears: that they
are lost and alone and that there really is no god, because how could
there be a god who loves them if they have to suffer so much? Their inability
to feel truly loved and accepted deep within is, in effect, like being
stranded in a nightmare from which they cannot wake up.
is the thing that, historically, has caused individuals to engage in violence
against other human beings.
can be induced by manipulations and promises of heavenly or other rewards,
this "rightness" of oneís views, of oneís god, and what the god is supposedly
"revealing" to the leader, and this can then be used to manipulate other
people to do oneís bidding.
And so it
seems that the requirement of "faith" and "worship" of an object of cultic
value such as Jehovah, Yahweh, Jesus or Allah is the means by which human
beings can be induced to commit atrocities upon other human beings.
is not what the Jesus people were about originally.
shows how the Jesus movement was a vigorous social experiment that was
generated for reasons other than an "originating event" such
as a "religious experience" or the "birth of the son of
movement seems to have been a response to troubled and difficult times.
Mack outlines and describes the times, and shows how the pressures of
the milieu led to thinking new thoughts about traditional values and experimenting
with associations that crossed ethnic and cultural boundaries. The Jesus
movement was composed of novel social notions and lifestyles that denied
and rejected traditional systems of honor based on power, wealth, and
place in hierarchical social structures. Ancient religious codes of ritual
purity, taboos against intercourse across ethnic boundaries, were rejected.
People were encouraged to think of themselves as belonging to the larger,
human family. Q says: "If you embrace only your brothers, what more
are you doing than others?"
people not only rejected the old order of things, they were actively at
work on the questions of what ideal social order they wanted to manifest
and promote. The attraction of the Jesus people to its followers was not
at all based on any ideas to reform a religious tradition that had gone
wrong, nor was it even thought of as a new religion in any way. It was
quite simply a social movement that sought to enhance human values that
grew out of an unmanageable world of confusing cultures and social histories.
It was a group of like-minded individuals that created a forum for thinking
about the world in new ways, coming up with new ideas that included the
shocking notion that an ethnically mixed group could form its own kind
of community and live by its own rules. Mack writes:
no one was in charge of the groups that formed around such teachings.
Conversation and mutual support were enough to encourage an individual
to act "naturally," as if the normal expectations of acquiescence
to social conventions did not apply. As groups formed in support of
like-minded individuals, however, loyalty to the Jesus movement strengthened,
a social vision for human well-being was generated within the group,
and social codes for the movement had to be agreed upon . Why not ask
when in need and share what one had when asked, they wondered? Eventually,
therefore, the Jesus movement took the form of small groups meeting
together as extended families in the heady pursuit of what they called
human community based on fictive kinship without regard to standard
taboos against association based on class, status, gender, or ethnicity
would have created quite a stir, and would have been its own reward.
Since there was no grand design for actualizing such a vision, different
groups settled into practices that varied from one another. Judging
from the many forms of community that developed within the Jesus movement,
as documented in literature that begins to appear toward the end of
the first century, these groups continued to share a basic set of attitudes.
They all had a certain critical stance toward the way life was lived
in the Greco-Roman world. They all struggled not to be determined by
the emptiness of human pursuits in a world of codes they held to be
superficial. [...] Despite these agreements, however, every group went
its own way and drew different conclusions about what to think and do.
Lost Gospel by Burton L. Mack]
to reconstructing the times in which the Jesus people lived, Mack presents
the Q document itself, showing that it was built up in three layers, each
layer being additions made in response to external pressures on the group.
What is most interesting is the analysis of the first layer, the one that
must be composed of the actual teachings of the man called Jesus. It seems
that Jesus' challenge to his followers was to take a deeper look at their
world and challenge it in how they lived their lives.
of teachings, or sayings, emerged from the study of Q, and each of these
express a coherent set of issues. These sayings comprise a comprehensive
set of sage observations that delight in critical comment on the everyday
world and unorthodox instructions that recommend unconventional behavior!
