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The Case for a Proto-Gospel

Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John

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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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11. The Roman Proceedings

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11 The Roman Proceedings

In this chapter we pick up from the point where the Jewish authorities handed Jesus over to Pilate and continue through his handing Jesus over for crucifixion. Mark is the shortest of the three narratives and is missing many scenes present in both John and Luke. Perhaps Mark’s most significant omissions, ones that greatly intrigues scholars, are Pilate’s three declarations of innocence present in both Luke and John. Mark has no such rulings.

Much less explored by scholars are several common details in Mark and John that are missing from Luke. For example, Mark and John both say that there was a Passover custom that a prisoner be released; that Pilate asked Jesus to explain why the Jews brought charges against him; that Pilate offered to release “the King of the Jews”; that the Roman soldiers dressed Pilate in a purple robe. Luke omits all of these and other details from his account of the Roman proceeding.

At the same time, Luke and John agree against Mark on several points. In addition, Luke and John each have some material that is unique to their respective gospels. Luke, for example, inserts an episode in which Jesus appears before Herod, an incident not present in any of the other gospels. John has extended dialogues between Pilate and Jesus and between Pilate and the Jews, much of which does not appear within the other gospels.

The agreements between Luke and John...

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