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on June 4, 2003
This book is a perfect beginning point for anyone interested in modern scholarship into the origins of the Christian Bible, and of the origins of traditional Christianity. Helms' writing is clear, his arguments cogent, and his scholarship is commendable. While not as detailed, subtle and penetrating as Burton Mack's "Who Wrote the New Testament," this book is far more approachable and understandable for regular people who may not be academically oriented.
While it may come as a suprise to many, it has been known for centuries that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Instead, these are "traditional" names given to anonymously-written works over a hundred years after they were written. This much is not controversial among biblical scholars. What is controversial is the attempt to assign actual authorship to these anonymous works, and to place them in the proper historical, social, cultural, and theological context. Helms does an excellent job of showing how these Gospels were not simply eyewitness accounts, or even second-hand accounts, of Jesus' time. Rather, they are products of complicated theological advocacy written generations after Jesus' time. Each Gospel is shown to reflect the author(s) own theological interests and agenda, as each sought to advance their own vision of the emerging religion. While I do have a few quibbles and reservations about some of Helms' more speculative speculations, I found his arguments to be convincing generally.
Christianity as we have come to know it, is the historical product of a historically brief period between the traditional dates of Jesus' ministry and the Council of Nicaea in the early 4th century. During the intervening centuries, Christianity began as a diverse and conflicting collection of religious associations and movements, passed through a period of competition and acrimony among sects, and ended in the triumph of one particular brand of Christianity which has come to be labeled "orthodox." Helms book illuminates an important part of this historical process, by showing how the Gospels reflect the viewpoints, concerns and agendas of these anonymous early Christian writers during the period of competition between the various visions and interpretations of Christianity.
An enlightening and worthwhile read for anyone interested in Christianity or the history of religion in general.
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on September 13, 2000
I was looking for a new Bible to read during this first year of the new millenium (I'm on my fourth pass through the Bible) and came across this book by Helms. I went home without buying it, even though the jacket stired my interest. It was no use. I couldn't get it out of my mind. So several days later I went back and bought the remaining copy.
I've always enjoyed the thrill of well thought-out new ideas and logically explained differences of opinion. And Helms does an excellent job of leading the reader, step-by-step, through his thought processes. Describing very thoroughly how and why he reached his conclusions. In addition, Helms has the ability to transmit enthusiam for his research through the written word.
Whether or not your religious convictions allow room for what Helms puts forward is a personal choice. Being a liberal (some would say - radical) Presbyterian, I see no harm in questioning any ideas put forward. It then becomes a personal choice as to whether or not the idea is accepted in part or in its entirety.
The only shortcoming in the book was the absence of the presentation of acceptable or plausible alternatives to Helms thesis, and a discussion as to why those alternatives fell short of the mark.
Along with providing some interesting ideas, Helms fired my desire to undertake additional reading in this area.
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VINE VOICEon March 1, 2007
Randel Helm's Who Wrote the Gospels is a well written book, but it is extremely uneven, and some chapters are very weak while some are truly excellent. Let's look at this chapter by chapter.

Chapter two refers to Mark. Helms is obsessed with the Book of Daniel, and this chapter might better be labeled Mark and Daniel. There is almost nothing at all about who wrote the Gospel of Mark, and Helms accepts the standard 70 CE as the date of composition.

Chapter three is about Matthew, and Helms does a great job in showing how Matthew changed Mark and how the changes therein reflected Matthew's objectives. We get no closer to knowing who wrote this gospel (which is the title of the book), but we do get some great insights into the workings of the minds of the author(s) of Matthew. Helms uses 90 CE as the date for Matthew, with no real discussion of why this date works.

Chapters four and five concern Luke. Helms believes that Luke also wrote Acts, and posits the idea that Luke is a woman (a Greek speaking God fearing Gentile widow with a sly feminist humor, no less). He offers numerous examples of how the Gospel of Luke favors women and makes a good case for his theory. He dates the Gospel at about 100 CE.

Chapter six covers the so-called "lost gospels" - Thomas and Q. Helms apparently doesn't understand that a hypothetical construct does not necessarily have a separate life, and hence treats Q as if it is a real gospel. It isn't. It is merely a theory to explain why certain passages are common to Luke and Matthew but not found in Mark. And it isn't the only theory to explain the communality, a factor Helms ignores.

The real treat comes in chapters seven to nine in which Helms advances the theory that the Gospel of John had three different stages: a very early (40 to 50 CE) oral signs tradition, a signs gospel (85 to 95 CE), and then a revised version (early 2nd century) . Helms builds on the work of Robert Fortna (1988) and makes an excellent case, with many examples that distinguish the different layers.

