- Hardcover: 178 pages
- Publisher: Millennium Press; illustrated edition edition (September 1, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0965504727
- ISBN-13: 978-0965504720
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,037,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Who Wrote the Gospels? Hardcover – September 1, 1997
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About the Author
Dr. Randel Helms, a professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, teaches courses in Bible as Literature, World Literature, and 19th Century Romantic Literature. He is the author of the highly-acclaimed and controversial book, Gospel Fictions, that now has over 150,000 copies in print.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.