DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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The Historical Jesus
The Egerton Gospel

One of the blank spots for many Christians are writings about Jesus which have been excluded from the New Testament by the Church. The Egerton Gospel is one such.

The Canon (or "measuring rod") of the New Testament is the list of those writings which are regarded by the Church as having been inspired by God. By about 150 years after the death of Jesus most of what we now know as the New Testament had been put together with the books of the Old Testament as the "Holy Scriptures". Some writings such as the letter to the Hebrews and the Revelation of John were accepted more slowly. Athanasius in 367 was the first official guide to the present Canon. It was again given by a Church Council in 382 in Rome and finally confirmed by the Council of Trent (1545-63).

Other writings such as the Gospel of Thomas have been used for study by scholars for a long time. It's only recently that non-canonical writings have come more to the fore and regarded as useful guides to "what Jesus really said and did."

Strictly speaking, the Egerton Gospel isn't a gospel in the sense that the four main gospels are. It would be more accurately called a fragment - or "papyrus", after the material on which it is written. The two imperfect leaves and one fragment were discovered in 1935 and another small piece was discovered and published in1987. They were part of a book (a codex) not a papyrus roll. They contain some miracle stories, dialogues, and accounts of violence towards Jesus. None of the texts is complete. Letters, words and sometimes phrases are missing. Some of the material echoes the four Gospels; some is found nowhere else.

The material on which the Egerton Gospel is written has been dated between 150 and 200. It probably came from Egypt. Some think is was copied from an earlier source in Palestine or Syria. It may have first circulated among Jewish Christians who were being given a hard time by their fellow Jews.

The language of the Egerton Gospel doesn't seem to be of the same type as the language of the canonical gospels, although there are similarities in the material. The greatest similarity is with John's Gospel. But the Egerton version seems to be considerably less developed than John's and is therefore  possibly the earlier of the two. Scholars think that Egerton's author used the same traditional sources as the authors of the Gospels - by using fixed units of material modified to meet a theological need, and then freely arranged into literary frameworks.

The Egerton Gospel's version of the coin used for taxes focuses on the argument preceding the historical piece. It misses out the verbal exchange over the coin.

They came to him and questioned him as a way of testing him. They asked, "Jesus the teacher, we know you have come from God because your actions place you above all the prophets.

"So tell us this: Are we allowed to pay the rulers what they demand? Should we pay them, or shouldn't we?"

Jesus guessed what they were up to and got annoyed. He said to them, "Why do you pretend to respect me as a teacher, but don't carry out what I say? Isaiah's prophecy about you was accurate when he said, 'This nation honours me with their lips, but in their hearts they are disconnected from me. Their worship is meaningless because they go by teachings which are human rules ...

The rest of the Gospel has been lost.

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