01 October 2007

The Power of the Gospel--Part 2

As promised, here's that first bit about the Gospels. Today I'm concentrating on when the Gospels were written. I'm getting most of my information from Richard A. Burridge's book "Four Gospels, One Jesus?" It's an excellent book (as noted in my "Books I Dig" list), and it's a really easy read. I highly suggest it if this is all interesting to you.

Like I said before, the Gospels are incredibly important, but incredibly misunderstood (they're the Gen-Xers, remember?) As one of my best friends put it, "It's like playing a 2,000 year old game of telephone," what was said at the beginning of the line isn't always what we get down here at the end. I'll admit that getting "Jimmy rode a squirrel to the fair" from "Timmy threw a scroll in the air" is more than half the fun of playing telephone, but when we're talking about things that people put their lives down for, misinterpretation doesn't seem quite as fun.

Last semester I caught myself watching "The View" (yes, "The View." It was after "Regis and Kelly," I was bored, and it was either that or "Maury" so I think I made the right choice), and one of the hostesses started complaining, "I don't get why [Christians] put so much faith in the Gospels, weren't they written like 200 years after the fact?" I have to admit, this is one of my biggest pet peeves ever. I didn't turn off the TV, though I should have. Instead, I settled for rolling my eyes in frustration. And so, I will tell you an incredibly important distinction: the New Testament as we know it was made into the canon (meaning, the books were chosen to be part of the New Testament Scriptures) over the course of a few centuries AD (or CE, for Common Era, depending on how PC you want 2B....like all the abbreviations?) This doesn't mean that the books were written during this time. This does mean that they were floating around for centuries before all that happened; putting them all together cemented common beliefs and excluded "gospels" out there that were contrary to Christian beliefs.

So that leaves the mystery of when exactly the Gospels were written. Fun fact of the day: the four Gospels that are in the New Testament--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--probably weren't actually written in that order. Why they were put in that order is fodder for another post. What most scholars agree on today is that Mark was probably first, followed Matthew and Luke (who probably used Mark's Gospel as a reference), ending with John. There are a lot of ideas about when each of these were written, but my opinion (after studying the topic incredibly briefly, so please don't take this as the end all, be all fact on literary timelines) is that they were all written sometime between 70 CE and the 90s CE. Here (in the simplest and most non-boring terms I can come up with) is why:

1) 70 CE is the date that the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem fell due to the Romans. I can't say how hugely terrible this was for them. It's my opinion that the Gospels were written in response to that and the crisis of faith that came after it--the Temple was the center of religious life for first century Jews, and since Christianity came from Judaism, a full fledged faith crisis came from that center no longer existing. Some scholars suggest that Mark wrote around 70 CE.
2) John, as the final Gospel, had to have been written by about 130 CE, since that's when the earliest manuscripts were dated. I think it's around the 80s-90s because if it were in the 70s, the book would have definitely mentioned the Fall of the Second Temple (which it doesn't), but if it were written, say a decade or so, later, it would be assumed that the readers already knew about it and not give the issue so much credence. Take, for example, an important document written in 2002--it would reek of references to the events of September 11. However, a document written today and four years from now would have significantly less reference to that event. This same idea applies to John's Gospel.

Get it? Got it? Good.
See you next time.

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