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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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10. The Lazarus Conundrum


10 The Lazarus Conundrum

I have argued above that the chief disruption to the narrative and chronological sequential agreement between John and Mark arises from John’s efforts to make the raising of Lazarus, the bringing back of someone from the dead, the central reason for the Jewish authorities to seek Jesus’ death. But where does this story come from? It is time now to take a closer look at the Lazarus cycle in John and how it interacts with Mark and Luke.

It is widely recognized that John’s reliance on the Lazarus story is somewhat problematic from a source-critical perspective. The chief problem is that while John makes the story of Lazarus central to the Passion account, the raising of Lazarus is absent in Mark, Luke and Matthew. At the same time, Mark has a story about the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead1 and Luke has an additional story about raising from the dead the son of a widow in Nain,2 but John has no mention of either of those prior resurrections and in none of the synoptic gospels does the raising of the dead lead to the kind of problems depicted in John.

Since the raising of Lazarus serves as the final focus of Jesus’ mission, it shouldn’t be surprising if John omitted any other resurrection stories he found in the proposed common source. But why would both Mark and Luke omit the Lazarus story if it were part of...

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