OK, so there were MANY non-orthodox variations of Christianity in the early days. There are plenty now. Like the guy who heads up one large group who claims that Jesus failed to get the job done and he has been sent by God to tie up the loose ends.
Just because somebody believes something doesn't make it true.
Oops, must go. I have to clear up the mess left by a passing squadron of pigs.
The version of Christianity that was finally settled upon in the early days (see all the gospels that didn't make it into the good book) was probably the most expedient to those who had something material to gain from it. For a modern example see the Vatican, or the Islamic variation of the 'mad mullahs' and their 'I wouldn't self-emmoliate in the name of Allah, but I think you should' and this old chestnut, coined in the early days of monotheism, 'We don't hate women/gays/people of differing ethnicity, but they should know their place in the scheme of things which is firmly at the bottom.'
Most of the "gospels" that "didn't make it into" the Bible missed out because they were not actually written by the time the general concensus on which books belonged had been formed. By the early to mid second century, most of the books we have today in the New Testament had already been accepted. The four gospels we have today were generally accepted from very early on, as were most of the letters of Paul. The Revelation, the letters of John, James and Hebrews took longer to gain widespread acceptance. Only a handful of books, such as the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas and the letters of Clement, were considered by some for a time to be part of the canon, but came to be regarded as not being authoritative, and so did not make it into the final list. But as for the so called "gospels" of Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Philip, Judas and so on, not one of them ever gained any kind of widespread acceptance. They are not included in any of the listings of documents regarded as authoritative by early Christians. Among the reasons for this are the following:
a) Most of them were written well after the first century, and even in some cases, as late as the third or fourth century - by which time the alleged authors ages would have been stretching credibility somewhat :o)
b) Their content bore very little relation (to put it mildly) to the content of the canonical gospels or any other books of the Bible. Much of their content was gnostic in nature. Gnosticism, while having some very interesting concepts, bears virtually no resemblance to anything else in the Bible, Old or New Testament. However, the gospels which are accepted as part of the canon not only are in harmony with the rest of the New Testament, but are also in continuity with the Old Testament. Suggesting that these other "gospels" should be part of the New Testament is a bit like suggesting that a Vegetarian Cookbook ought to include a chapter on pork chop recipes.
c) Most of them do not actually have the form of a biblical gospel - for example, Thomas is mainly a collection of sayings, some of which bear a loose resemblance to passages in the mainline gospels and some of which are a bit "off the wall". If you have ever read them, you'll know what I mean. Interesting...
And contrary to what office_tramp suggests, generally speaking, the early Christians had little to gain materially from what they believed - in fact many of them lost a lot (including a few limbs chewed off by lions, heads chopped off - you get the picture) :o(
Mary Magdalene has become an icon representing the penitent fallen woman. Paintings of her throughout the ages often depict her as a somewhat lusty woman with the red, unkempt hair that might befit a whore. She is depicted as bathing the feet of Jesus or standing face to face with the risen Christ near Jesus' open tomb. Mary Magdalene also appears in many artistic representations of Jesus' crucifixion and burial.
And people wonder why women are portrayed as 'the weaker sex'!! Mary was probably the strongest of Jesus of Nazareth's disciples.
Dipictions of Mary Magdelene only reflect cultural sensibilities [of the artist/author] at the time the work is made. She was not originally dipicted as a prositiute, that crept in later. It is a feature of the three main monotheistic religions that women are somehow 'responsible' for lust - and responsible for corrupting men. I think we forget how the Christain Church grew up in extreemly paranoid and biologically ignorant times, and it's main function has been to act as a magnifiying glass held up to the real world that shows us our own human failings - only one of which is that women have always been treated as 2nd class citizens. It is a sad fact that the Church has chosen to legitismise these failings - choosing to use them as a tools of power and control - and is to this day playing it's part in perpetuating them long after the scales have fallen from more enlightened eyes.
The "So What" is that it would explain away the miracle of the resurrection not by mystical means but by clever stage management. Since even the fact that Jesus had one brother has been covered up then it is equally as easy to cover up another. The naviety story shows Mary and Joseph being visited by Kings and Shepherds - is a symbolic reference to a twin birth?
office_tramp said, "Are you suggesting that the four gospels were actually written by the disciples? Surely that's a bit of a stretch..."
Indeed. The consensus of bible scholars is that the Gospels are not written by the disciples. Many evangelical Christians have no clue they are completely misled about this by their churches (often by the sin of omission: rather than outright lying about it they "fail to correct" their parishioners' misapprehensions). Evangelists generally think the gospels are eye-witness accounts by the disciples!
The fact that so many of the writers shared names is also confusing. The gospel writers would also merely "adopt" a name to write under. Some gospels are believed to have multiple authors, or at least redactors who based their writing on earlier, unknown source documents (much like the rest of the bible, in fact). We really do not know who actually wrote the gospels beyond whether they were Hellenized Jews or not, what the general level of their education seems to be, which area they came from, etc. Even parts of what is traditionally thought of as the gospel writings of Paul (including his letters) are believed to have been written by at least one other person!
Some believe John was written by the actual disciple but that is controversial and would certainly put much of the spin of the other gospels into a bad light because the synoptic gospels are so different from John.
Actually, the idea of Mary Magdalene as the "fallen woman" is a mistake, ironically propagated by Pope Gregory the Great. Somehow, he managed to conflate the woman in Luke 7:36-50 with Mary Magdalene, who appears in Luke 8. There is no suggestion anywhere in the Bible that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. So poor old Mary has had an undeservedly bad press.
I would argue that this post reflects a view that is not really mainstream, but somewhat on the liberal wing. It is not really true to say that "The consensus of bible scholars is that the Gospels are not written by the disciples". That is the concensus of one school of Bible scholars, and by no means the general concensus.
