Documents for the Study of the Gospels

By David R. Cartlidge; David L. Dungan | Go to book overview

Preface to the Revised
and Enlarged Edition

Although a collection such as this might have many different purposes, in our eyes it has essentially one basic purpose: to provide the educated reader with a better understanding of the way the early Christian portrayals of Jesus Christ called gospels arose, and what they might have meant to those who read them at that time. To this end we have felt it necessary first of all greatly to broaden the perspective on early Christianity by providing a number of little-known writings about Jesus Christ (some of them recently discovered), so that a more complete picture is available, representing the variety of ways in which Jesus Christ was portrayed during the first three hundred years. Accompanying this is a wide spectrum of contemporaneous Greek, Roman, and Jewish documents, which, hopefully, will convey a much more definite and comprehensive impression of the whole realm of Savior Gods who were already present when Christianity began, and over against whom Christians proclaimed their faith in Jesus Christ.

It is common practice to view the larger Greek and Roman environment, or even the varieties of contemporaneous Judaism, as a kind of “background” in opposition to which the early Christian Church sprang forth, radiating divine light as it proclaimed its unique message of Jesus Christ, Savior of mankind. Our hope is to enable the reader to go beyond this overly simple contrast between divinely inspired Christianity and “pagan superstition” on the one hand, and “legalistic Judaism” on the other. As our collection makes evident, particularly with regard to the concept of Savior, the early Christians shared many of the religious concepts of their age. In fact, we would go on to suggest, although it is not within the purview of this book to demonstrate this claim, that it was precisely because the Christians shared so many ways of thinking and speaking with the other religious traditions of that age that it was able to communicate so effectively with them. Taking up the widely known concept of “Savior of the world” and creatively shaping it and charging it with the unique vitality of the incomparable figure of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christians immediately challenged the validity of every other “Savior of the world.”

Although most of the texts in our book have been newly translated by us, we did rely on the assistance of colleagues for some of them, and it is our honor to acknowledge them here: Rev. Dr. Boyd L. Daniels, for his translation of the Protevangelium Jacobi, which he made on the basis of a fresh collation

-xi-

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