Gospel Behind the Gospel part 2

 photo church_of_nativity_zps7syqbgzu.jpg
Church of nativity Bethlehem

Non Canonical Gospels (Lost Gospels)

Non canonical Gospels includes those we have in full such as G Peter and G Thomas and "lost Gospels" which tend to be theoretical such as Q or fragmentary such as Egerton 2. Of course a lot of what is found imn non canonical gospels is latter material from second an d third centuries and has less historical value for our purposes. But even in some late material there are traces of early readings, Of this early material we can't really know what reflects truth and what reflects drift from the truth of the events. One thing is certain when this kind of material agrees with the canonical gospels it increases the odds that the canonical gospels represent historical reality at leas in those matters of agreement,

Following I reproduce excerpts from a newspaper story about these lost gospels and non canonical gospels,

Story by Kay Albright, (785) 864-8858

University Relations, the public relations office for the University of Kansas Lawrence campus. Copyright 1997

LAWRENCE - Fragments of a fourth-century Egyptian manuscript contain a lost gospel dating from the first or second century, according to Paul Mirecki, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Kansas.

Mirecki discovered the manuscript in the vast holdings of Berlin's Egyptian Museums in 1991. The book contains a rare "dialogue gospel" with conversations between Jesus and his disciples, shedding light on the origins of early Judaisms and Christianities.

The lost gospel, whose original title has not survived, has similarities to the Gospel of John and the most famous lost gospel, the gospel of Thomas, which was discovered in Egypt in 1945.

The newly discovered gospel is written in Coptic, the ancient Egyptian language using Greek letters. Mirecki said the gospel was probably the product of a Christian minority group called Gnostics, or "knowers."

Mirecki said the discussion between Jesus and his disciples probably takes place after the resurrection, since the text is in the same literary genre as other post-resurrection dialogues, though the condition of the manuscript makes the time element difficult to determine.

"This lost gospel presents us with more primary evidence that the origins of early Christianity were far more diverse than medieval church historians would tell us," Mirecki said. "Early orthodox histories denigrated and then banished from political memory the existence of these peaceful people and their sacred texts, of which this gospel is one."

Mirecki is editing the manuscript with Charles Hedrick, professor of religious studies at Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield. Both men independently studied the manuscript while working on similar projects in Berlin.

A chance encounter at a professional convention in 1995 in Philadelphia made both men realize that they were working on the same project. They decided to collaborate, and their book will be published this summer by Brill Publishers in the Netherlands.

The calfskin manuscript is damaged, and only 15 pages remain. Mirecki said it was probably the victim of an orthodox book burning in about the fifth century.[1]

The 34 Gospels

Charles W. Hendrick, professor who discovered the lost Gospel of the Savior tells us

Mirecki and I are not the first scholars to find a new ancient gospel. In fact scholars now have copies of 19 gospels (either complete, in fragments or in quotations), written in the first and second centuries A.D— nine of which were discovered in the 20th century. Two more are preserved, in part, in other andent writings, and we know the names of several others, but do not have copies of them. Clearly, Luke was not exaggerating when he wrote in his opening verse: "Many undertook to compile narratives [aboutJesus]" (Luke 1:1). Every one of these gospels was deemed true and sacred by at least some early Christians. [2]

These Gospels demonstrate a great diversity among the early Church, they  diminish the claims of an orthodox purity. On the other hand, they tell us more about the historical Jesus as well. One thing they all have in common is to that they show Jesus as a historical figure, working in public and conducting his teachings before people, not as a spirit being devoid of human life.Hendrick says,"Gospels-whether canonical or not- are collections of anecdotes from Jesus' public career."

Many of these lost Gospels pre date the canonical gospels, which puts them prior to AD 60 for Mark:


The Gospel of the Saviour, too. fits this description. Contrary' to popular opinion, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not included m the canon simply because they were the earliest gospels or because they were eyewitness accounts. Some non canonical gospels are dated roughly to the same period, and the canonical gospels and other early Christian accounts appear to rely on earlier reports.Thus, as far as the physical evidence is concerned, the canonical gospels do not take precedence over the noncanonical gospels. The fragments of John, Thomas and theEgerton Gospel share the distinction of being the earliest extant pieces of Christian writing known. And although the existing manuscript evidence for Thomas dates to the mid-second century, the scholars who first published the Greek fragments held open the possibility that it was actually composed in the first century, which would put it around the time John was composed.[3]

