There are twenty seven books in The New Testament. Twenty seven writings chosen because they fitted what certain people believed and taught about Jesus. Many other writings were rejected , indeed physically destroyed because they did not fit the Christian thought of the times.

We know about these writings because some survived, well, copies of them survived the cleansing of the canon, and there are references to some in other texts.

What interests me is that, not only were all of these books written well after the events to which they refer, Paul was writing around 50 AD  to 60 AD and the  canonical gospels were mainly written after the fall of the temple in the Jewish-Roman war, but that we have no original texts. All that we have are copies and not copies of the originals but copies of copies, in fact probably several generations of copying went on before translation of the Greek texts to Latin and later to other languages.

Given that we are only relying on copies is it not likely, probable even, that between the original writing and all later texts copiers made mistakes or changes in the text? We have already seen that the texts themsleves were selected to fit a particular view so why not actually deliberately bring about changes to make the fit even closer?

Some scholars do propose earlier dates for the Gospels but they were still written after the events depicted and were probably written  far from Palestine where  the events supposedly took place. There was plenty of time for the development of traditions and myths before the writing took place.

So we have a collection of  books written some time after the events that apparently gave rise to them. They may have been changed, deliberately or otherwise. They do not agree on their details. Yet they have had immense influence on the events of history, much, if not most, of that influence has been malign and, we see in the U.S. among other places the continued malign influence of these books. They are used to justify extreme views and action, even murder.

There is another side to these books however. Belief in their contents has given rise to great art. Whether music, painting, architecture. drama or other literature there has been an amazing flowering due to the influence of these books. But, there have been other books that have also inspired both evil and art…………

A page from the Lindisfarne Gospels

This is another episode in the continuing Saga  of the Losse Bloggers’ Consortium whose members are -:  Anu, Ashok, ConradGaelikaaGingerGrannymar, HelenJudyMaria, & Ramana.:


10 Responses to “Books…”

  1. Rummuser Says:

    This is an interesting way of looking at the Gospels. Some books have indeed inspired great works of art like the Gospels did, and in the modern times, they produce great movies, which can be called art I suppose. Many books have changed lives in individuals and events in the case of mankind. Yes, books somehow have significance beyond just their being there.

  2. Grannymar Says:

    The town where I live has more varieties of churches and gospel halls than I had hot dinners. Every one of them has their own version of the ‘good book’, each with subtle differences. Maybe I should write a follow up! 😉

  3. Looney Says:

    The loss of the original manuscripts is true for all works of classical/ancient literature. I was just reading that Buddha’s teachings were transmitted orally for four centuries before being committed to writing.

    The other side of this is that classical Greece made a science of history starting with Thucydides and going on through Polybius that relied heavily on first hand involvement, visiting sites and cross examining witnesses. Luke follows the pattern since he was classically trained (along with Paul), while the book of John also shows a strong relationship to classical education.

  4. magpie11 Says:

    Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the ‘synoptic’ gospels (Greek: syn = “together”, optic = “seen”) because of their many similarities in wording and order. The Synoptic Problem involves explaining these similarities. They are widely believed to result from the use of written sources.

    It is often assumed that mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and Luke used this as at least one of their sources. Some apparently have it that Matthew was first. It is thought that Mark used a source of sayings of Jesus.
    There is also the theory that Luke used a written source (named Q from the German quelle (meaning source ) or so I am informed.

    Whatever the truth of the matter I am convinced that none of these documents can have come down to us as originally written (I include all the twenty seven books in this) and thus (assuming the existence of a creator god) the claim that these are divinely inspired documents is built on “sandy” foundations, if not down right “muddy”.

    For some time in our family there was a saying, directed at me: “But Grannie the book is wrong.” The book in question was a physics text book and I had the temerity to disagree with an equation printed in it. No-none thought to check the equation until I became fed up with the jibes and jeers.

    My Physics teacher was more sympathetic and checked said equation and found that I was indeed correct. The Erratum slip had been lost or not even put into the book.

    With the New (and other) testaments and Holy books we do not have the luxury of erratum slips…and I would include the Qu’ran in that in spite of Muslim claims to its unchanged nature.

  5. Maria Says:

    I remember a nun in High School telling those of us in the Religion class that all the books of the New Testament were put on a table and then all the monks and holy men left the room. They went off to pray and when they came back, only the true books were on the table, the false ones had mysteriously fallen to the floor.

    Well, it is as good a story as half a dozen more I was told as fact.

  6. magpie11 Says:

    Little wonder Martin Luther and others popped up their heads.

    I agree, stories like that can be fun.

  7. gaelikaa Says:

    I know about the Quelle and the fact that the synoptic Gospels probably used, it as a model. Matthew was a disciple and wrote for a Jewish readership, Mark was supposedly the voice of Peter with the same Hebrew accent. Luke, written in Greek was in fact the voice of Paul, who met Jesus after his Resurrection and not before. This was accented towards non-Jewish converts to the Way, who in that time were mostly Greek. Paul’s knowledge of Christ was based on oral versions and interpreting the Old Testament Writings. John’s Gospel is more of a series of discourses, but John met the pre-Resurrection Jesus(and post-Resurrection Jesus) in his teens and wrote the book in old age.

    Believing Christians have full faith that the books which survived have done so because of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. If you have faith in that, it is a major force.

  8. magpie11 Says:

    I’m interested in the received R.C. orthodoxy about this….especially as it was the politics of the church and the Roman state which gives us the canon.

    I still have concerns about the copying of documents and the deliberate and accidental changes that would have been made in the process.

    I must read Enoch Powell on Matthew again… he is very interesting.

    I love the assumptions about the Gospel writers …. no proof at all that I know of.

  9. Ursula Says:

    Magpie, what a mind blowing subject. No wonder, people need FAITH.

    Myself being Simone at her simplest, on reading both your piece and follow-up comments, what’s the first thing to pop up in my mind: “Chinese Whispers” also known as “Stille Post”. Do you remember that game? If ever there was a lesson.


    • magpie11 Says:

      Hello Ursula, welcome back!

      Faith? I have my own theories about that and religious experiences…but not for this forum.

      Yes, I remember Chinese Whispers. Why Chinese? There were always those who would sabotage the game of course. Deliberately passing on something that had nothing to do whatever with the message received.
      So that “The headmaster loves the cook” could become “Bananas are the only fruit.”

      I take your point exactly.

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