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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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7. Jesus’ Last Visit to Jerusalem


7 Jesus’ Last Visit to Jerusalem

The chief disruption to the sequential agreement of what will ultimately prove to be a very long set of parallel events in Mark and John revolves around the very different versions of Jesus’ last trip to Jerusalem in the two gospels. I am not talking here just about the occasional reordering of a detail within a story or John’s frequent practice of slicing out an offensive element and relocating it in a different context. I am talking about the resequencing of several episodes.

The divergence between John and Mark incorporates both significant chronological differences as to when the visit occurred and what took place in the course of those events. There is almost no narrative overlap within the two accounts of Jesus’ last visit. At the same time, John’s version of the last visit has several parallels to events outside of Mark’s version of the story, and Mark’s version of the last visit has several parallels to events outside of John’s version of the last visit. If the two were working from a common written source then at least one of them, if not both, have radically altered the narrative flow.

Mark’s account of Jesus’s last visit runs from Mark 11:1 through 13:2. It consists of three major strands. First is what scholars usually refer to as the Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem, and which Mark appears to place about five days before the final Passover. Second...

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