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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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14. The Resurrection


14 The Resurrection

The final sections of Mark, Luke and John describe what happened after the death of Jesus on the cross. Attempting to reconstruct what the proposed common source says took place faces a few obstacles. Most significant is that both Mark and John appear to have new endings tacked on at a later time. The problematic verses in Mark are Mark 16:9–20. Those in John include all of John 21.

In its present form, Mark ends at 16:20 but it is the opinion of most gospel scholars that the original version ended at 16:8.1 This perception arises from the fact that the best early witnesses to Mark lack 16:9–20. Other endings have been found in later manuscripts, but the general consensus is that they were added on at a later date. The apparent additions to Mark seem to be influenced in substantial part by Luke.

According to the shorter original version of Mark, Mary Magdalene (with at least one other woman) went to the tomb of Jesus and found it empty. A mysterious figure inside the tomb said Jesus was not there and told the women to tell the apostles that Jesus will meet up with them in Galilee. Fear seized the women, they ran away, and told nobody what they saw or heard. The shorter version of Mark ends at that point.

In this version there is no appearance by a resurrected Jesus....

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