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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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8. The Plot to Kill Jesus


8 The Plot to Kill Jesus

In this chapter we will look at the sequence of narrative events associated with the Jewish plot to kill Jesus, beginning with the initial council meeting where the plot was conceived to its ultimate consummation with the handover of Jesus to Pilate. The proceedings in front of Pilate will be considered separately in Chapter 11.

In the previous chapter I proposed that John had radically altered the account of Jesus’ final visit to Jerusalem in order to accommodate his alternative theory as to why the council plotted to kill Jesus. As a result, that narrative segment, despite several parallel agreements between Mark and John as to specific stories, is the one major narrative arc where, so far, John significantly departed from Mark’s sequential and chronological arrangements. In this chapter we will see that John once again returns to a substantial sequential agreement with Mark as to the unfolding of the story of Jesus. As is often the case, though, we have several problems to overcome.

To begin with, Mark says that the Last Supper was a Passover meal, coming after the sacrifice of the lamb,1 and John says that the Last Supper took place the night before the Lamb was sacrificed and the Passover meal had not yet been eaten.2 So, where Mark has a scene in which the disciples prepare for the Passover meal, John offers a different pre-meal preparation scene.

Another important problem...

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