The ever-present theme of Jesus' teachings was a review of life and conventional
values that promoted the idea that customary pretensions are hollow, wealth,
learning, possessions, secrets, rank, and power are meaningless in terms
of the true value of a human being. Jesus was promoting the idea that
the Emperor is naked, though in no way did he propose any idea of changing
the system. Implicit in his critique is the idea that there is a better
way to live. The challenge was to be able to live without being consumed
with worry even if one was fully aware that the world "out there"
was a dangerous jungle that required care to navigate.
analyzed and compared with other norms of the time, Jesus emerges as a
man living the life of the popular philosophy of the Cynic. This is striking
because the Cynics are remembered as distinctly unlovable because they
promoted biting sarcasm and public behavior that was designed to call
attention to the absurdity of standard conventions. Cynics were:
of conventional values and oppressive forms of government. [...] Their
gifts and graces ranged from the endurance of a life of renunciation
in full public view, through the courage to offer social critique in
high places, to the learning and sophistication required for the espousal
of Cynic views at the highest level of literary composition. Justly
famous as irritants to those who lived by the system and enjoyed the
blessings of privilege, prosperity, and power, the Cynics were rightly
regarded for their achievement in honing the virtue of self-sufficiency
in the midst of uncertain times.
sayings of Jesus in Q show that his followers thought of him as a Cynic-like
philosophers of a natural way of life did not wander off to suffer in
silence. Their props were a setup for a little game of gotcha with the
citizens of the town. [...] The Cynic's purpose was to point out the
disparities sustained by the social system and refuse to let the system
put him in his place. [...] The marketplace was the Cynic's platform,
the place to display a living example of freedom from social and cultural
constraints, and a place from which to address townspeople about the
current state of affairs. [...] The challenge for a Cynic was to see
the humor in a situation and quickly turn it to advantage. [...]
time there is no single social role with which to compare the ancient
Cynics. But we do recognize the social critic and take for granted a
number of ways in which social and cultural critique are expressed.
These compare nicely with various aspects of the Cynic's profession.
For example, we are accustomed to the social critique of political cartoonists,
standup comedians, and especially of satire in the genre of the cabaret.
All of these use humor to make their point. We are also accustomed to
social critique in a more serious and philosophical vein, such as that
represented by political commentary. And there is precedent for taking
up an alternative lifestyle as social protest, from the utopian movement
of the nineteenth century, to the counterculture movement of the 1960s,
to the environmentalist protest of the 1980s and 1990s. The list could
be greatly expanded, for much modern entertainment also sets its scenes
against the backdrop of the unexamined taboos and prejudices prevailing
in our time. Each of these approaches to critical assessment of our
society (satire, commentary, and alternative lifestyle), bears some
resemblance to the profession of the Cynic sage in late antiquity. [...]
the Cynic's wit should not divert our attention from their sense of
vocation and purpose. Epictetus wrote that the Cynic could be likened
to a spy or scout from another world or kingdom, whose assignment was
to observe human behavior and render a judgment upon it. The Cynic could
also be likened to a physician sent to diagnose and heal a society's
ills. [...] The Stoics sometimes claimed the Cynics as their precursors.
were much more interested in the question of virtue, or how an individual
should live given the failure of social and political systems to support
what they called a natural way of life. They borrowed freely from any
and every popular ethical philosophy, such as that of the Stoics, to
get a certain point across. That point was the cost to one's intelligence
and integrity if one blindly followed social convention and accepted
its customary rationalizations. [...]
most, they said, was a sense of personal worth and integrity. One should
not allow others to determine one's worth on the scale of social position.
One already possessed all the resources one needed to live sanely and
well by virtue of being a human being. Why not be true to the way in
which the world actually impinges upon you [objectively]? Say what you
want and what you mean. Respond to a situation as you see it in truth,
not as the usual proprieties dictate. Do not let the world squeeze you
into its mold. Speak up and act out. The invitation was to take courage
and swim against the social currents that threatened to overwhelm and
silence a person's sense of verve. [...]
people are best understood as those who noticed the challenge of the
times in Galilee. They took advantage of the mix of peoples to tweak
the authorities of any cultural tradition that presumed to set the standard
for others. They found a way to encourage one another in the pursuit
of sane and simple living. And they developed a discourse that exuded
the Cynic spirit. [...]
