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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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13. The Day of Preparation


13 The Day of Preparation

John says in no uncertain terms that Jesus appeared before Pilate before the Passover meal had been eaten.1 Mark insists that Jesus was arrested after the Passover meal.2 Resolving this conflict may be one of the most vexing problems in gospel harmonization. While we can’t change what the two authors wrote we can explore whether such conflicts may have arisen from the proposed common source. I believe there are at least four major problems in the gospels that could be traced back to that earlier document.

First, the gospel authors, I will argue, used a Roman definition of the calendar day, sunrise to sunrise, instead of the Jewish definition, sunset to sunset, to describe events on the Jewish calendar, making it extremely difficult to accurately analyze what actually occurred at particular points in time. I will trace this usage back to the proposed common source.

Second, there are some indications that the gospel authors are not familiar with the difference between the holiday of Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and I will suggest they copied their usage from the proposed common source.

Third, the gospels use a very unusual term in connection with the day Jesus died, “day of Preparation,” but they disagree as to what the term signified with regard to the Jewish calendar. This usage, I will suggest, goes back to the proposed ←577 | 578→common source, which didn’t identify what the term...

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