The unknown Gospel of Papyrus Egerton 2

The unknown Gospel of Egerton 2 was discovered in Egypt in 1935 exiting in two different manuscripts. The original editors found that the handwriting was that of a type from the late first early second century. In 1946 Goro Mayeda published a dissertation which argues for the independence of the readings from the canonical tradition. This has been debated since then and continues to be debated. Recently John B. Daniels in his Clairmont Dissertation argued for the independence of the readings from canonical sources.[4] Daniels states "Egerton's Account of Jesus healing the leaper Plausibly represents a separate tradition which did not undergo Markan redaction...Compositional choices suggest that...[the author] did not make use of the Gospel of John in canonical form." (Daniels, abstract).[5]  The unknown Gospel of Egerton 2 is remarkable still further in that it mixes Johannie language with Synoptic contexts and vice vers.[6]The Unknown Gospel preserves a tradition of Jesus healing the leper in Mark 1:40-44. (Note: The independent tradition in the Diatessaran was also of the healing of the leper). There is also a version of the statement about rendering unto Caesar. Space does not permit a detailed examination of the passages to really prove Koster's point here. But just to get a taste of the differences we are talking about:

This is very significant because it indicates a reading independent of and therefore prior to Mark;s redaction,

Comparison of readings Egerton 2 and Mark

Egerton 2: "And behold a leper came to him and said "Master Jesus, wandering with lepers and eating with them in the inn, I therefore became a leper. If you will I shall be clean. Accordingly the Lord said to him "I will, be clean" and immediately the leprosy left him.Mark 1:40: And the leper came to him and beseeching him said '[master?] if you will you can make me clean. And he stretched out his hands and touched him and said "I will be clean" and immediately the leprosy left him.
Egerton 2: "tell us is it permitted to give to Kings what pertains to their rule? Tell us, should we give it? But Jesus knowing their intentions got angry and said "why do you call me teacher with your mouth and do not what I say"?Mark 12:13-15: Is it permitted to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or not? But knowing their hypocrisy he said to them "why do you put me to the test, show me the coin?"

This reading is from Koseter's book Ancient Christian Gospels [7]


"There are two solutions that are equally improbable. It is unlikely that the pericope in Egerton 2 is an independent older tradition. It is equally hard to imagine that anyone would have deliberately composed this apophthegma by selecting sentences from three different Gospel writings. There are no analogies to this kind of Gospel composition because this pericope is neither a harmony of parallels from different Gospels, nor is it a florogelium. If one wants to uphold the hypothesis of dependence upon written Gospels one would have to assume that the pericope was written form memory....What is decisive is that there is nothing in the pericope that reveals redactional features of any of the Gospels that parallels appear. The author of Papyrus Egerton 2 uses independent building blocks of sayings for the composition of this dialogue none of the blocks have been formed by the literary activity of any previous Gospel writer. If Papyrus Egerton 2 is not dependent upon the Fourth Gospel it is an important witness to an earlier stage of development of the dialogues of the fourth Gospel....(Koester , 3.2 p.215)[8]

Gospel of Peter

Fragments of the Gospel of Peter were found in 1886 /87 in Akhimim, upper Egypt. These framents were from the 8th or 9th century. No other fragment was found for a long time until one turned up at Oxyrahynchus, which were written in 200 AD. Bishop Serapion of Antioch made the statement prior to 200 that a Gospel had been put forward in the name of Peter. This statement is preserved by Eusebius who places Serapion around 180. But the Akhimim fragment contains three periciopes. The Resurrection, to which the guards at the tomb are witnesses, the empty tomb, or which the women are witnesses, and an epiphany of Jesus appearing to Peter and the 12, which end the book abruptly.

Many features of the Gospel of Peter are clearly from secondary sources, that is reworked versions of the canonical story. These mainly consist of 1) exaggerated miracles; 2) anti-Jewish polemic.The cross follows Jesus out of the tomb, a voice from heaven says "did you preach the gospel to all?" The cross says "Yea." And Pilate is totally exonerated, the Jews are blamed for the crucifixion.[9] However, "there are other traces in the Gospel of Peter which demonstrate an old and independent tradition." The way the suffering of Jesus is described by the use of passages from the old Testament without quotation formulae is, in terms of the tradition, older than the explicit scriptural proof; it represents the oldest form of the passion of Jesus.[10] Jurgen Denker argues that the Gospel of Peter shares this tradition of OT quotation with the Canonicals but is not dependent upon them.[11] Koester writes, "John Dominic Crosson has gone further [than Denker]...he argues that this activity results in the composition of a literary document at a very early date i.e. in the middle of the First century CE" (Ibid). Said another way, the interpretation of Scripture as the formation of the passion narrative became an independent document, a ur-Gospel, as early as the middle of the first century![12]