were not a major concern. Behavior was what mattered and the arena for
the action was in public. The public sphere was not subjected to a systematic
analysis, however, as if society's ills had been traced to this or that
particular cause. The social world was under review, to be sure, for
the behavior recommended was intentionally non-conventional, mildly
disruptive, and implicitly countercultural. But there is no indication
that the purpose of this behavior was to change society at large. The
way society worked in general was taken for granted, in the sense of
"What more can one expect?" Instead, the imperatives were
addressed to individuals as if they could live by other rules if they
chose to do so. [...] It is important to see that the purpose of the
change was not a social reform. The Jesus people were not organizing
to fight Roman power or to reform Jewish religion. [The
Lost Gospel by Burton L. Mack]
many responded to the movement and associations of like-minded people
began to form. And then, something very interesting happened... Suddenly,
in the next layer of Q, a heightened sense of belonging to a movement
becomes obvious because injunctions given as aphorisms now become rules
supported by arguments. At this point, the idea of the "Kingdom of
God" enters the picture. This "Kingdom" was, apparently,
a realm or domain in which the rule of God is actualized. The rule of
God is what the Q people said they were representing in the world. For
the Jesus people, this meant something quite different from what Christians
now assume it to mean. First of all, there was nothing at all apocalyptic
about it (all that came later). For the Jesus people, the Kingdom of
God was compared repeatedly to the natural process of growth as witnessed
in Nature. Everything about this "Kingdom of God" was practical,
having to do with things that can be accomplished in contrast to the conventional
can be announced, desired, affirmed, claimed, and signaled in a given
human exchange. Thus the link between the notion of the rule of God
and the pattern of Q's countercultural practices is very, very strong.
present forms of rule were far from the ideal, and the people knew it,
something other than philosophical speculation was called for. The ideal
kingdom had to be imagined as an alternative order with some relation
to the present status quo. [...]
of rule or kingship came to be used as a metaphor for personal self-control.
The term king no longer had to refer to an actual ruler, and kingdom
no longer had to refer to a political domain. "King" became
a metaphor of a human being at its "highest" imaginable level,
whether by endowment, achievement, ethical excellence, or mythical ideal.
"Kingdom" became a metaphor for the "sovereignty"
manifest in the "independent bearing," "freedom,"
"confidence," and self-control of the superior person, the
person of ethical integrity who thus could "rule" his "world"
internalized the image of the king and idealized the individual who
ruled his passions and controlled his attitudes even in circumstances
where others governed his existence. Their strategy was to be hopeful
about the constructive influence of such individuals on society. A popular
Stoic maxim was "the only true king is the wise man." Cynics
were not as sanguine about the philosopher's chance of influencing social
reform, but they also used the royal metaphor to advantage. In their
case, taking control of one's life required extrication from the social
of the term kingdom of God in Q matches its use in the traditions of
popular philosophy, especially in the Cynic tradition of performing
social diagnostics in public by means of countercultural behavior. The
aphoristic imperatives recommended a stance toward life in the world
that could become the basis for an alternative community ethos and ethic
among those willing to consider an alternative social vision. [...]
The language of the rule of God in Q refers not only to the challenge
of risky living without expectation that the social world will change
but also to the exemplification of a way of life that like-minded persons
might want to share. The God in question is not identified in terms
of any ethnic or cultural tradition. [The
Lost Gospel by Burton L. Mack]
between the Cynics and the Jesus people is not exact in all cases because
the Jesus people DID have an interest in the "Divine" aspect
of "God." Unfortunately, there is little in the Q document that
explains this Divine source other than the fact that the Jesus people
represented it as a "Father" and those who could successfully
resist the ruin of social evils were the "children of God."
The way the Jesus people referred to God was a bit more serious than the
way the Cynics referred to such ideas. The Q people were concerned with
the care of their members as a "family." I would suggest that
there was a perception of differences
in human beings among the Q people, though Mack does not make a special
point of analyzing that issue.
to examine and identify the stages in the Jesus movement, including the
point at which the movement experienced rejection, criticism, and censure.