Overall this is a provocative and well-documented scholarly work, although I have some problems with it. Helms uncritically accepts the two source theory as he also does the single authorship of Luke and Acts. He thinks Jesus died in 30 CE and he mistakenly refers to him as "Jesus of Nazareth". The chapter on Mark is weak and the book ends abruptly without a final chapter to make any summary points. In addition, though written in 1997, it seems dated, probably because of Helm's failure to address the issue of gospel redaction and bias. This is reflected in the fact that most of his references are pre 1990. Having said this, the book belongs in the library of any serious scholar interested in the New Testament.
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on June 21, 1999
This book is especially appropriate now when a number of Evangelists and Christians believe the "last days" are approaching and they quote Daniel and Mark in support of their beliefs. Helms clearly shows how Mark based many of his apocalyptic beliefs and statements on the Book of Daniel. In his analysis he also points out several historical inaccuracies of the Old Testment and contradictions between the Gospels in the New Testament. When Jesus failed to return during the life time of his followers (as Mark said he would), Matthew and Luke had to rewrite the stories to make them fit their own troubled times. Helms also presents a strong and fascinating case that the author of Luke was a woman. "Who Wrote The Gospels" is readable, clear, and enlightening.
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on May 21, 2000
Being a Methodist, of liberal persuasion, I was not surprised by what Dr. Helms presents in this thoroughly researched study of the gospels.
Dr. Randel McCraw Helms, at times, is obsessed with scholarly arguments with his academic colleagues.
The book is short and relatively easy to read, even for the layman with a cursory knowledge of the scriptures. The narrative could have been edited with greater care, reducing the length of many of the author's sentences. The use of internal footnotes are beneficial, at times seemingly to add exclamation points to Helm's arguments.
Helms scholarship and those many sources he examines are obviously known to the clergy, from Rome to America's Bible belt. One wonders why this and other similar studies are not being addressed in Christian churches.
If you accept Helms' conclusions, and it's difficult not to, then what motivated the early Christians, the authors' of the gospels, to embellish the oral traditions. Were the " Gospel Fictions" [according to Helms], created by the anonymous authors of the Gospels, divinely inspired?
After reading this well-researched treatise -- for believers -- will their faith been shattered? I doubt it -- mine hasn't?
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on March 10, 1999
Helms provides a step by step analysis of each of the NT "authors", and their reliance on Mark and the "Q" - the common source of oral traditions regarding the life and words of JC. At times Helms buldgeons his readers with his points of reference, and at times he overstates the argument, calling to service several times misstatements of Mark in particular. But the argument is compelling all the same, and should give any serious reader of Gospel texts pause regarding the extent to which these texts are actually inspired or conspired to achieve theological ends. The book slips for me when Luke is cast as the woman merely by reference to the number of times "he" brings women into the narrative. This was poor deduction for me. All the same, the book clarified many points and shifted the search for the truth of Jesus all the more difficult. Not being one to accept on faith alone the Christian inheritance, nor one to speculate from a late 20th century composition of secular truth, I must say that theologians have their work before them to move beyond "faith" alone in establishing the veracity of NT claims.
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on March 1, 2009
This book has been the most helpful to me for studying the gospels. Since I usually study the Bible as literature using the historical-critical method, I consider "WHO WROTE THE GOSPELS" at the top of my list of influences. "THE FIVE GOSPELS" by The Jesus Seminar is probably the second. The best reading in Helms' book occurs when he explains how Matthew corrects Mark & the reasons for dating Mark's gospel sometime after the destruction of the temple (in other words, a post-70ACE date). THE one flaw in this book which caused me to lower my rating to 4&1/2 stars involves Helms' reasoning for suggesting that the author of the Gospel of Luke was a woman. (Actually, only one of the many reasons he gives; the overall argument is reasonable in & of itself) That one reason involves the "we" passages in the ACTS OF THE APOSTLES in which Helms thinks that whenever "LUKE" writes "we", "she" means to be gender-inclusive. This argument would probably work if it were not for ACTS 16:17. This verse refers to the group ("we" included) as "these men." Of course, it is possible that "LUKE" IS a woman and that the "we" passages are an interpolation. After all, they do interupt the consistency of the narritive. But back to the reason this book is excellent: Helms explains why the Gospel of John is the work of more than one author. Also, Helms points out the paradigm shifts & the developing theology starting with MARK all the way through to JOHN. It's a shame this book is becoming hard to find. I got lucky; I found my copy at my sister's library in Newbern, TN.
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on February 8, 2009
I cannot vouch for the integrity or accuracy of the scholarship that butresses Helms' arguments. This book is my first foray into the critical scholarship of the New Testament, after having whetted my appetite on Old Testament texts such as Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple (Revised & Expanded) and The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts.

I enjoyed Helms' style of writing and found many of his arguments persuasive. Above all, it was very satisfying and liberating to throw off the shackles of fear and begin to approach the New Testament, and the historical Jesus of Nazareth, from a critical standpoint. Helms may not offer the definitive treatment here, but this volume is very accessible and informative. You will certainly know much more than the majority of fellow attendees during your next Sunday School class.
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on December 14, 1999
to some of the inconsistencies of New Testament prophecy. Helms presents a clear case when exposing the theological program of the real NT authors. I found the explanation of the apocalyptic/gnostic contradictions of John particularly fascinating. The book was written in an easy to read style, and did an excellent job (I thought) of maintaining its focus on the subject matter without getting overly bogged down in technical jargon. Overall a well-written beginner's guide for anyone wanting a starting point from which to explore the New Testament's historical grounding.
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on September 20, 1998
Dr. Helms covers new ground in this excellent literary deconstruction of the Gospels. His goal is to see what we can learn of the actual authors of the Gospels, then secondarily to see what we can logically deduce from those findings. What's revealed is the human side of the fledgling Jesus movement that will certainly remain controversial. Why no one else has done this to the Gospels before is clearly a mystery. I highly recommend this book for anyone at all curious as to who the writers of the Gospels might really have been.
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