Corosson's Cross Gospel is this material in the Gospel of Peter through which, with the canonical and other non-canonical Gospels Crosson constructs a whole text. According to the theory, the earliest of all written passion narratives is given in this material, is used by Mark, Luke, Matthew, and by John, and also Peter. Peter becomes a very important 5th witness.Koester may not be as famous as Crosson but he is just as expert and just as liberal. He takes issue with Crosson on three counts:

1) no extant text,its all coming form a late copy of Peter,

2) it assumes the literary composition of latter Gospels can be understood to relate to the compositions of earlier ones;

3) Koester believes that the account ends with the empty tomb and has independent sources for the epihanal material.


"A third problem regarding Crossan's hypotheses is related specifically to the formation of reports about Jesus' trial, suffering death, burial, and resurrection. The account of the passion of Jesus must have developed quite eary because it is one and the same account that was used by Mark (and subsequently Matthew and Luke) and John and as will be argued below by the Gospel of Peter. However except for the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection in the various gospels cannot derive from a single source, they are independent of one another. Each of the authors of the extant gospels and of their secondary endings drew these epiphany stories from their own particular tradition, not form a common source....Studies of the passion narrative have shown that all gospels were dependent upon one and the same basic account of the suffering, crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus. But this account ended with the discovery of the empty tomb. With respect to the stories of Jesus' appearances, each of the extant gospels of the canon used different traditions of epiphany stories which they appended to the one canon passion account. This also applies to the Gospel of Peter. There is no reason to assume that any of the epiphany stories at the end of the gospel derive from the same source on which the account of the passion is based."[13] 

So Koester differs from Crosson mainly in that he divides the epiphanies up into different sources. Another major distinction between the two is that Crosson finds the story of Jesus burial to be an interpolation from Mark to John. Koester argues that there is no evidence to understand this story as dependent upon Mark.[14]  Unfortunately we don't' have space to go through all of the fascinating analysis which leads Koester to his conclusions. Essentially he is comparing the placement of the pericopes and the dependence of one source upon another. What he finds is mutual use made by the canonical and Peter of a an older source that all of the barrow from, but Peter does not come by that material through the canonical, it is independent of them. That source is the Pre Mark Passion Narrative (PMPN)
"The Gospel of Peter, as a whole, is not dependent upon any of the canonical gospels. It is a composition which is analogous to the Gospel of Mark and John. All three writings, independently of each other, use older passion narrative which is based upon an exegetical tradition that was still alive when these gospels were composed and to which the Gospel of Matthew also had access. All five gospels under consideration, Mark, John, and Peter, as well as Matthew and Luke, concluded their gospels with narratives of the appearances of Jesus on the basis of different epiphany stories that were told in different contexts. However, fragments of the epiphany story of Jesus being raised form the tomb, which the Gospel of Peter has preserved in its entirety, were employed in different literary contexts in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew." [15]

Also see my essay Have Gaurds, Will Aruge in which Jurgen Denker and Raymond Brown also agree about the indpeendent nature of GPete. Brown made his reputation proving the case, and pubulshes a huge chart in Death of the Messiah which shows the idendepnt nature and traces it line for line. Unfortunately I can't reproduce the chart.

What all of this means is, that there were independent traditions of the same stories, the same documents, used by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John which were still alive and circulating even when these canonical gospels were written. They represent much older sources and the basic work which all of these others use, goes back to the middle of the first century. It definitely posited Jesus as a flesh and blood man, living in historical context with other humans, and dying on the cross in historical context with other humans, and raising from the dead in historical context, not in some ethereal realm or in outer space. He was not the airy fairy Gnostic redeemer of Doherty, but the living flesh and blood "Son of Man."

Moreover, since the breakdown of Ur gospel and epiphany sources (independent of each other) demands the logical necessity of still other sources, and since the other material described above amounts to the same thing, we can push the envelope even further and say that at the very latest there were independent gospel source circulating in the 40s, well within the life span of eye witnesses, which were based upon the assumption that Jesus was a flesh and blood man, that he had an historical existence. Note: all these "other Gospels" are not merely oriented around the same stories, events, or ideas, but basically they are oriented around the same sentences. There is very little actual new material in any of them, and no new stories. They all essentially assume the same sayings. There is some new material in Thomas, and others, but essentially they are all about the same things. Even the Gospel of Mary which creates a new setting, Mary discussing with the Apostles after Jesus has returned to heaven, but the words are basically patterned after the canonical. It is as though there is an original repository of the words and events and all other versions follow that repository. This repository is most logically explained as the original events! Jesus actual teachings!