A sudden shift in tone is noted in the third layer of Q. This is one of
the more interesting parts of the book which describes an extremely troubled
phase of the movement. There is a concern with loyalty noted, which suggests
that there had been pressure from some outside authority, and betrayal
from within. At this point, the role of Jesus was expanded, and this seems
to have been related to mutual recognition of other "Jesus people."
The movement must have been growing quite fast and threatening the authorities,
and some action must have been taken which resulted in the need to find
criteria for who was or was not a real follower of the teachings. So it
was that concern for loyalty to the teachings resulted in the need to
recast Jesus as the authoritative founder of the movement whose teachings
must be "kept". That is to say, the shift in focus was from
the teachings to the teacher. The next step was, of course, loyalty to
is, of course, what happened? The document doesn't tell us, though it
hints at the nature of the problem by virtue of the additional text that
dealt with the issues. There were, obviously, painful experiences that
were turned to a lesson. Mack suggests that the formation of Jesus people
"families" must have seriously offended certain authorities.
for loyalty to the movement is matched by signs of social distress.
Tensions within the movement are indicated by the saying on scandals
and the instruction to forgive a brother if he has a change of heart.
But changes of heart have apparently not been the rule. Families have
been torn asunder and the divisions have been rationalized as fully
in keeping with the importance and purpose of the movement. Painful?
Yes, but to be expected.
that families were being split, and ethnic conventions were being personally
challenged over loyalty to the movement. The evidence indicates that this
occurred in relation to Judaism.
of the Beelzebub accusation is about rejection, conflict, and labeling
Jesus and his followers as agents of a foreign (Syrian) god. Jesus'
retort about "your sons" turns the challenge back upon his
questioners and directs the issue of conflict to the social world that
Jesus shares with them. There are instructions about what to do in case
one is called before the village authorities. [...]
of Q2 had not organized their movement to become a society with membership
requirements and officers, much less with rites of entrance. But the
rule of God that they represented was certainly in the process of being
reconceived as a discrete domain or kingdom, and there was now a great
deal of talk about "entering into" the kingdom or being excluded
from it. [...] Loyalty to the Jesus movement had run up against the
challenge of Jewish propriety and the question of belonging to the people
of God as the children of Abraham, or Israel. And the Jesus people had
taken this challenge seriously. The evidence for this includes the repeated
appeals to biblical traditions, the preaching of John about the children
of Abraham, the import of the Beelzebub accusation, and the list of
counter charges leveled against Pharisees and lawyers. [The
Lost Gospel by Burton L. Mack]
Here we find
the most fascinating twist of all in the development of Christianity.
If the Jesus people had not been attacked by the Jewish authorities, they
would not have sought to justify their movement in terms of the Jewish
religion. It was only in defense that they did this. They ran afoul of
the Pharisaic code, probably because they had Jewish members whose families
were horrified at the participation of their children or relatives in
the new movement. The issue of loyalty came to be phrased as a "Jewish"
question, and the Jesus people felt they had to answer it in Jewish terms.
easily understand how this situation might have developed if loyalties
to the Jesus movement began to wear and tear at the fabric of families
and villages in which Jewish sensibilities were strong. One can imagine
a family worried about the involvement of some of its members in the
Jesus movement. Attempts at dissuasion could have and must have taken
many forms. But insisting upon traditional family loyalties, throwing
up Pharisaic standards, and making arguments for preserving Jesus' identity
were apparently the ploys that struck home. They were in any case the
ones that got a response from the Q people. And they triggered a spate
of counter-charges that determined the emerging self-identification
of the Jesus movement. [...]
against the Pharisees and lawyers are especially interesting in this
regard. The issues under debate were just what one might expect - washings,
giving to charity, tithes, justice, honor, and knowledge. The list combines
items typical for the Pharisaic code of ritual purity with items for
which scribal representatives of the temple system of courts and taxation
would be known. Such standards had apparently been held up as exemplary
by families and village leaders seeking to chide their Jesus people
into postures of propriety. Apparently the people of Q were not impressed.
their Cynic heritage, the Jesus people were still capable of engaging
in a bit of caustic riposte. The Pharisees were like tombs (so much
for their desire to be honored), and the lawyers treated people like
beasts of burden (so much for their claims to know the law and administer
behold, the people of Q linked the Pharisees and lawyers to the history
of what their fathers did to the prophets. ...
some ante. ...
