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The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic [Paperback]

John Shelby Spong
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 Aug 2014
John Shelby Spong, bestselling author and popular proponent of a modern, scholarly and authentic Christianity, argues that this last gospel to be written was misinterpreted by the framers of the fourth-century creeds to be a literal account of the life of Jesus when in fact it is a literary, interpretive retelling of the events in Jesus' life through the medium of fictional characters, from Nicodemus and Lazarus to the "Beloved Disciple." The Fourth Gospel was designed first to place Jesus into the context of the Jewish scriptures, then to place him into the worship patterns of the synagogue and finally to allow him to be viewed through the lens of a popular form of first-century Jewish mysticism. The result of this intriguing study is not only to recapture the original message of this gospel, but also to provide us today with a radical new dimension to the claim that in the humanity of Jesus the reality of God has been met and engaged.


Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne (29 Aug 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062011316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062011312
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 13.3 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 295,704 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

We now approach our scriptures with a literalism that is unparalleled in the history of religion. This new and imaginative book by John Shelby Spong will liberate many people from this unnecessary complication of the religious life. --Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Spong is writing for a lay audience, and he does so magnificently. His thoughts are bracing, his writing exciting, and his conclusions thought provoking. Those who love reading about religion in general and Christianity in particular may want to go through this volume more than once. --Booklist

In his 24th book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, the always provocative Bishop John Shelby Spong takes on the Gospel of John, opening new windows of insight and challenging the ways the fourth gospel has usually been understood. --Publishers Weekly

Spong is writing for a lay audience, and he does so magnificently. His thoughts are bracing, his writing exciting, and his conclusions thought provoking. Those who love reading about religion in general and Christianity in particular may want to go through this volume more than once. --Booklist

In his 24th book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, the always provocative Bishop John Shelby Spong takes on the Gospel of John, opening new windows of insight and challenging the ways the fourth gospel has usually been understood. --Publishers Weekly

About the Author

John Shelby Spong was the Episcopal bishop of Newark before his retirement in 2000. As a leading spokesperson for an open, scholarly, and progressive Christianity, Bishop Spong has taught at Harvard and at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He has also lectured at universities, conference centers, and churches in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. His books include: A New Christianity for a New World, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Resurrection: Myth or Reality? Why Christianity Must Change or Die, and his autobiography, Here I Stand.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
In Bishop Spong's books, he consistently argues for a very non-literal approach to interpreting the Bible, including the Gospels. From my perspective, he often combines powerful insights with a tendency to throw out too much (sometimes far too much for my liking) - for example he seems to have no room whatsoever for the miraculous (or even what might have seemed in the 1st Century to be miraculous) and argues that the Gospel miracle stories are but restatements of Old Testament stories designed to bring out the spiritual meaning of who Jesus was (and is). But if the historical Jesus did not DO things that his followers saw as miraculous, I doubt his words would have been heard as so life-changing. If one can see past that limitation, then this book contains very useful insights about the mystic meaning of John (which most scholars do agree is the least literal of the Gospels). Its argument is very convincing and I believe Bishop Spong has unlocked the most meaningful way of reading John's Gospel. In this interpretation of the gospel, Jesus represents the divine I AM in which we can find infinite life beyond all the ego's survival orientated limits, including the limit of bodily death. In his later work, Bishop Spong seems to have moved in more mystical direction and this book reflects this. Even if one is more conservative theologically than Bishop Spong, this book is well worth reading as an insight into the deeper mystical meaning of this gospel and as an interpretation of Christianity that can be meaningful to the world of the 21st Century and beyond. (Although Bishop Spong does not mention this directly, I found it interesting that his interpretation of the Gospel of John seems consistent with many insights from Advaita and other mystical traditions.)
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brave but flawed 16 Jun 2013
By Rod
Format:Hardcover
This may be the last book written by Bishop Spong. On the other hand he has said that before! But if it is the last, it would be fitting for him to finish on St John's Gospel. He says that for years he avoided it, not least because it could not be squared with the history and content of the Synoptic Gospels. But for the past 5 years, he has overcome his prejudices and faced up to this most remarkable book.

40 years ago St John's Gospel was the special study of our final degree course. We read commentaries by John Marsh, CK Barrett, and of course we dipped into Bultmann. Only years later did I come across the writings of JB Lightfoot and his 3 chapters on John in Biblical Essays. And as with so many of my generation, we were enraptured by the appearance of The Priority Of John by John Robinson. Some of these have been more helpful and convincing than others. John is an enigma and it is little wonder that Bishop Spong avoided it for so long.

Spong helps his readers to face up to the problems. And he does so clearly and well. He is a good writer and that emerges in these pages. He has also done a lot of research. If you do not want to have to face up to awkward questions about this Gospel, then I would advise you not to read it. In any case those who already have all the answers do not need to look at the questions!

What about the answers he offers? Some are worth considering (this man is no fool) though some seem rather far-fetched and fanciful (Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus, for examples). But these aside he paints a picture which deserves attention and I have learned much from the book.

However, I can only give it 3 stars because of its flaws. The first is to say that he really has no time or respect for the past.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars St John seen against Jewish Midrash writings 21 Feb 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Spong sets the gospel of John against the background of Jewsih mystical thinking and writing. A very intewresting and informative book.
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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Spong does not believe a word that Jesus says in John's Gospel The rest is informative but not a revolutionary.read
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