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Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes Paperback – November 25, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Building upon his earlier conclusions that Jesus' Jewishness is the key to understanding Jesus' life and work (This Hebrew Lord), Spong contends that the failure to read the Gospels as fundamentally Jewish impoverishes many traditional Christian readings. Tracing the history of New Testament interpretation, Spong demonstrates the tendencies among Christian interpreters to read the Gospels as documents addressing primarily an audience of Greek Gentile Christians rather than as narratives connected to the broader history of Judaism. Spong relies on a wide range of New Testament scholarship to argue that the form and content of the Gospels reflects not Greek influence or concerns but a peculiarly Jewish outlook on matters of religion and culture. Thus, for Spong, the Gospels are neither objective accounts of historical events nor biographies of Jesus but midrashim, or interpretive narratives, connecting the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth to the history, literature and religion of Judaism. For example, he isolates the symbolic roles that certain characters from the Hebrew Bible, like Elijah and Joseph, play in transmitting the story of Jesus to a Jewish audience. While Spong's conclusions about the value of reading the Gospels through Jewish lenses are neither new nor exciting, his forceful readings of the Gospels and his imaginative speculations about biblical figures are sure to provoke heated discussion among Christian interpreters.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Spong, the Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, and a leader in the movement for liberal Christianity, is the author of a number of controversial books, including Resurrection: Myth or Reality? A Bishop Rethinks the Origins of Christianity (LJ 3/1/94). He has now added another volume that is sure to provoke argument. Spong tries to place Jesus and the New Testament in a Jewish context insomuch as the early Christians sprang from a Jewish background that stressed the midrashic (or teaching) tale. He argues that many stories of the New Testament were not originally understood to be based on fact and that getting away from the literalism of many New Testament passages bolsters rather than hinders Christian belief. After considering the contemporary religious scene today, Spong gives background on the early Christian world. He then discusses the major books of the New Testament and the pivotal issues raised by each book. Many readers will find much to disagree with, but it will have a wide readership nevertheless.?Paul Kaplan, Lake Villa District Lib., Ill.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 edition (November 25, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060675578
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060675578
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #524,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Shelby Spong was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey for twenty-four years before his retirement in 2000. He is one of the leading spokespersons for liberal Christianity and has been featured on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, FOX News Live, and Extra. This book is based on the William Belden Noble lectures Spong delivered at Harvard.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 83 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
Spong argues that the gospels, rather than being eyewitness accounts of the life and acts of Jesus, are constructions of Jesus' life based on the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). In the late twentieth century, as Spong says in his prologue, it is not possible to take many of the gospel writers' events literally. But when we relate incidents and statements to events in the lives of Moses, Elijah, Abraham et. al, and verses in the psalms, we can see that the gospels are "midrashic" interpretations of Jesus' life. That is, the Jewish authors of the gospel are interpreting the life of Jesus according to their original sacred scriptures--the Hebrew Bible. That is the key to reading the gospels: they are not literal accounts of actual events, but midrashic attempts to understand the life of Jesus by connecting it to Hebrew scriptures.
Far from trying to undermine faith in Jesus, Spong says in his final chapter, he is trying to bring back into the Christian fold all those who have left because they cannot rationally accept the gospels as literal history. Spong's book resolves the apparent contradiction between faith and rationality by refering the gospels to their source material in the Hebrew Bible.
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By James Yanni on November 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
...but a bit drier than some of Spong's other works. My favorite of his continues to be "Rescuing The Bible From Fundamentalism", but this one is certainly worth the read.
Spong's basic message is, essentially, that it is a mistake to try to force literal belief in the events of the bible; doing so is almost impossible for a modern, educated person, and the effort distracts us from the actual message of the book and of Christianity in general. The message of Christianity is love and joy and goodness; all else is window-dressing. This is a message that is difficult for most Christians to accept, and many who DO accept it come to a point at which they no longer define themselves as Christian, because the vast majority of those who call themselves Christian would not accept the commonality of their religious outlook. But this is the religion that Jesus taught, and Spong strives mightily to help people remember that the key to Christianity is to follow the teachings of Jesus, and that one cannot do that by blindly following what others have claimed were the teachings of Jesus. One must study the history of the writing of the Bible, in order to learn the truth of how certain passages came to be included, in order to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. If one doesn't do so, if one uncritically accepts what traditional teaching claims for the bible, one loses the power that originally led to the Christian movement, and is left with silly children's stories.
Not a book for those who wish to cling to a security blanket of a religion. But an excellent book for a mature reader who wishes to understand the real meaning of Christianity more fully.
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69 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Wendell Holmes on February 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
I had long ago come to the conclusion that the Bible was not literal history but had been written as an expression of religious experience. However, I have never been clear about the particulars of this process. Spong presents the most common-sense and well-supported theory for how the Gospels were written that I have ever encountered. I am amazed by how clearly the arrangement and content of the Gospel stories fit into the liturgical calendar of the Jews. The use of Old Testament material to interpret the life of Jesus becomes obvious through Spong's unrelenting barrage of evidence. Spong makes such a strong case that only the most stubborn and narrow-minded fundamentalist could completely deny the theory put forth in this book. The book also sheds light on the writing of Acts and the epistles. I would love to see a future book dealing with the book of Revelation. By liberating the Gospels from a long history of cultural misinterpretation in a format for the popular reading public, Spong has done so much--through this and his other books--to liberate the Christianity and faith of so many in this secular age. This is a book to be studied as well as read. Like Spong's other books, it includes a detailed bibliography for those who wish to explore the subject further.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By David Blakeslee on January 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
In the autumn of 2001, a few weeks after Sept. 11, I met Spong after he preached in my area, and he told me, upon autographing this volume, that he considered it to be the best of his books, the one most likely to outlast him and be read in the future. Since this is the first of his books that I've read, I can't venture an opinion about that, but I did find this to be an impressive piece of writing. I'm familiar with Spong's views on a number of subjects, I've heard him speak in person and on tape, and I've read a number of his columns and short articles. Here, he presents an intriguing but not necessarily "airtight" explanation for how the gospels came into their present form. The first half of the book spells out his theory (largely based on the scholarship of others) that the evangelists composed and sequenced their gospels to fit into a liturgical calendar that corresponded with the major Jewish festivals. At times, his evidence to support this is compelling, at other times, it seems a bit strained or at least not totally persuasive. But what I found valuable about this section of the book is that we are at least forced to confront the idea that the gospels were not written to suit the demands of biography or to answer questions that modern or postmodern readers might have about Jesus. Spong includes a chart of the book of Luke and its correspondences to the Jewish calendar that is helpful in clarifying his arguments. I think similar charts for Mark and Matthew would have been good additions as well.
The second half of the book is the strongest, in my opinion. In it, he looks at various aspects of the traditional story of Jesus - the birth narratives, the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, as well as some intriguing perspectives on auxiliary characters like Joseph and Judas.
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