It is clear
that the offense had registered and that the defense would be to beat
the Jewish exemplars at their own game. [The
Lost Gospel by Burton L. Mack]
And so it
was that the Jesus people turned to the labor of mythmaking. They had
to find ways to best their critics by turning their own words against
them. They began to search for self-justifying arguments, examples in
support of their own movement. They were only doing it in the sense of
the Cynic system of argumentation, but the results were nonlinear. What
they presented as their arguments was then adopted as REAL, and the Jesus
people made an implicit claim on the cultural heritage of the Jews.
It is clear
that the individuals who did this were not well versed in the Jewish writings.
They made no appeals to such obvious things as the promises to the patriarchs,
the priestly covenants, the Mosaic law, the Davidic covenant, and so on.
Most of the allusions to Judaism were taken from popular oral traditions
that would have been available to non-Jews of the time.
It is almost
as if, when challenged by a Jewish orthodoxy, the Galileans appealed
to what they knew of the popular epic traditions of Israel generally
shared by Jews, Samaritans, and Galileans. [...] The people of Q worked
these stories to their own advantage on the one hand, and to the detriment
of their detractors' claims to represent the true form of Israel on
the other. [...]
people were encouraged to think of themselves as "fortunate"
because they were treated just as the prophets had been treated [by
the Jews in ancient times.] The logic was that the epic tradition supported
the Jesus people because they, like the prophets, registered appropriate
criticism of the status quo. The motif of the killing of the prophets
could also be cited to embarrass their detractors because they, just
as the fathers always had done to the prophets, were wrongfully "persecuting"
and "killing" the Jesus people. [...] The way the Jesus people
of Q used the motif was not a particularly clever manipulation of the
Hebrew scriptures of the logical thrust of the biblical epic. They simply
took what there was in the Jewish reservoir of stock images and turned
it against their detractors. [...]
was a popping of pompous balloons and a freaky delight in seeing themselves
reflected in the story at its most embarrassing turns. Think of Jonah.
Were the Ninevites Jews? No. Did they not repent at Jonah's preaching?
Yes. Now think of Jesus and the Jesus movement in the very same light,
of the South (Sheba)? Was she a Jew? No. Did Solomon withhold his wisdom
from her? No. See? Something greater even than Solomon is here.
story of Noah? Be careful whose side you are on. Everyone else perished
you know. It is going to be the same story... And the same goes for
Lot and the city of Sodom. He was called out; they were destroyed.
is your epic, they seemed to be saying, if you want to know what we
are about, read it. [...]
certainly was not generated by an apocalyptic hysteria or persuasion
of imminent judgment any more than it was by a drive to reform or restore
some ethnic identity based on the promise inherent in the biblical epic
of Israel. In both cases, the appeal to examples from the epic and the
threat of an apocalyptic judgment, the Q people invaded the territory
of their Jewish detractors and used their own idioms against them.
once involved in such an imaginative exercise, polemical as it surely
was at first, a curious fascination with the broadened horizon seems
to have developed. To think of the Jesus movement taking its place in
the grand scheme of things, from the very "foundation of the world"
to the "day when the son of man appears" was not a bad idea.
