The pure, unadulterated word of God, straight from his holy hands down through the ether, and into the brains of the faithful few.
At least into the brains of those righteous bunch who could write.
But if that’s the case, then who on Earth would have the authority to decide that not all of the ancient texts were suitable for inclusion in the Christian Big Book of Fairy Tales?
And more importantly, why were they not included? Current estimates say that there are at least twenty ‘gospels’ that were not included in the bible, and a total of at least 66 ancient texts that had every bit as much right to be part of the Christian canon as the books that were actually included.
First let’s have a quick look at some of the gospels that never made it into the final edit:
The Gospel of Mary
The Gospel of Mary is found in the Berlin Gnostic Codex. The existence of this gospel was unknown until several fragments were discovered in modern times. Since the only long fragment is a Coptic translation, most of the original Greek text is still lost. And even the long fragment may only include about half of the book.
It has been postulated that as the ‘Mary’ in the gospel is a disciple of some prominence, then she is more than likely to be Mary Magdalene (although she is always referred to only as Mary). The document presents her as a a strong person with good leadership qualities, and even goes so far as to state that she was the most favoured of all Jesus’ disciples and was the recipient of a special revelation from him.
The document also alludes to conflict between Mary and Peter, possibly due to jealousy, as he may have seen her as a threat to his position of leader during the period after Jesus’ departure.
The last section of the existing text fragment details an argument between Mary and Peter and his brother, Andrew over some revelations shared with her in a private meeting with Jesus. This may be based on a real altercation or derived from a history of bad feeling between these two characters, and the cause of Mary leaving the group.
The Gospel of Mary probably dates to the 2nd Century AD and is believed by some to preserve certain traditions passed down from an earlier period.
Orthodox Christians are thought to have suppressed this text as it contains gnostic ideas, especially in the section dealing with her private revelations with Jesus. And also gives a female a prominent position within the hierarchy of the early Christian Church.
The Gospel of Peter
In the 19th Century, a fragment of the Gospel of Peter was discovered in Egypt, and two more possible fragments have been found since then. But a large portion may still be missing. Because the available text contains some interesting material, including the only known description of Jesus leaving the tomb after his resurrection, it is hoped by scholars that the remainder will be discovered.
Several scholars believe that this document preserves some of the deepest held beliefs of early Christians. However, most simply regard it as a relatively unimportant text built up into a mixture of flights of fancy and material copied directly from other New Testament Gospels. For these reasons, it has been the object of much controversy since its discovery.
It is the only document that gives an account of Jesus exiting his tomb. Apparently some Roman soldiers stand guard over the tomb and watch as two figures descend from Heaven and enter the tomb. As short time passes and the figures exit the tomb carrying Jesus between them. All three appear to grow so tall that their heads reach the sky. They are followed out of the tomb by a wooden cross. Suddenly the soldiers hear a voice from Heaven to which the cross answers.
Again, more controversy. A talking cross? Or, as some scholars have proposed, a cross-like formation of resurrected saints who have also returned to life. Comparisons to this event have been drawn to other depictions of resurrection of dead saints in a passage at Matthew 27:52-53:
“…and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”
Discovered in Egypt in 1945, the only surviving complete text is a Coptic translation of an original probably written in Greek. The first part indicates that it is a collection of the ‘Secret Sayings’ of Jesus and goes on to state 114 of them. Jesus is shown in this text to be a teacher and the disciples make comments and ask questions.
It is believed by many scholars to have originally been a secret gospel due to the ‘Secret Sayings’ it contains. Therefore it would probably have been for the eyes of certain high-ranking church leaders only, as it was thought to be secret knowledge.
Many scholars regard it as the most important surviving non-canonical gospel, as it may preserve some authentic teaching of a historical Jesus figure that are curiously missing from the Bible.
The Gospel of Judas
The only extant copy of this gospel was found in Egypt, but the time and place of its discovery are uncertain, and there are indications that it passed through the Egyptian black market at one stage.
The original is thought to have been written in Greek, but this document is a copied Coptic text. Unfortunately the manuscript is damaged in many places, and some pages are missing, so that translation and interpretation are difficult. However, many scholars believe that this was also a secret gospel used mostly by certain gnostic sects of Christians.
