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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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12. The Crucifixion


12 The Crucifixion

In this chapter I review the crucifixion stories in Mark, Luke, and John. To a large extent, all three revolve around the same basic story, although in some places the details are different and each of the gospels has some elements that do not appear in either of the other two. The following list outlines the broad substance of the crucifixion story.

• Soldiers brought Jesus to a place known as “Skull” (or Golgotha to use the original Hebrew name).

• Jesus was crucified between two other crucified individuals.

• An inscription containing the words “king of the Jews” was placed on the cross.

• Soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothing.

• People mocked Jesus while he was on the cross.

• Jesus was offered sour wine to drink.

• Jesus uttered his final words

• Jesus died.

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