No one could have started, either with the thrust of the Hebrew epic,
or with the pull of an apocalyptic hope, and come up with a plan for
just such a movement as the Jesus movement. But once it was there as
a movement in the process of social formation, worthy of the loyalties
of those within and threatened by the cuffs of those without, finding
a place in the sun was exactly what the movement needed. And what a
place to take, aligned with the "little ones" whose pedigree
reached back to the beginning and who already knew in advance how the
final judgment would go. [The
Lost Gospel by Burton L. Mack]
takes the reader through the process of exactly how the subsequent myth
was built, layer by layer, and it is fascinating. Effectively, what happened
was that a group of people created a myth of broad - even global - horizons
by elaborating on the sayings of an unlikely sage of Cynic persuasion
who was reconceived as a wisdom teacher, an apocalyptic prophet, the son
of God, and the means of atonement for all the world's sins if people
will just "believe." By degrees, Jesus was saying things that
only the wisdom of God could reveal. An amazing accommodation with Jewish
piety against which earlier battles had raged was made, and Jesus was
now quoting scriptures as proof texts that he was the son of God whose
kingdom would only be revealed at the end of time.
us back to the fact that Christians don't like myths. At some level they
surely know that Christianity based on the narrative gospels is a myth,
but they are in denial. They cannot deal with the fact that, for the original
followers of the teachings of Jesus , there was no need to claim any epic
legitimacy. To them, Jesus was simply a Cynic sage whose insights were
tried and tested and found to be good. His success was in his masterful
Cynic discourse that challenged others to try a different way of living.
ironic thing about the development of Christianity as a global religion
is that it has aligned itself with Judaism as a "daughter" when,
the facts indicate that the adoption of a "Jewish" heritage
was merely the result of a defensive maneuver. The Jesus people simply
usurped the epic of their main detractors and used it against them. "Get
off our backs. Your own history should tell you that what we represent
is a critical voice in unhealthy times and has always been needed. See,
we are OK even on your own terms." It was never intended to be a
to be drawn from the story of Q are therefore obvious. The followers
of Jesus were normal human beings, responding to their times in understandable
ways, investing intellectual energy in their evolving social experiments,
and developing mythologies just as any society-in-the-making does. As
for methods and means toward the creation of a mythic universe, the
Jesus people also performed according to normal patterns. They assessed
their social and cultural context with critical care, laid claim to
the cultural traditions most relevant and ready at hand, sorted out
the combinations most appropriate to their movement, and borrowed creatively
from the mythologies current at the time. [...]
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 and standard against which the Jesus movements
have appeared as diluted accommodations to banal mentalities.[...]
a Jesus movement that was not Christian. The Jesus movement that produced
Q cannot be shunted aside as a group of people who missed the dramatic
events portrayed in the narrative gospels. They cannot be dismissed
as those who mistook Jesus, failed to understand his message, or misunderstood
their mission to found the church. The reason they cannot be dismissed
is because they were there at the beginning. Q reveals what Jesus people
thought about Jesus before there was a Christian congregation of the
type reflected in the letters of Paul, and before the idea of a narrative
gospel was even dared. [...]
Q is the
best record we have for the first forty years of the Jesus movements.
There are other snippets of early tradition about Jesus, but they all
generally agree with the evidence from Q. [...]
is absolute and critical. It drives a wedge between the story as told
in the narrative gospels and the history they are thought to record.
The narrative gospels can no longer be read as the records of historical
events that generated Christianity.
us in touch with the earlier history of the Jesus movements, and their
recollections of Jesus are altogether different. The first followers
of Jesus did not know about or imagine any of the dramatic events upon
which the narrative gospels hinge. [...] All of these events must and
can be accounted for as mythmaking in the Jesus movements, with a little
help from the martyrology of the Christ, in the period after the Roman-Jewish
war. The narrative gospels have no claim as historical accounts. The
gospels are imaginative creations whose textual resources and social
occasions can be identified. The reasons for their composition can be
explained. They are documents of intellectual labor normal for people
in the process of experimental group formation. [...]
above, we can almost understand why so many must insist on denying these
conclusions. So much energy, for two thousand years, has been put into
this mythology, into related mythologies, including an entire industry
that today tries to come up with novel and alternative explanations for
who Jesus was, whether or not he was married, did he did of a blood clot,
is the Shroud of Turin authentic, and so on and so on. It seems, based
on the Q document, that it is unlikely that Jesus was even Jewish.
Mack is NOT
saying that there was not something going on at that period of history.
Clearly there was. Clearly, there WAS a teacher and a teaching and followers.