What makes this text a notable exception to the other gospels is that it appears to paint Judas Iscariot as the most loyal disciple of Jesus, and an innocent martyr instead of an evil betrayer. However, confirmation is difficult due to the damage to the manuscript, and the difficulties of interpretation, leaving the whole matter uncertain. This is one of the later gospels, probably not written until the second century, and most scholars doubt that it contains any authentic information about the real Judas Iscariot.
The Lost Q Source
Thought to be the original source of many of the teachings of Jesus that are preserved in Matthew and Luke, this document is also known as the Lost Sayings Gospel or the Q Document. It s also a hypothetical gospel as no copies exist in any form. Nor are there any fragments of it. Instead, it’s existence has been inferred from studies of the New Testament gospels.
The name “Q” comes from the German word “quelle”, which means “source”.
Most scholars believe that this gospel was primarily a collection of the sayings of Jesus, with little narrative material or biographical information. Possibly collected for the use of early Christian missionaries as an aid in spreading the new faith, these sayings would probably have been an oral tradition in the earliest period, but later someone apparently collected them and wrote them down.
Scholars have put together possible reconstructions of this gospel by extracting material from Matthew and Luke, but some uncertainties are involved in exactly what should be included. There is a chance that some of the original parts of this gospel have been completely lost.
Another hypothetical document whose existence is inferred by study of the Gospel of Mark. These studies indicate that the author of Mark obtained some material from an earlier source. This source is now lost, but the evidence suggests that it was a short narrative of the arrest, interrogation, and crucifixion of Jesus. For this reason, it is called the Pre-Markan Passion Narrative (or Lost Passion Narrative).
The author of this alleged document would have been a member of the first community of believers, known as the Nazarenes, who lived in Jerusalem in the years after Jesus departed. He is supposed to have had good knowledge of his subject as he is goes into some detail of what happened to Jesus during and after his arrest.
Reconstructions of the original form of this gospel indicate that it gave a simple straight-forward account of what happened before and during the crucifixion. Because this account may be the basis for all the later accounts, whoever wrote it performed an extremely important service.
The evidence suggests that the Pre-Markan Passion Narrative ended with either the burial of Jesus or the discovery of the empty tomb, so that it probably didn’t describe any post-resurrection activities of Jesus.
Deduced from studies of the Gospel of John, this is yet another hypothetical gospel. Called the Signs Gospel probably because it described some of the alleged miracles performed by Jesus, which it refers to as ‘signs’ Some scholars postulate that the unknown author may have regarded Jesus’ ability to perform miracles as signs that he was the Messiah.
These miracles include the changing of water into wine (John 2:1-11), the giving of sight to the man born blind (John 9:1-8), the healing at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:2-9) and the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). The fact that these particular miracles aren’t mentioned in the other gospels indicates that their authors probably hadn’t seen the Signs Gospel.
In addition to the miracle stories, this gospel may have also contained some information about John the Baptist, and about the crucifixion and resurrection. But it probably didn’t have much information about the teachings of Jesus.
It seems incredible to me that the existence of ancient documents can be inferred by studying later copies of translations of copies of texts. But that isn’t to say I don’t believe it is possible. After all, we are discovering new things every day in all fields of human study.
So, I don’t think it is beyond the realms of possibility that the original ‘hypothetical documents’ actually existed.
No, my problem lies in two other areas.
One – If these ancient documents were so very important to the earl Christian church, why were they not afforded the same level of care that the surviving Gospels received? Surely such sacred artefacts would have been carefully preserved and copied by early scholars to ensure their collected wisdom was not not lost to the sands of time.
Two – My second point, in to my mind much more important. Some Christians state that the Bible is the unadulterated word of God, passed from the maker into the collective consciousness of mankind via the hands of a few blessed authors.
If this is the case. Why are these documents not included in the Bible? On whose authority was the Bible edited? Which Christian was so arrogant as to place himself above his own mythical deity and decide which of God’s holy words were viable and which were not?
Some say that the Council of Nicea in 325AD, under the auspices of Constantine the Great, was when the final edit of the Bible took place. However, this isn’t the case, as that little get together was mainly concerned with when the Easter Bunny got his skates on.
The Bible was a collection of texts and books that evolved over time (anyone else see the irony here?) to become the basis of the modern handbook for God botherers.
Surely, if the word of God is sacrosanct, then all the words of God are equally worthy to be part of the Bible.
Christians! You can’t have it both ways. Either all of his words are sacred and untouchable… Or none of them are!
Then again, I seem to have forgotten about the Christian ability to cherry pick.