Jesus in History and Myth

By R. Joseph Hoffmann; Gerald A. Larue | Go to book overview

R. Joseph Hoffmann


Other Gospels, Heretical Christs

At the outset it is necessary to state what I mean by the title "Other Gospels, Heretical Christs." What I do not propose to deal with -- at least not in detail -- are the so-called apocryphal gospels and their various representations of Jesus. Not that these gospels are unworthy of attention: it would be great fun indeed to talk about the precocious little Jesus of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas who makes clay pigeons and causes them to fly, then slays a playmate who has vexed him with only a word; or the Jesus of the Gospel of Peter, who is seen by the guards posted outside his tomb on Easter morning bearing his cross, his head arching high above the clouds; or the Jesus of the Gospel of Nicodemus who batters down the gates of hell, binds Satan in irons, and leads Adam and the patriarchs out of captivity into heaven; or the gnostic Jesus of the Gospel of Philip, who is said to love Mary Magdalene more than the other disciples and offends his followers by kissing her hard and often on the mouth. Our attitude toward these tendentious literary creations may be shock or amusement; perhaps among university undergraduates it is more often than not something closer to amazement that so much material exists outside the fences of the New Testament canon, material that for one reason or another is disqualified from membership in the body of inspired books. But as I say, my subject here is not the fictional elaboration of the four gospels. It is rather the relation of the four gospels to each other, and only then their relation to extracanonical materials.

Simply stated, my argument is that every gospel is tendentious in relation to any other; that is to say, every gospel has its own reason for being written, and that reason is quite independent of its reason for being in the canon.

____________________
R. Joseph Hoffmann is Associate Professor of Ancient and Biblical Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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