reviews – The Pre-Nicene New Testament
American Rationalist, William Harwood
Three translations of biblical texts belong in every scholar’s library: Robert M. Price’s The Pre-Nicene New Testament, Bart Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures, and Robert J. Miller’s The Complete Gospels. All contain documents that were at one time recognized as Christian scripture. While there is much overlap, each contains books not found in either of the others. Only Price includes the Gospel of Marcion (as well as the hostile Toldot Yeshu). Ehrman and Miller both include three Jewish gospels excluded by Price. Ehrman alone includes the Gospel of the Egyptians. Miller alone includes the Secret Gospel of Mark, presumably because his book was published before Morton Smith’s alleged discovery was definitively exposed as a forgery, while those of Ehrman and Price were compiled after Smith was debunked. Only Miller includes the Q gospel, similar but not identical with the reconstruction included in my own Compact Fully Translated Bible. Miller also includes a “Signs Gospel” that he identifies as a source of John, closely matching “The Beloved Disciple’s Memoir,” likewise found in the Compact Fully Translated Bible. Price alone includes his own translations of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, more comprehensible than any authorized bible, while remaining a literal translation, not a paraphrasing.,
Svensk Teologisk Kvartalskrift, J. Duncan M. Derrett
The skeleton alone intrigues. Part I: Prehistoric Writings, including the Book of the Baptizer, Revelation of Dositheus, Great Declaration of Simon Magus, and Sayings of Jesus apud al-Ghazali; Part II: Matthaean Cycle, including Mark, Matthew, Gospel according to the Hebrews, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and Toldot Yeshu; Part III: Marcion’s Apostolicon, including Marcion’s Gospel, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Thessalonians, Romans, Laodiceans, Ephesians, 2 Laodiceans, Colossians, Philemon (inauthentic), and Philippians; Part IV: To Theophilus, including Luke, Acts, Titus, 2 and 1 Timothy; Part V: The Testament of John, including John (“a mess,” p. 667), Preaching of John, 3, 2, and 1 John, and Revelation; Part VI: The Petrine Corpus, including the Gospel of Peter, Preaching of Peter (Clementine Homily), 1, 2, and 3 Peter, 4 Peter, and Apocalypse of Peter; Part VII: Heirs of Jesus, including MMT (Qumran), James, “Jesus to Abgarus,” Qumran Hymns, Hebrews, Melchizedek, Jude, Thomas, and Gospel of Mary Magdalene; and finally Part VIII: Pauline Circle, including Hermas, Paul & Thecla, Barnabas, Revelation of Paul, and 3 Corinthians. All annotated and compared, revealing many Christianities parallel to many Judaisms. Not wanting to disparage churches, our New Testament appears in its setting from Marcion onward. A pre-Nicene New Testament finds value in dumping any canon.
But brave-hearted pioneers use an unproved hypothesis. What if there are New Testament parallels with Homer or Euripides? The latter need not be New Testament sources. Just as the Anointing at Bethany derives from 1 Samuel 25:2-41 and the Feedings from Ruth 2:14-18, the New Testament authors used Old Testament paradigms as mannequins on which to hang their verbal icons using familiar palettes. Having said this, one still greets Price’s contribution with grateful awe, condoning his “fine thing” for “good work” as at Mark 14:6.
This staggering book, out-Bultmanning Bultmann, inaugurates an era. Long nurtured, a conception of “a New Testament,” not confined to “our New Testament,” leaves the harbor of theology and displays a new genre. “Study of religion in late antiquity” will not serve for it, being too blunt and too bland. Our New Testament canon, made somehow by men, of anonymous works usually dated too early, is a selection from multiple sources, many helpful to evaluate how that selection was made. In his Pre-Nicene New Testament, Price includes many texts that have hunched under the aegis of theology, this non-science barely tolerating a mishmash of apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, and he amuses us by including a known forgery (pp. 634-38). He reconstructs and paraphrases, italicizing interpolations by others and himself. Playing with my themes, ignoring churches, drawing on D. F. Strauss, F. C. Baur, E. Stauffer, and others, he confronts New Testament passages with pagan and Jewish parallels, the result intimidating a reviewer, a blind man evaluating an elephant.
In Miller’s words (p. vii), “The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar have taken a bold step in gathering all the surviving gospels and gospel fragments into one volume. … The Scholars Version—SV for short—is free of ecclesiastical and religious control, unlike other major translations into English. … It also differs from most other English versions in that it is not a revision of a previous translation.”
Price, also a fellow of the Jesus Seminar, could have written all of the above in his own introduction. His translations are likewise not falsified to preserve the pretense that gospel authors believed the same things Christians believe, as church-authorized translations are without exception so falsified. Equal objectivity is found in Ehrman, who as far as I can gather was still afflicted with the religion virus when his book was written, but is now cured.
If economic considerations permit buying only one of the three, the choice based primarily on quantity (I see no difference in quality) should be Price’s Pre-Nicene New Testament. But all three provide useful information not found in the others. And all are available at significant discounts from Amazon.
Review with Mormon Expression