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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Four pillars or many?, 3 Mar 2005
This review is from: The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q & Christian Origins (Paperback)
The great structure of Christianity rests on four books. Four men, living at different times and in different places, each implying they were present during Jesus' travels and travails, penned their accounts of his life. From these narratives, dogmas were set and an orthodoxy established that has lasted for two millennia. When closely examined, these stories proved to have been written long after Jesus had died. What happened in the ensuing years?
According to Mack, after Jesus died [or disappeared], followers of this teacher formed "study groups" centred in Galilee and southern Syria. They devised sayings attributed to the teacher, exchanged texts, debated meanings, and discussed what they felt significant about his pronouncements. Analysis of the four books revealed some of these writings buried within the larger story. Excavated from the Gospels, these "Q" writings have marginalised the "historical" role of the four books. There must have been many versions of "Q" composed by the members of what Mack calls the "Jesus groups". Whether they were ever collated into a single document will likely never be known, but it's clear the "gospel" writers were aware of them and utilised them.
Resting much of his presentation on the work of John Kloppenborg, Mack shows the likely development of the Q writings in a solid historical setting. With Hellenistic scholars setting the norms for education and intellectual discourse, it's easy to see how the "Q" sayings were formulated. A glance at the social upheavals of the period reveals the environment that caused them to be written. Mack weaves these threads together effectively to produce a vivid picture of the times and the course the writings followed as events unfolded. It's arguable that the existence of Jesus was of less importance than the destruction of the temple. Yet, both events would lead to revised views of the world. The later Q documents lay the foundations for an apocalyptic view enlarged by the quartette that followed.
Mack is an effective and concerned writer. He's disdainful of fallacies, particularly transparent ones. The "Gospels", he shows, are largely fabrications. If there was a virgin birth, why did that notion not appear until nearly a century had passed? Why are there differing accounts of those pivotal events, the crucifixion and "resurrection"? According to Mack, these are the building blocks of Christian mythology. He insists this myth be examined on the same basis as any other myth. He contends if Christians wish to know their founder, a study of the "Q" writings is the starting point. The role played by the gospels as history must be abandoned and a more realistic approach taken. Perhaps, he stresses, returning to these "beginnings" might help alleviate the dogmas and intolerances the long, sordid history of Christianity has exhibited. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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