Jesus in History and Myth

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

John Dartz


Jesus and His Brothers

A journalist should come bearing news, and all the better if it is a great story. What I will summarize all too briefly I consider to be more important news than anything I've done in eighteen years of covering religion for the Los Angeles Times. The story has not appeared in the Times (at least not yet) because my own conclusions are involved. My research, now exceeding seven years, has been for a book.

The "news" (about 1900 years too late) is that the brothers of Jesus -- James and Judas -- can finally be cleared of their "bad press" in the New Testament Gospels and be recognized for conveying the earlier, more authentic Jesus in certain apocryphal gospels.

The canonical Gospels give the distinct impression that the brothers were unbelievers who stayed in Galilee during Jesus' ministry and only later, after the resurrection, came to believe in his divinity. New Testament criticism of the brothers was stronger than would seem necessary if that were true. Actually, a strong polemic is introduced in the Gospel of Mark against all personages close to Jesus, and other gospels only soften it somewhat or introduce new polemics. While Mark undermined the authority of Judas and James, the apostle Paul, a couple of decades earlier, was combating the basic Wisdom theology we now can associate with the brothers of Jesus (if not with the early movement entirely). Such evidence would have been impossible except for two key texts attributed to brothers Judas and James, rediscovered only forty years ago. The Nag Hammadi Library, which was discovered in upper Egypt in 1945, had more than fifty treatises in an earthen jar; these treatises were classified primarily as Christian gnostic writings. Gnosticism included schools of thought that tended to be eclectic and very other-worldly. They speculated about the divine origins of human spirits in counterpoint to their unhappy view of a debilitating world. But among the Nag Hammadi works (Coptic translations

____________________
John Dart is religion writer for the Los Angeles Times.

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