Of that, there can be no doubt.
scholars, of course, work very hard trying to find ways to "enhance"
the picture of Jesus. For a very long time, they (and even alternative
writers such as Bushby, Lincoln, Leigh, Baigent, and others) have assumed
that Jesus was a unique individual, and his teachings and life must have
been novel. But even this approach has failed to save the story told in
the narrative gospels. When scholars reveal the results of their work
outside scholarly circles, there is generally an anguished public outcry.
People cannot bear to be told that Jesus did not say what Matthew, Mark
and Luke say he said, and the scholars who are trying to save the buns
from the fire don't seem to be able to adequately explain to the public
how they arrive at their conclusions. There is a complete lack of basic
knowledge on the part of the general public about the formations of early
Christianity, generally encouraged by the purveyors of the "religion"
itself. "Thou shalt not ask questions," they intone solemnly,
and the threats of hell-fire and damnation are intimated for those who
even open the cover of a book on the subject.
Christian is horrified to think that Matthew was either lying, or was
mistaken, or he made it all up and didn't bother to inform the reader
that he was making stuff up. Mack deals with this issue in some detail
and even if the explanation will produce discomfort in many Christians,
the explanation is "eminently understandable." The fact is,
the authors of early Christian texts, following a tradition of Greco-Roman
attitudes and practices with regard to sayings or maxims of a teacher,
felt perfectly free to attribute new sayings, and even deeds, to Jesus.
At various points in the history of these early groups, when certain tensions
arose, it was seen as necessary and useful to recast the character of
Jesus by speech attribution and narrative changes. This is exactly what
was done, and the evidence is in the textual analyses. It was in this
sense that the history of the Q community was traced.
At the first
stage, the discourse was playful and the behavior public. The people of
Q were challenging one another to live a life of integrity despite the
stage was that of forming groups. Apparently, these experiments in behavior
produced satisfying results and more and more people were attracted to
the idea. Human relationships became a particular focus, and there was
no evidence of any idea of reforming society or any demand for conversion
the third shift: apparently, when groups were formed, this attracted very
negative attention. The distress signal in the text is evident, and it
is also evident that it was not a consequence of weariness with reproach
or discouragement, but rather that there was a definite and dangerous
social conflict relating to certain members of the Q groups.
another stage occurred, a period during which the people of Q began to
see themselves as carriers of a social movement with a purpose in the
grander scheme of things.
It was in
this context that the ideas of the Christ cult of northern Syria overshadowed
and even erased the memories and importance of Jesus, the Cynic teacher.
As Mack points out, the cost of surviving the Roman-Jewish war must have
been very high. This part of the discussion is particularly interesting,
and one can speculate on the possibility of an esoteric tradition being
combined with the social experiment and coverted into a history. The "real"
Jesus disappeared from the story because the narrative gospels told a
more exciting tale that promised wonderful things in terrible times, and
Jesus became the "lynchpin" of all history.
regarding the importance of this event on our world are quite startling
considering what has transpired on the world stage since he wrote this
now is whether the discovery of Q has any chance of making a difference
in the way in which Christianity and its gospel are viewed in modern
times? The question is quite serious, because neither the university,
nor among knowledgeable people in our society, nor among the Christian
churches, have the results of biblical scholarship ever made much of
a difference. [...]
of Q effectively challenges the privilege granted the narrative gospels
as depictions of the historical Jesus. The difference between the narrative
gospels and modern retellings of the story can no longer lie in the
distinction between history and fiction. The narrative gospels are
also products of mythic imagination.
lies in the status of the gospels as foundation stories for a religion
in distinction from interpretations of that story in genres of a surrounding,
secular culture. So the modern critic who seeks to understand a public
outcry over Jesus is now confronted not only with the question of modern
myth and ancient history, but also with the more interesting question
of the reasons why the gospels are so hard for moderns to recognize
as myth. [...]
mentalities, and cultures go together. Myths are celebrated publicly
in story and song. Mentalities are nurtured just beneath the surface
of social conventions by means of unexpressed agreements. Myths, mentalities,
and cultural agreements function at a level of acceptance that might
be called sanctioned and therefore restricted from critical thought.
