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The Case for a Proto-Gospel

Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John


Gary Greenberg

In this landmark study of the literary relationship between the gospel of John and the synoptic gospels, Gary Greenberg presents compelling evidence for the existence of a written pre-canonical Alpha gospel that contained almost all of the main episodes in the adult life of Jesus (excluding major speeches, such as discourses, parables, and "I Am" sayings) and which became the written source for the core biography of Jesus in Mark, Luke, John, and Matthew. While Mark used the Alpha gospel with only slight variations, John had profound theological disagreements with it, objecting to its theological message about how to obtain eternal life, the depiction of Jesus, and other matters. This induced him to rewrite the Alpha gospel so that it conformed to his own very different theological agenda. Consequently, John’s gospel functions as a thorough theological critique of Mark, but the changes he introduced made it difficult to see how he and Mark worked from the same written source. By using John’s theological concerns as a filter for reading and understanding what objections John would have with Mark’s Jesus stories, The Case for a Proto-Gospel reverse-engineers the editorial path taken by John and reconstructs the content of the Alpha gospel. Finally, the author discusses the relationship of the other two synoptic gospels to the Alpha gospel, asserting that Luke also knew the Alpha gospel but used Mark as his primary source, and that while Matthew did not know the Alpha gospel, his use of Mark as a primary source ensured that his core biography of Jesus also derived from this earlier source.

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5. You Can’t Go Home Again


5 You Can’t Go Home Again

In Chapter 2, during my analysis of John’s Discourse on Bread, I pointed out that one of the verses in that sequence, John 6:42, which referenced Jesus’ family, appeared to be a parallel to Mark 6:3, a verse belonging to the Mark 6:1–6 story about Jesus being rejected by his “hometown” congregation. This story is usually referred to as the Rejection at Nazareth although Mark never directly says that the story took place in Nazareth. At that time, I said that in order to avoid the distraction of a complex analysis of that passage’s role in John 6 that I would treat it separately. I do that in this chapter.

The Discourse on Bread runs from John 6:31 to 6:58, although many scholars treat 6:51–58 as a later addition.1 The inclusion of John 6:42 in the Discourse identifies, as does its parallel in Mark, the synagogue where Jesus spoke as one where Jesus’ family was known. In addition, both gospels, in other verses that do not share similar language, show that the congregation that knew Jesus’ family rejected him, although Mark (for reasons to be explained later) is quite vague as to why this happened.

Despite this double parallel in language and story line, the consensus appears to be that the integration of John 6:42 into the Discourse is just an isolated coincidence worth no more than an...

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