Anyway, to address the point made by office_tramp's and taken up by CitizenX, no, the four gospels were not all written by "the Disciples" (if we take the term to refer to the original twelve named Disciples).
Much of the 'evidence' used to suggest that the gospels were not written by the authors indicated by the New Testament is speculative or circumstantial at best. If you consider the evidence proposed in favour of these theories, it is not hard to see that it is very much open to question. Strangely enough, we do not tend to question the authorship of other ancient documents nearly so readily. When was the last time you heard a heated debate over whether Livy's account of Hannibal's crossing of the Alps was really written by Livy? Or whether Gaius Julius Caesar really wrote the Commentaries on the Gallic War which are attributed to him? We seem to apply one set of rules for most ancient documents, and another set of rules to religious books (especially the Bible for some reason...). I would like to know why the idea that the four gospels might have been written by actual followers of Jesus who knew him personally, or by friends of people who did know him personally should be 'a bit of a stretch'... I do not understand why it should be any more of a stretch than believing that Josephus really did write "Against Apion", for example. I think this implies double standards. Why should CitizenX think it so surprising that "Evangelists generally think the gospels are eye-witness accounts by the disciples"? In my reading of the biblical scholars, I see no sound evidence to the contrary. What I do see is a lot of conjecture, and very little incontravertible evidence.
I get the impression that the best way to get some people to disbelieve a piece of information is to announce that the Bible says it is true. We would seemingly rather believe anything than the Bible. I do not see many arguments over the veracity or otherwise of the Bhagavad Gita or the Sutras. Why should that be?
There is evidence to suggest that the canonical gospels were, however, all written by followers of Jesus who were alive while he was actively preaching, and who either knew him personally, or were close friends of those who did. Mark is almost certainly John Mark, not one of the Twelve, but a significant 'small d' disciple, who could get eyewitness material from his friend Peter. Luke was not a 'Big D' disciple, but a close companion of Paul. There is also good reason to believe that Matthew and John were written by the 'Big D' Disciples of those names. Certainly, there is clear evidence that John's gospel is early, as there is an extant manuscript fragment from as early as about 120AD.
Yes, the synoptic gospels and John do view things from different angles. It is quite possible that this is because John's gospel was written later than the others (probably ca. 90-96AD), by which time the gnostic heresy (along with others) was already creeping into the church, and John's gospel, along with his letters, makes a point of opposing this heresy by depicting a Jesus who clearly has a physical, human body, but who also makes explicit claims to be the Son of God. Also, the different gospels appear to have been written for different audiences, and hence, they had different emphases. But do they really say things that are so fundamentally different? If we look honestly at the major messages, no. John lays more stress on the nature and claims of Jesus, and far less on miracles, for example. But these are different ways of telling us the same thing - Jesus is the Son of God. That is what the miracles were designed to do, and that is what Jesus' "I am" statements, for example, were designed to do. They are different sides of the same coin.
Further to Ynda's comment about stage-managing the resurrection, I understand it actually takes a few days to die on a cross, and Jesus wasn't on the cross nearly long enough to die. He probably fell unconscious and later revived in the coolness of the cave he was taken to after being removed from his cross.
To slightly change the subject, I also understand that back in those days a "virgin" was a childless woman, so all oldest children who lived were the products of virgin births. A woman could have had numerous miscarriages and still-births but she would still be a "virgin" because she had no children.
Well generally it did take that long to die on a cross. but jesus was dead as you can hardly be alive if you have a spear shoved in your side and the bodily fluids flow out....or is it possible to "evolve" so that can happen
He wasn't speared until after the Romans thought he was already dead, and then he was removed. So the question is - was he left long enough to bleed to death before being taken to be annointed and enshrouded (which would've stemmed the bleeding)? And how much would you bleed before the Middle Eastern sun dried up the blood and a type of scab was formed, even with a wound the size of Jesus'?
IF he was actually dead (after only 3 to 6 hours,) it would have been more likely from asphyxia and shock or even cardiac arrest. The two thieves, who were clearly still alive had their legs broken below the knee (crucifracture) in order to hasten their death in a painful manner, which would have also happened to Jesus had the Romans thought he was still alive. The whole point of crucifixion was to kill people in a painful and drawn out manner, so spearing them to death once they were on the cross was contrary to the object of the exercise as it was too fast and in fact the word "excruciating" is derived from the Latin phrase "out of the cross". None of which has much to do with the topic of this forum...
'The consensus of bible scholars is that the Gospels are not written by the disciples. Many evangelical Christians have no clue that they are completely misled about this by their churches.'
There is a reason for the bible scholars consensus - it is because it would be daft to believe it particularly given that two of the gospels do not even bear the names of disciples. In my twenty years of being a Christian through numerous churches I have rarely come across anyone who thought that Mark and Luke were disciples of Jesus - generally it is only those who are newly Christian. On the other hand almost without fail, those outside of the church either make the claim or express surprise when I tell them otherwise.
Of the four gospels only Luke's is one with huge amounts of internal evidence that he actually was the author, mostly from the similarly written Acts.
John may have been written by the disciple John, but there is evidence of bits being added on. Neither Matthew, nor Mark make any claims as to authorship (it wasn't important to them), so the only evidence we have is external and later.
Actually authorship is not vital and can even be misleading - the fact is they were written and thought of as canonical fairly early on (particularly in response to the rise of Gnosticism). One of the early Gnostics (I forget which one - Marcion?) took Luke as the only Gospel, although he deleted any reference to the Old Testament. This suggests that it was widespread by that time, widespread enough for scholars to realise that it was being misused.
Interesting thought regarding the twins. It also explains how he could cross the Sea of Galilee before the disciples. What about walking on water - which one of them did that and how? (Water skis behind Peter's boat for example).