Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Gospel for all Nazarenes?

It is often thought that the Gospels were written for isolated and introspective communities. So Matthew was written for a 'Matthean community' and Luke for a 'Lucan community' etc. When Richard Bauckham questioned this assumption in the book The Gospel for All Christians, and advocated that the canonical Gospel authors probably had broader audiences in mind, several scholars responded by appealing to the extra-canonical Gospels (e.g. Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, and Gospel of the Hebrews). The argument goes something like this:

(1) The extra-canonical Gospels are sectarian and were written for sectarian groups.
(2) The canonical Gospels also exhibit sectarian tendencies.
(3) Therefore, the canonical Gospels were written for sectarian groups as well.

I'm in the process of contesting this claim. Let me give one example. Let's take the Gospel of the Nazarenes (read about it at Text Excavation). It is thought that this Jewish Gospel was composed for a small Jewish Group called the Nazarenes known to Jerome and Epiphanius. Yet Tertullian (Adv. Marc. 4.8; cf. Acts 24.5) notes that the label ‘Nazarenes’ was used by Jews to designate Christians in general and not a specific group of Christians. If ‘Nazarenes’ in Gospel of the Nazarenes has this Jewish meaning of ‘Christians’ in general, then we may have here a document effectively named, to Jewish ears at least, the Gospel of the Christians. One can scarcely think of a more universal title for a book. Thus, some of the extra-canonical Gospels may not be quite so sectarian as many persons think.


J. B. Hood said...

Doesn't this presuppose the title is original?

Even if it is, it still doesn't constitute an argument that the book itself is "universal" and non-sectarian in scope, as it's certainly possible that a universalistic title could be slapped on a sectarian text.

Michael F. Bird said...

1. The title 'Gospel of the Nazarenes' is referred and we have no reason to think that it was not used as a designation by some for a Jewish Chrsitian Gospel (even if the same Gospel went by the name Gospel of the Nazaranes).

2. True, the name itself does not prove that it was meant to be universal. But those against Bauckham-GAC frequently appeal to the name of these canonical Gospels as proof that the Gospels (canonical or not) were written to specific audiences. My point is to say that if you really want to go down that road the evidence might point in a different direction. The goes for the 'Gospel of the Egyptians' - there were alot of guys in Egypt.

J. B. Hood said...

Thanks Mike. Your original post--especially the three step argument--didn't mention 'titles' as part of the argument for 'community' provenance/intention.

Corn on the Robb said...

This comment is a bit off topic, but seeing Bauckham's "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" on your list of favorite books makes me jealous! =D Have you had a chance to look at it already? I checked on Amazon yesterday and it isn't released until sometime in September.

Keep up the great blogging!