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The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus Paperback – December 19, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars who have attempted to locate the authentic words of Jesus, made headlines two years ago by reporting that, of the entire Lord's Prayer as found in Matthew, the only words that could conclusively be attributed to Jesus are "Our Father." In this book they have published their results. This new translation of the four gospels, augmented by the noncanonical Gospel of Thomas, presents Jesus' words printed in colored code: red for words Jesus almost certainly spoke, pink for his probable locutions, gray for the less than likely, and black for the implausible. The translation itself is far more colloquial than most. More germane, though, is that the four levels of authenticity were determined by the casting of ballots, which the editors admit is problematic and represents the fundamental weakness of the book. Whether Jesus actually spoke certain words matters little in the long view of Christianity, making this book a theological curiosity and religiously superfluous.
- W. Alan Froggatt, Bridgewater, Ct.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Based on the work of the Jesus Seminar, which brought together a group of biblical scholars, this new translation of and commentary on the five Gospels offers an answer to the perennial question, What did Jesus really say? The group not only surveyed all the surviving ancient texts for words attributed to Jesus, but also examined the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. Then, juxtaposing the Synoptic Gospels against John and Thomas, the seminar scholars began a long and arduous process to see if they could discover which sayings are close to what Jesus said, which might have originated with Jesus, those that are not his (though the ideas may be), and those that were created by his followers or borrowed from folklore. The story of how the scholars put together this translation is fascinating in its own right, but even more so is the color-coded New Testament itself, bolstered by enlightening commentary that explains why and how category decisions were made. A strong addition to religion collections. Ilene Cooper --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (December 19, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006063040X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060630409
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #214,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

180 of 198 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Maier on July 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
One can often decide whether a book is "worth reading" by the amount of controversy surrounding it. Judging by the emotionalism vented against the work of Funk and Hoover and the Jesus Seminar, I would think any serious, curious readers would want to look at this book --if for no other reason than to find out what all the fuss is about.
It's a shame such an attempt at rational, dispassionate biblical scholarship should have been received in such a tepid way by the general public who, frankly, understand very little about biblical scholarship, methodology, linguistics, historiography, genre, etc.
For the reader whose mind remains fluid, whose horizons have not been rendered brittle and narrow by faith and emotionalism, this book will present many interesting insights about not only the authorship of the canonical gospels and the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, but also explains how the 72 scholars arrived at the conclusions presented in this volume, particularly the phrasing of the text (SV) and how the opinion of the Jesus Seminar was reached. Also interesting for the lay-reader, armchair philosopher and others are the few unabashed statements about how the early Church leaders tampered with the several gospels, though this is not a point the Jesus Seminar dwells upon.
As an introductory book that is easy to read and understand, I recommend it to any person unafraid to think critically, beyond the box, about the nature of not merely the canonical gospels and their message and origins, but also the humanity --the divine humanity-- of what inspires so much of what informs human consciousness and awareness in whatever form, be it parable, fable, myth, or other borrowed story.
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128 of 141 people found the following review helpful By Mark Mills on October 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
I have to admit I liked this book a great deal. It was very thought provoking, and that is what I wanted.

As anyone can note from the title, this is an attempt to add a new gospel to the canonic testaments of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Without saying as much, the book seeks to raise the standing of a newly discovered ancient 'book': 'the Gospel of Thomas'. The 1945 discovery of 'Thomas', a previously unknown gospel of about the same antiquity as the canonic gospels, demands a reassessment of the traditional canon. Some might say this reassessment is the job of scholars, and has already been accomplished with a dismissal of Thomas as derivative and heretical. This book presents an extensive argument against this conclusion, and makes it in an accessible manner for the lay reader,

The format of Thomas presents a significant problem. Thomas is not a narrative, but a list of 114 'sayings'. Thomas tells many of the canonic parables, but the Thomas versions are shorter and often bereft of any moral interpretation. 10 or 15 sound very much like 'Jesus', but are entirely missing from the canon. Many of the remaining 50 or so sayings invoke what scholars might call 'Gnostic' philosophy. Thomas fails to mention the resurrection story and includes only one mention of 'the cross.'

Fitting Thomas into any holistic understanding of Jesus will not be easy. In particular, a 'list of sayings' is far harder to trust than a coherent narrative. It is far easier for the man writing a copy to insert their opinions when no 'statement' need continue a thought from the prior paragraph.
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76 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo VINE VOICE on February 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Jesus Seminar, whether famous or infamous depends on your religious barometer. This is not a book for the conservative Christian who accepts every word written in the gospels, Acts and the Letters to be the actual words of Jesus, written by his Apostles, (which the evangelists were not). If you are an open-minded seeker of truth and are not easily shocked by religious controversy, you will delight in this easily readable unbiased examination of the Words of Jesus and the attempts by the Seminar to pin down what really was said and by whom, 2000 years ago.

The Seminar is a group of liberal biblical scholars, with a historical perspective on Jesus. They, herein vote on the efficacy and accuracy of the recording of Jesus' words. Sentences in RED are those they believe probably came from the lips of the Master, pink, gray and black denote how the vote rated the words attributed to Jesus, only about 20% of which are accepted as most likely his ideas, as he might have spoken them.

The of the rest of the words of Jesus in the four gospels are seen as either created by the evangelists, writing 35 - 87 years after his death as more shedding light on their problems within the infant church of their day, than Jesus' struggles in his. Much of the rest of the material (of the gospels) is not rejected but instead Is subjected to varying degrees of uncertainty as to whether or not they were the original words and intent of Jesus or simply created by writers, redactors and revisionists, from tradition, hearsay, educated guesses by the evangelists on what Jesus might have said in certain situations, and/or insertions of self-serving, propaganda by biased others.
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