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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Gospel of Jesus

I've just finished reading, "The Gospel of Jesus: In Search of the Original Good News" by James M. Robinson (Amazon link here). Here is a piece of the Amazon synopsis...

Like many others throughout history, Robinson thinks he knows what Jesus really preached. But considering his credentials, he just may have a good head start. The former director of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, he was the intimately involved in making the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Gnostic gospels became part of the public discourse. He also organized the Internal Q Project that reconstructs the original sayings of Jesus, and it is this analysis in particular that has helped shaped his thesis. According to Robinson, Jesus' original gospel is now obscured by the canonized literature. The message is intense and simple: trust God to look out for you by providing people who will care for you, and listen to him when he calls on you to provide for them. It is a "radical trust in and responsiveness to God" that can make society function as God's kingdom.

The book really does highlight the remarkable differences between what most modern Christians think of as their faith, and what Jesus actually (most likely) taught and said. After reading, I found what I hope is a current email of the author's and sent him this letter...

Professor Robinson,

I have just finished reading, The Gospel of Jesus, and wanted to thank you for this wonderful book. It will go on my "special shelf" for certain.

I was raised in a Conservative Protestant home in the southern United States, and related to what you said about Jesus' message being overlooked by a nearly exclusive focus on supernatural salvation through him as a human sacrifice.

For many years I have been (and still am) a Humanist with an entirely scientific and non-supernatural view of the world. Recently I have been discovering new ways of thinking about a more naturalistic concept of "God" than the personified conception of conservative Christianity and other major religions. This, mainly through my explorations of Taoism, the materialist-but-sacred Logos concept in Stoicism, and the correlation between Heraclitus' Divine Fire and modern Complex Systems theory. Although, I still prefer not to use the term "God" so as not to mislead people into thinking I believe something I don't.

Your book, therefore, came at a perfect time for me. Jesus' thoughts on 'seeing God in Nature' struck a cord. While my concept here may be far more impersonal and naturalistic (perhaps pantheistic) than even Jesus intended, it makes many of his conclusions fit for me in ways never before possible.

I enjoyed learning about the history of the development of the synoptic gospels. I also enjoyed reading of Jesus' notions concerning how we treat our enemies. Of course, I have heard his teachings before, but the pragmatic "cycle breaking" way you (and originally he) framed these values truly related to me as a Humanist.

Thank you for showing religious conservatives a more true and rational path that can still be spiritual and fulfilling, while at the same time showing secular folks like me the value in Jesus' original gospel. Your approach and aim in this book was truly noble.

DT Strain

Update, October 20, 2005:
I've just read Professor Robinson's email reply to my letter! Because it was an email to me and there was no understanding between us that it would be public, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to post it here. But he was very gracious, personable, and pleased that I liked the book. I thought it was nice of him to return fan mail so I figured I should mention it.

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