Myths are difficult to criticize because mentalities turn them into
truths held to be self-evident, and the analysis of such cultural assumptions
is seldom heard as good news.
myth and Western culture go together. [...]
publicly that [the American Dream] may owe something to the legacy of
western Christian culture is, on the other hand, taboo.
to this general rule occurs, interestingly enough, when pressure on
public policy and patriotism results in exaggerated expressions of those
values for which our nation stands. We have a history of such platitudes:
new world, new land, new people, righteous nation, manifest destiny,
city set on a hill, liberty enlightening the world, a beacon for the
homeless, one nation under God, moral majority, defenders of the free
world, and new world order.
signal a messianic mentality.
are not perceived to be critical, it is easy to discount these expressions
as the harmless formulations of a well-meaning people. Then we are willing
to recognize the influence of Christian symbols on our self-understanding.
But in periods of critical decision, when the rhetoric is used by our
leaders in support of some national interest, few find it easy to blow
the whistle and ask for debate on the reasonableness of attitudes rooted
in religious convictions. Why? Is it because we do not dare, or because
we do not know how to criticize our myths? [...]
We do not
know how to talk about the mentalities that underlie a culture's system
of meanings, values, and attitudes. Some cultural critics are saying
that it is time we set to work at cracking that equation.
think that the time is right. Americans have lost their sense of our
nation's innocence, though the rhetoric of the righteous nation continues
to be heard from our leaders.
history of what we have done with our technology and power throughout
the world is troubling, as are the human cries for help from around
a world grown small and yet too large to handle. The list of concerns
has run off the page, and we seem to be overloaded with unsolvable problems
and strife, and ecological responsibility. For thoughtful people, the
issues have to do with assessing the chances for constructing sane and
safe societies in a multicultural world while understanding the conditions
for predation and prejudice, power abuse, and violence. In either case,
it is irresponsible not to engage in public discussion of our own system
of cultural values. [...]
to understand ourselves and register reasons for our social options,
cultural analysis will have to include a comparative evaluation of mytholgies.
And that means having a close look at our own mythology.
help with this analysis by breaking the taboo that now grants privilege
to the Christian myth. That is because the story of Q gives us an account
of Christian origins that is not dependent upon the narrative gospels.
... Christian mythology can now be placed among the many mythologies
and ideologies of the religions and cultures of the world. The Christian
myth can be studied as any other myth is studied. It can be evaluated
for its proposal of ways to solve social problems, construct sane societies,
and symbolize human values. [...]
times are troubled for thinking Christians who wonder about the social
and political consequences of Christian mythology in its secular dress.
of Christian mythology has not always been humanizing. The Captain
America Complex, a book by Robert Jewett has traced our zealous
nationalism to its biblical roots.
have reflected deeply on the Christian persuasions that have undergirded
colonial imperialism, the taking of the West, the Indian wars, and the
have studied the relationship of the gospel story to the profile of
the American hero, the American dream, and the destructive politics
of righeousness wherever we have intervened in the affairs of peoples
around the world.
conclusion seems to be that the Christian gospel, focusing as it does
on crucifixion as the guarantee for apocalyptic salvation, has somehow
given its blessing to patterns of personal and political behavior that
often have had disastrous consequences. [...]
to Christians is therefore an invitation to join the human race, to
see ourselves with our myths on our hands and mythmaking as our task.
Lost Gospel by Burton L. Mack]
Mack's book, Tony Bushby's The
Bible Fraud is even sillier than I originally thought. It will
have to join a host of others - including Holy Blood, Holy Grail,
the Da Vinci Code, The Templar Revelation, The Jesus
Conspiracy, Jesus the Magician, and just about everything that
assumes a priori that there is ANYTHING even remotely historical in the
narrative gospels - on the trash heap.
all a fraud, no doubt about that, but not exactly the way so many
are claiming nowadays when they create their equally ridiculous "New
Age" or "alternative" mythologies to replace the Dead Man
on a Stick nonsense.
I say good
riddance to all of it.
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