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The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic Paperback – September 2, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The Gospel of John differs from Mark, Matthew, and Luke in terms of style, tone, and many of the events described. Further, the gospels tendency to negatively call out “the Jews” has led, in many ways, to anti-Semitism. So it’s surprising that Spong, a former bishop and educator who has written persuasively about the need for a nontheistic Christianity, would choose to devote a book to John. And in fact, Spong writes about his difficulties coming to terms with John’s message. But, in his eighty-second year, Spong feels he at last understands John, seeing it now in a new light, as the writing of a Jewish mystic. He moves readers deliberately through the pages of the gospel, explaining by example how he’s come to his conclusions. John, he maintains, was written after the Johanine community had been expelled from the synagogue. Consequently, John’s purpose in writing is to use Jewish symbolism to explain Jesus and his movement to those who would not or could not accept him. Spong himself says that many of the ideas here—let’s boil it down to God is love—aren’t new. But Spong is writing for a lay audience, and he does so magnificently. His thoughts are bracing, his writing exciting, and his conclusions thought provoking. Those who love reading about religion in general and Christianity in particular may want to go through this volume more than once. --Ilene Cooper --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“We now approach our scriptures with a literalism that is unparalleled in the history of religion. This new and imaginative book by John Shelby Spong will liberate many people from this unnecessary complication of the religious life.” (Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam)

“Spong is writing for a lay audience, and he does so magnificently. His thoughts are bracing, his writing exciting, and his conclusions thought provoking. Those who love reading about religion in general and Christianity in particular may want to go through this volume more than once.” (Booklist (starred review))

“No one has done more to articulate a vibrant, post-mythic vision of Christianity than John Shelby Spong. Bishop Spong’s masterful interpretation is destined to become a classic.” (Michael Dowd, Author of Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World)

“Bishop Spong’s in-depth struggles with and work on the Gospel of John have resulted in a book that challenges dominant assumptions and interpretations. This book will help anyone who cares to think about faith in open, dynamic, hospitable, and inclusive ways.” (Tat-siong Benny Liew, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean; Professor of New Testament Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA)

“Leave it to Bishop Spong to uncover a message of universal hope that is deeply rooted in Jewish mysticism. Spong’s synthesis of Johannine scholarship will lead both clergy and lay readers to a new appreciation of the surprising origins and message of the Fourth Gospel.” (David Felten & Jeff Procter-Murphy, authors of Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity)

“Spong is always readable and informative, but this book reads like a cross between a detective story and an adventure saga that is founded on excellent scholarship. I could not put it down.” (Fred C. Plumer, President of Progressive Christianity.Org)

“Spong invites readers on a stimulating and challenging journey to read the gospel of John afresh and to consider Christianity from a new perspective. This is a must read for every Christian who has tried to make sense of this gospel.” (Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, Dean and Professor of Hebrew Bible, The Theological School, Drew University)

“Spong stands on solid scholarship. . . . More important than the negatives to the profoundly persuasive author is the unburnished positive: . . . The Fourth Gospel calls on the faithful to believe that Jesus achieved ‘the mystical oneness with the God who is the source of life.’” (Publishers Weekly)

“In his 24th book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, the always provocative Bishop John Shelby Spong takes on the Gospel of John, opening new windows of insight and challenging the ways the fourth gospel has usually been understood.” (Publishers Weekly)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (September 2, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062011316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062011312
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,363 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

62 of 64 people found the following review helpful By fusiafinch on June 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
No matter what your opinion about John Shelby Spong's ideas and theology, he sure writes in such a compelling and entertaining way that it's hard to put the book down! This book gives a brand new and fresh insight into the Gospel of John that will be especially attractive to those who have given up on Christianity. Spong's insights offer a new way to interpret the Christian story that will be compelling to many of us in the "Church Alumni Association, and give us a way to believe in the transformative message of the Christian story again.

Spong goes way beyond his primary thesis that the Gospel of John is not to be read literally, but symbolically. He supports his arguments with excellent Biblical scholarship that also incorporates ideas from his earlier books into this treatise. He not only presents many of the characters in John as symbolic literary creations or developments, but also finds new insights into history and theology by doing so. This book is compelling reading which will inspire those who have left the church because of the Church's adherence to dogmatic literalism. But the book will also disturb those who base their faith on the literal historical reading of the text. Either way, the book is never boring!

I have only one criticism. Spong makes a clear argument in favor of the resurrection of Jesus as a non-literal, non-physical event. But he also implies an objective reality to resurrection that is clearly more than the disciples subjective experience. But he does not elaborate too much on what that objective event could be. He mentions that resurrection "means something" but does not speculate further on what that "something" is.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By David Crumm on June 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
John may be the world's most loved and feared book. There's no question that the Bible is the world's all-time best seller and Gallup polling of American readers shows John neck and neck with Matthew as the New Testament's two favorite books. John is proclaimed in signs at football games and splashed across billboards on rural roads. However, John also is packed with confusing and dangerous references to "the Jews" and has been singled out, within the Bible, to fuel deadly violence over many centuries.

And the other John? John Shelby Spong certainly is one of the world's most loved and feared religious leaders. He's better known to readers around the world as the best-selling, controversial Episcopal "Bishop Spong." Why is he feared? Spong also is quite comfortable as a firebrand foe of Fundamentalism, the still widespread belief that the Bible's text is literally true. Fundamentalist critics fear that he is undermining Christianity itself. Now, in his 24th book, Jack Spong tackles his namesake book in the Bible--hoping to guide his readers in thousands of congregations to a greater appreciation of this sacred text while avoiding its lethal dangers.

If you're looking for a great discussion series in your congregation, order a copy of The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic today from Amazon. As in many of his past books, the text here is welcoming as the retired bishop draws on his lifetime of Bible scholarship to teach about this beloved Gospel. This is a personal and even passionate book.

How is this book welcoming in its teaching?
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Dubious Disciple on June 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Spong has never warmed to the historicity of the Fourth Gospel. In fact, he never warmed to that gospel much at all, until the last few years, when he decide to make a study of it. I'm glad he finally did; I thoroughly enjoyed reading Spong's analysis.

He begins his book by admitting that the older he gets, the more he believes, but the fewer beliefs he holds. I quoted Spong in my own book about John's Gospel (published just three months ago) as saying "I do not believe I can make a case for a single word attributed to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel to be a literal word actually spoken by the historic Jesus." Knowing that we were researching our projects simultaneously, I contacted him to make sure he hadn't developed a new "belief" about the Gospel before I printed that. Nope, he still doesn't believe Jesus said any of the words in John's Gospel, and more than that: Spong believes none of the miracle stories are real, few of the characters are historical people, and certainly the author wasn't an original apostle of Jesus. Nicodemus, Nathanial, the woman at the well, the beloved disciple, the mother of Jesus (who remains unnamed in this Gospel)--all purely symbolic. The Gospel is a late-first-century mystical work, allegorically telling the history of the Johannine Community and the development of the Jesus movement, and it was never meant to be read like a history book.

I can't go quite that far, yet it's fascinating to read the Gospel as a mystical lesson book. The "mother of Jesus" in John's Gospel, for example, was never a woman named Mary, but a symbol of Israel. The wedding of Cana was Jesus' own wedding. Not literally, of course, but symbolically.
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