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Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes [Kindle Edition]

John Shelby Spong
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In this boldest book since Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Bishop John Shelby Spong offers a compelling view of the Gospels as thoroughly Jewish tests.Spong powerfully argues that many of the key Gospel accounts of events in the life of Jesus—from the stories of his birth to his physical resurrection—are not literally true. He offers convincing evidence that the Gospels are a collection of Jewish midrashic stories written to convey the significance of Jesus. This remarkable discovery brings us closer to how Jesus was really understood in his day and should be in ours.

Product Description


“Compelling, controversial, substantive, provocative, and original…remarkably convincing.” (Rabbi Jack D. Spiro, director, Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Judaic Studies)

“Bishop Spong’s work is a significant accomplishment.” (Harvey Cox, Thomas Professor of Divinity, Harvard University)


In this boldest book since Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Bishop John Shelby Spong offers a compelling view of the Gospels as thoroughly Jewish tests. Spong powerfully argues that many of the key Gospel accounts of events in the life of Jesus - from the stories of his birth to his physical resurrection - are not literally true. He offers convincing evidence that the Gospels are a collection of Jewish midrashic stories written to convey the significance of Jesus. This remarkable discovery brings us closer to how Jesus was really understood in his day and should be in ours.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 428 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0060675578
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books; 1 edition (13 Oct. 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FC27ZE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #303,295 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Jeremy Bevan TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
To know the work of Bishop John Spong is, it seems, either to love him or loathe him. This book is probably no exception, though in its introduction he comes across as a man genuinely and endearingly excited by the discoveries he's made in researching it. Drawing heavily on the work of English scholar Michael Goulder, Spong describes how the Gospels are effectively Christian midrashim (creative retellings) of existing Jewish scriptural themes, and can be fitted very closely to the Jewish calendar of the time and its `lectionary' pattern of prescribed Torah readings. So far, so consonant with recent readings of Jesus as a first-century Jew. However, Spong then goes on to show how this very literary approach to the Gospels can - perhaps should - be used (as a matter of some urgency) to move us away from literal readings of, for example, the nativity stories, seminal events like the Sermon on the Mount, and the resurrection. Such an approach, inspired as it seems to be by a genuine desire to make Jesus credible to postmoderns who find 'biblical literalism' impossible to accept, will appeal to some, while appalling others. This book definitely adds another dimension to the debate about the precise nature of Christianity's rootedness in first-century Judaism. Spong takes a very different view from that of scholars like Tom Wright as to the implications of those roots for faith in Jesus today, but is none the less thought-provoking for all that.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars second hand scholarship - where's the good news? 27 July 2013
When Spong first arrived on the scene, many hailed him as another John A. T. Robinson. Just as Robinson made Tillich, Bultmann etc. available to ordinary readers, so did Spong introduce insights from biblical scholarship to less academic readers.

There's a difference, however. Robinson was a scholar, Spong isn't. Spong has less discernment as top what is worthy of communicating. So he `went off' over the years as he chased ever more whacky ideas.

This book is based on Michael Goulder's theory that the gospels were written for liturgical purposes. Just as the synagogue readings go through the torah in an annual sequence, so the gospels provide a Christian reading to act as a sort of New Testament haftorah.

