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Evolution of Christianity (part two)

Posted: February 18th, 2006, 5:54 pm
by Speculum
As I suggested at the post Evolution of Christianity in Open Forum's General Discussion area, Ehrman's book Lost Christianities offers some really interesting stuff (for those interested in the tendencies and vagaries of the human species) about the evolution of what we now know as the New Testament.

Although I have read elsewhere about its development and the tortuous path it took, Ehrman's (well documented) account fills in a lot of the blanks or, to use an expression currently in favor among politicians, connects a lot of the dots.

For example, he explains why so many "forgeries" (books falsely written in the name of one of the disciples or of Paul) were in existence and some of which were included in the New Testament. Here's a brief excerpt:

Not all of the books used by the proto-orthodox (a term Ehrman uses to refer to the forebears of Christian orthodoxy) churches were written by apostles - or in some cases even claimed to be. The four Gospels that eventually made it into the New Testament, for example, are all anonymous, written in the third person about Jesus and his companions. None of them contains a first-person narrative ("One day, when Jesus and I went into Capernaum …"), or claims to be written by an eyewitness or companion of an eyewitness. Why then do we call them Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Because sometime in the second century, when proto-orthodox Christians recognized the need for apostolic authorities, they attributed these books to apostles (Matthew and John) and close companions of apostles (Mark, the secretary of Peter; and Luke, the traveling companion of Paul). Most scholars today have abandoned these identifications, and recognize that the books were written by otherwise unknown but relatively well-educated Greek-speaking (and writing) Christians during the second half of the first century.

Ehrman goes on to explain that other books in circulation in ancient times were homonymous, meaning they were written by someone who had the same name as a person well known in Christian circles. He offers the example of the book of James, which was later accepted as apostolic and eventually included in the New Testament on the grounds that the author was James the brother of Jesus, even though the book itself makes no such claim and makes no mention of having had a personal tie to Jesus. Similarly, although the author of the book of Revelation does claim to be "John", he does not claim to be the same John who was an apostle. And yet, the book was included in the New Testament on the basis that the author was a disciple of Jesus.

And so on.

Now, I should say here that, while this stuff does interest me (I like mysteries and puzzles), it does not detract the value I perceive in and receive from the Gospels Teachings. Here, I am reminded of Mark Twain's remark as regards the (continuing?) argument among literature scholars over whether or not William Shakespeare was in fact the author of the plays attributed to him. Twain observed, "Either they were written by William Shakespeare or they were written by someone else with the same name"!

Thus, for me as a seeker, the Gospels Teachings are what matter, not how they got there. For example, as I have written at TZF's Consider This!, I can't think of more succinct, precise, and potent guidance for a seeker than "call no man father" or "consider the lilies". These, and others like them ("two become one"), have been central to my own practice, and I love the Teacher who spoke them - whoever or whatever precisely he may have been, or however his words may have been delivered to me.