[1]  Kay Albright,"KU PROFESSOR DISCOVERS LOST GOSPEL," (March 10, 1997
Research), on line This site is maintained by University Relations, the public relations office for the University of Kansas Lawrence campus. Copyright 1997, the University of Kansas Office of University Relations, Lawrence, KS, U.S.A. Images may be reused with notice of copyright, but not altered. KU news releases may be reprinted without permission. URL:
http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/lostgospel/coptic.htm  (accessed 10/23/16)

phone number listed for QA.bright (785) 864-8858

[2] Charles W. Hendrick, quoted in Bible Review, (June 2002), 20-31; 46-47

 professor who discovered the lost Gospel of the Savior tells us

[3] Ibid,
[4] John B. Daniels, The Egerton Gospel: It's place in Early Christianity, Dissertation Clairmont, CA 1990. Cited in  Helmutt Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity,second Edition, New York, Berlin: Walter D. Gruyter, 186.

This is from a dissertation cited by major scholar Helmutt KIoester., so apparently Daniels did good work as a graduate student, Koester is New Testamemt Studies at Harvard.

[5] Ibid.
[6] Joachim Jeremias, "Unknown Sayings,An Unknown Gospel with Johannine Elements" in Hennecke-Schneemelcher-Wilson, NT Apocrypha vol 1. Westminster John Knox Press; Rev Sub edition (December 1, 1990,96.
[7] Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development, London. Oxford, New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark; 2nd prt. edition, 1992, 
[8] Ibid .215
[9] Koester, 218).
[10] Philipp Vielhauer, Geschichte,Geschichte der Urchristlichen Literatur

einleitung in das Neue Testament, die Apokryphen und die Apostolischen Väter

 (1975) 646
Philip Vielhauer, History of The original Christian Literature: Introduction to thev New Testment, the Apocrypha, and the Apostolic Fathers. (cited by Koester)
[11] In Koester, 218
[12] Ibid, 218-220
[13] Ibid. 220
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid, 240
[16] William L. Petersen Titian's Diatessaron in Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development, Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990, p. 424


Don McIntosh said…
Interesting. I've always been struck by the fact that the earliest bit of Gospel material, p52, is from John, the latest of the four canonical Gospels. Igantius also quoted from John, yet Ignatius passed away somewhere around 115 AD. These observations, along with the information you provide here, suggest, at least, composition of John considerably earlier than is usually supposed -- which seems to mean that we would need to push back the Synoptics earlier still...
Joe Hinman said…
the current trend is rarly dates for all the gospels, like 60 for mark,
Jason Pratt said…
I'm not sure what the current spread of rationales are on Ignatius' quotations of John -- his works are awfully interpolated in several different recensions, and it's entirely possible we don't have Ignatius' original text close enough to tell. Whether the GosJohn allusion or quotation is part of the later material or not, I don't know.

Ignatius does stand as an interesting example of how the orthodox Church felt free on one hand to demonstrably alter a text quite radically across several generations; and on the other hand how textual criticism -- the analytical comparison of copies of a text to each other -- demonstrates how much easier it is to infer practically the autographic state of the canonicals which all exist in a much more stable form down through the same generations. (Canonical Acts is a partial exception, being by far the most radically altered canonical text across generations; but it's the exception that proves the rule: the alterations are clearly limited to families, and can be fairly easily identified and bracketed out completely -- I'm not sure any English Bibles, even the KJV, have ever really had them! Something to look up one day when I'm at the office to double-check...)

As for whether an early dating for John should push back any of the Synoptics, I'm dubious about that: GosJohn doesn't so much seem dependent on prior Synoptic work explicitly as implicitly. It could even be the earliest finished work, although I'm dubious about that, too. JAT Robinson wondered if it was the earliest, but eventually he shifted to an early parallel composition of all of them across multiple inter-fluenced drafts (so to speak; my coined word, not his.) That seems a little like desperation, but his point was that we just don't have enough information to solidly date the order of any of their compositions compared to each other; and we may never know.

Also, good article Joe -- although I remain sceptical of the value of appealing to the non-canonicals, I'm very much amused by the strategy in the face of sceptical appeals: oh, okay, you want to bring up those texts? Fine, but you're going to be sorry because their implications reinforce historicity on one hand, and make the canonicals still look better by contrast on the other, muahahahaha! {gggg!}


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