He sketches out the whole sweep of Mark's gospel as it relates to the liturgical calendar: If Mark's gospel was designed to carry the Christian worshiper liturgically from Jewish New Year to Passover then Mark must first open his gospel with narratives appropriate to Jewish New Year and then he must move quickly thereafter to deal with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
The Jewish New Year was a call to repentance. It was marked by the blowing of the shofar, the ceremonial ram's horn used to call the worshipers to the liturgy. The shofar was thought to announce the coming reign of God. The New Year was also perceived as a time of judgment and even as a time of divine vengeance. As that judgment dawned, the tradition of the Jews was that eyes were opened, ears were unstopped, and a highway was prepared on which God might travel. This highway began in the desert, which was thought of as the abode of unclean animals, like the camel (Lev. 11:4) or the satyr or the "scapegoat" that was driven into the wilderness with the people's sins on its back (Lev. 17:7).
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Spong argues that the gospels, rather than being eyewitness accounts of the life and acts of Jesus, are constructions of Jesus' life based on the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). In the late twentieth century, as Spong says in his prologue, it is not possible to take many of the gospel writers' events literally. But when we relate incidents and statements to events in the lives of Moses, Elijah, Abraham et. al, and verses in the psalms, we can see that the gospels are "midrashic" interpretations of Jesus' life. That is, the Jewish authors of the gospel are interpreting the life of Jesus according to their original sacred scriptures--the Hebrew Bible. That is the key to reading the gospels: they are not literal accounts of actual events, but midrashic attempts to understand the life of Jesus by connecting it to Hebrew scriptures.
Far from trying to undermine faith in Jesus, Spong says in his final chapter, he is trying to bring back into the Christian fold all those who have left because they cannot rationally accept the gospels as literal history. Spong's book resolves the apparent contradiction between faith and rationality by refering the gospels to their source material in the Hebrew Bible.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Cmas
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Bishop John Shelby Spong considers this book his favourite one. It certainly illuminates the Gospels, how they were written as a result of the regular worship of the first Christian community in the synagogues, week after week. He shows clearly the relationship of the Gospels with the Jewish liturgy, something that for reasons he explains, the church has forgotten and not to take it into account has lead to gross misunderstandings. If you really love the Bible, you must read this book. If you doubt many things in the Bible, here you will have some good answers to honest & serious questions.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Spong is a fantastic communicator 13 April 2012
By Elena
Format:Kindle Edition
I first read Shelby Spong's 'take' on the Bible many years ago in paperback form and am delighted to find so many of his books now available for Kindle (about to re-read them all again!)

No matter what your religious persuasion, whether you're a Christian or have no particular religious beliefs, his books are an excellent read and a very innovative and interesting re-working of all the very old stories. He has a way of making the most tedious things both very interesting and also extremely accessible. It's certainly true that some Christian scholars consider him a bit 'heretical' but many others, even those who do not agree with his very particular viewpoint, tend to agree that he certainly is a wonderful communicator.

So, if you're looking for an unusual interpretation of things Biblical, or looking for a new way of looking at scriptures, this is the man for you. He writes incredibly engagingly and manages to turn each of his books into a page-turner despite the fact that most people already know the end of the stories!

In all, I'd highly recommend any of his books to anyone who fancies looking at the Christian faith - whether you're a beginner or a scholar, a believer or a non-believer. The only caveat that I'd add is to say that if you're a fundamentalist-type of person, who believes in a very literal interpretation of The Bible, then he probably ISN'T the writer for you as he takes a great deal of artistic license with his work and his interpretations are just that - they're interpretations from a very particular pespective, they are not translations. Just be cautious if you're someone who finds the idea of a Christian who is willing to say "perhaps the resurrection wasn't quite as physical a thing as some would have us believe" offensive!

Shelby Spong is a real favorite of mine and, so long as you're open-minded, you'll find anything written by him to be a jolly good read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important study of the origin of the gospels
This book should be better known! It explains why the gospels are in the form they are now and why they seem to contradict each other.
Published 9 months ago by S M N A Bryden-Brook
5.0 out of 5 stars A Liberating Read.....
I found this book fascinating as Rev Shellby Spong explores and explains how and why we should read the bible stories of Jesus, through the eyes of the old Testament writers, he... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Mr. R. A. Loades
5.0 out of 5 stars Bishop Spong's most important book
Bishop Spong elucidates The Gospels against the Jewish tradition of
sacred story telling and reminds us that the authors of the Gospels
were Jews who naturally drew... Read more
Published on 26 Oct. 2012 by Kenneth Hunter
2.0 out of 5 stars An example of bad New Testament scholarship
When I heard the central thesis of Bishop Spong's book - that the structure of the Gospels are based around the Jewish lectionary - I thought, `What a good idea! Read more
Published on 17 Aug. 2011 by JPJP
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating and thought-provoking
While some of what Bishop Spong says seems obvious in retrospect (how could the gospel writers have known what happened in closed sessions of criminal courts? Read more
Published on 19 Jan. 2011 by T. W. P. Esq
1.0 out of 5 stars Christianity without the resurrection is impossible.
All the clever research doesn't get to the root of the fallicity in Spongs' thesis, that 20th century man is smarter than those of ancient times, and that since we KNOW that Jesus... Read more
Published on 20 Feb. 2007 by Mark Bickston
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but doesn't go far enough
This was a very interesting book, but after reading it I was left wondering: why was Spong afraid to follow his thesis to its logical conclusion? Read more
Published on 18 April 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars An Enlightening Look At The Gospels
I found J. S. Spong's work well written and to the point. This was a persuasive treatise on how to interpret the Gospels. Read more
Published on 15 Jan. 1998
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