Mack (New Testament/School of Theology, Claremont) argues that the New Testament, far from representing historical facts, is the product of a process in which the countercultural sayings of Jesus were transformed into a universally acceptable myth. According to Mack, the only items in the Gospels genuinely deriving from Jesus are collections of pithy aphorisms, labeled Q by scholars for over a century, that focus on a very this-worldly, social concept of the kingdom of God. Mack envisages the existence of various groups of "Jesus people," such as those whose Jewish influence can be seen in Matthew's Gospel or others, of a distinctly Gnostic bent, who produced the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, discovered in 1945.
The Christianity of the New Testament, we are told, was a sophisticated myth that grew out of the groups' need to show that their kingdom of God movement had the backing of the God of Israel, even though it repudiated the ethnic exclusiveness of traditional Judaism. Mack argues that Paul's letter to the Galatians is the first elaboration of the Christ myth's logic that gentiles could belong to Israel. In this scenario, the formation of the Christian Bible as a closed "canon" of inspired writings was due to the demands of Constantine, who wanted Christianity to be a monolithic state religion throughout his empire.
Mack hopes that his demythologizing the Christian Bible will enable Americans to treat it in a less simplistic way, but some of his premises will alienate many believers, e.g., that Jesus' teachings must have been purely social and that the Gospel accounts of his miracles are "preposterous." Although he makes a plausible case, Mack never gets near to actually proving that his version of Jesus lies behind the extant texts.
In this New Testament counterpart of Richard Elliot Friedman's bestselling Who Wrote the Bible? and Harold Bloom's The Book of J (which focused on the Old Testament), a radical Jesus scholar reveals who really wrote the Gospels and other books of the New Testament--and why. The New Testament is commonly viewed and treated as a charter document that came into being much like the Constitution of the United States. According to this view, the authors of the New Testament were all present at the historic beginnings of the new religion and collectively wrote their gospels and letters for the purpose of founding the Christian church that Jesus came to inaugurate. Mack dispells this myth.
"One of those rare volumes that, upon completion, makes one wonder how we could possibly have lived without it. Burton Mack, the most radical of the premier Jesus scholars, details how the Christian myth was created." (Publishers Weekly)
Other books by Burton Mack include:
A Myth of Innocence : Mark and Christian Origins
Reimagining Christian Origins
The Lost Gospel : The Book of Q & Christian Origins [an error occurred while processing this directive]