Amazon Exclusive: A Conversation with Hal Taussig
Q. Aren’t the texts of the Bible set in stone?
A. Although the western branch of Christianity has implied that the Bible is eternally stable, this has really never been the case. Both now and for the past 400 years Catholics and Protestants don't agree on what is in the Bible, and neither do Episcopalians and Lutherans. Internationally the eastern Orthodox, Ethiopian, and Syriac Bibles all contain different books than the western Catholic and Protestant Bibles. From this perspective A New New Testament is simply yet another variation on what is in the Bible and what is not. From another perspective, it is the first edition of a Bible ever to include the gospels, letters, and prayers that have been recovered from in recent times.
Q. What will Christians learn from A New New Testament?
A. They’ll learn that their early roots are deeper, more diverse, and more widespread than the general story of how Christianity began is told. Perhaps most importantly for Christians, they will be able to claim a set of new resources for their 21st century life. A New New Testament opens the door to a wider set of expressions, practices, stories, and teachings than they have previously known.
Q. What will non-Christians learn from A New New Testament?
A. Non-Christians will learn that some of the narrow-minded doctrines of orthodox Christianity and the old-fashioned ideas of the traditional New Testament are not the only way that the early Christ movements expressed themselves.
Q. 19 religious leaders gathered to debate which non-canonical texts would be included in A New New Testament. What credentials do they have to make such a decision?
A. Eight of them have held national and international leadership positions in the Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, and Reconstructionist Rabbinical movements. Others are best-selling authors. Others are nationally known scholars. Sixteen are Christian, three are non-Christian. Four have had the highest rank possible within their own national or international Christian denomination.
Q. Won’t changing the Bible offend people who have a deep connection with it in its current state?
A. The Bible has always been a contested book. Christians argue about it regularly, even within the same denomination. Indeed, it is a fairly regular occurrence that one Christian will be offended by another's understanding of what the Bible does and does not say. Martin Luther himself tried to remove some books from the New Testament, and successfully did so from what he called the Old Testament. Debating about what the Bible does or does not say is a primary way that Christians claim who they are.
Q. The Gospel of Mary, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, and The Thunder: Perfect Mind, which are parts of A New New Testament but weren't in the traditional New Testament, each have strong female characters. Why weren't they included before?
A. The traditional New Testament includes both strong attacks on women's rights ("women must not speak in the assembly") and strong affirmations of women's mutuality ("there is neither male nor female in Christ"). So it is difficult to make a case that the traditional New Testament portrays a consistent bias against women. Since, however, there are a number of texts in the traditional New Testament which do reject leadership for women, it is certain that certain parts of the traditional New Testament and early Christianity may not have liked the affirmations in these three new books.