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Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way Paperback – December 5, 2002

4.4 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In addition to attempting to find postmodern, multiple, nontraditional interpretations of traditional biblical texts, the renowned Jesus Seminar has published texts from outside the traditional canon, heralding them as new discoveries that suggest reinterpretation of traditional Christian theology and practice. In this book, Jenkins counters the interpretations of Jesus Seminar scholars, concisely and evenhandedly introducing their theories and presenting historical and textual evidence to contradict them. He questions their "discoveries" of texts that have been known to biblical scholars for at least two hundred years, challenges their dating of texts in order to impart them greater weight and traces many of their purportedly new interpretations to age-old traditions ("heresies" to the early Church) such as Gnosticism. He ascribes to the seminar scholars "inverted fundamentalism," claiming that these critics, ironically, assign great authority to historically questionable noncanonical texts, such as The Gospel of Thomas, while simultaneously challenging the authority and validity of the long-established canon. He attributes this bias to both a postmodern search for meaning and a lay audience hungry for religious truth, while noting that only new interpretations advance academic careers and attract media attention. In short, he argues that the Jesus Seminar offers nothing new under the sun. Jenkins closes out this forceful critique by noting "we can only hope" that when new biblical texts surface, they might be "evaluated on their merits, and not solely for their value in cultural battles."

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"One of the many services of Mr. Jenkins's fine, carefully argued book is to put discussion about what happened in Palestine 2,000 years ago on more reliable ground."--George Sim Johnston, The Wall Street Journal

"Jenkins explains his thesis in language that is both clear and fair. Hidden Gospels is admirably evenhanded."--Frederica Mathewes-Green, Los Angeles Times

"A quite absorbing book."--Clergy Journal

"A sober, and sobering, account of how some scholars have enthusiastically embraced 'new' or 'hidden' gospels which just happen to support certain currently fashionable ideologies--and of just how unwarranted such claims actually are."--N.T. Wright DD, Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey

"Jenkins has brilliantly identified the mythic dimension of the recent fascination with hidden gospels and alternative Christianities."--Luke Timothy Johnson, author of The Real Jesus


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (December 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195156315
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195156317
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 0.5 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,634,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The X Files tells us that "The truth is out there" and anyone who has enjoyed this series knows that its appeal to (post?)modern Americans is its vast conspiracy involving aliens, repressive and secretive institutions, supernatural phenomena, the concealment of the truth for sinister reasons and lone rebels who risk life and limb to uncover the truth. Moulder and Scully are our heroes seeking to find what has been hidden from our eyes -- the truth -- and thereupon free us from our ignorance and darkness. It makes a great television show, but its appeal and success lies in the fact that at least some Americans suspect that there are dark forces out there oppressing us. The success of the movie the Matrix, a clever retelling of an ancient gnostic myth, shows this as well.
In "Hidden Gospels" Philip Jenkins ably shows how these type of conspiracy stories help to explain the ongoing appeal of the possibility of hidden gospels. For many Americans, today and yesterday, the possibility that there is a hidden gospel in which the "real Jesus" will finally be revealed -- free from all the alleged distortions of St. Paul, the Evangelists, ecumenical councils and historic Christianity, especially the Catholic Church -- is too seductive to relinquish.
Jenkins successfully shows that the discoveries of Qumran & Nag Hammadi and the subsequent body of scholarship produced on account of them do not represent a significant contribution to that which was already known. For example, Jenkins shows how many of the Nag Hammadi texts were already well-known and popularly disseminated in the 19th Century.
Having dealt with the question of their relative novelty, Jenkins then considers the reasons for their ongoing appeal.
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Format: Hardcover
Having studied, for a number of years, the very same texts Jenkins discusses in this book (see some of my other reviews), it dawned on me over time just what the agenda was behind those very scholars touting the texts as 'gospel' truths. Just as they accuse the 'orthodox' of political power mongering, so too are they in the end doing the very same thing. Mr. Jenkins has expressed quite clearly what I too discovered.
While the texts do reveal much about the early Christian movement, they do not tell us anything new about the times of Jesus. They tell us about the life and times of second and third century 'Christians'. Rather than an orthodox Church suppressing a 'true' Christianity, it is more likely the other way around: these groups splintered from a Church already in existence. And the texts we have reveal this -- not the early days of The Way.
Mr. Jenkins does a good, and in my opinion objective, job reporting the realities of the entire industry (and it is truly a powerhouse of an industry). There is an agenda and the results of their scholarly findings look remarakbly similar to the current popular beliefs of our age.
Showing the other side of the coin, this book reveals just what is misleading, even wrong, about the claims. For a long time I too was immersed in these texts and I too wanted to believe they were more representative and that the Church as we have it today in its various splinters was in fact a religious mechanism for political control (though I do believe there are some truths in this). But the reality is that these texts are not 'all that'. They, and the methodologies used in studying and presenting them to the mainstream, are flawed.
This is a book that lucidly and without sensationalism lays bare the facts.
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Format: Hardcover
In recent years, much attention has been given the claims that certain non-Canonical gospels and documents, such as the Gospel of Thomas, provide valuable information on the teaching of Jesus Christ. As Prof. Philip Jenkins shows, the obsession to find additional "gospels" is not a modern preoccupation but goes back even before the Nag Hammadi find in 1945. Parts of what is now known as the Gospel of Thomas were known for years. Some of the partisans in favor of Thomas assert that it is as old as, if not older than, the earliest synoptic Gospel. Because of the "mystical" and non-eschatological character of most of it (and other such works), the argument is made that it preserves the "real" teaching of Jesus: not the divine person of Christian orthodoxy, but the wandering sage, dispensing wisdom that just happens to coincide with so much of the modern temperament - mystical, egalitarian, feminist, etc. However, the claim that Thomas was written prior to 150 AD is week, and it is almost certain that the large majority of other gospels are dated much later than that. So when all is said and done, the claims of the Jesus Seminar and other radical scholars to find authentic sayings of Jesus in such works are without foundation.
The best part of the this book is its comprehensive nature. Prof. Jenkins places this question in theological, biblical, historical and sociological perspective. As he shows, there is nothing new about the claims that the non-Canonical gospels preserve other sayings of Jesus. Long before anyone heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some had argued that Jesus was an Essene. But the pace has accelerated.
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