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Beginning Part Two

July 21, 2010

It took us a year to get this project up and running, and to complete Part One, The Torah. My four chapters of commentary got finished with help from several collaborators, the Jewish Publication Society has completed the license agreement for the copyright Torah material, you have seen the excellent Preface by Ellen Frankel, and Marc Brettler’s Introduction is in the works independently. The rest of us move on in year two to Part Two, The Gospel, and beyond.

My four Gospel chapters for Part Two are actually complete in draft form, the lawyer for the National Council of Churches has put the NRSV license agreement into place, and contributing writers are now at work. The person doing the heavy lifting this summer is David Bruce, who is writing the Introduction to the Gospel. David is the author of the four volume Jesus 24/7 series, an appropriate writer for us since he brings both a proper respect for those branches of the family from whom Christians are learning, and a focus on Jesus as the core of the Christian message.

This is essential, but needs to be explained. For Jews, the Hebrew community is the essence, a people “chosen” for revelation, for suffering, for holiness, for covenant, and for service; their Scripture cannot be understood apart from the community which created it. For Muslims it is simply the opposite; their community cannot be understood apart from their Scripture because the Quran created the community and its religion. For Christians there is another dynamic entirely. Jesus is to Christians what the community is to Jews, and what the Quran is to Muslims. How this is to be understood intellectually is the challenge to which David is addressing himself.

One area worthy of examination is the attention to be given to a shadowy “document” called “Q,” a document that has never been found, but which may have been copied as a source by both Matthew and Luke in a manner similar to the use they both made of Mark’s Gospel. We initially thought of printing Q separately, reflecting the view that Q may have been the first and oldest Gospel prior to its absorption into the others. Q, as identified from the two gospels who share this block of materials, is complementary to Mark. Q emphasizes the salvation of the world and Mark has a focus on personal salvation. They are held in creative tension and amplified by both Matthew and Luke. Rather than simply offset Q and confuse the usual chapter and verse numbering system, we now plan to print Q in bold and to italicize Mark right in the texts of Matthew and Luke. From a draft of notes on that subject, let me give you a sample of how David plans to address this issue and its potential insight into the creation of the Christian Scriptures as we know them:

Brown is certainly not alone in his support of this “two-document” hypothesis of how Mark and Q were combined in Matthew and Luke; it is held in some form by a majority of professors in major Protestant and Catholic seminaries. Even if we cannot be absolutely sure that Q was a single document, or that we know its full extent, or that Q was possibly produced by a single female editor from the household of James (as Brown argues), simply admitting that we can and should use this kind of source-criticism to further our understanding makes two things abundantly clear for scholars of the Christians Scriptures. First, all four of the canonical Gospels are undoubtedly indebted to prior oral and written collections of material. Second, once documents such as Mark and maybe even the lost Q take shape, they become streams of tradition in themselves. Once the four Gospels that we know as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John began circulating widely, they became the standard against which all other collections of material were judged. For most Christians, considerations like these give us a sense of how the Spirit of God was working in the first decades after Jesus, and does not pose any threat to Christian faith, so long as we assume that what survived, taken together, gives us reliable access to the meaning of Jesus’ life and ministry.

The entire body of Christian Scriptures will be presented in this volume in the New Revised Standard Version, except for The Book of Revelation, which will appear in the King James Version. This novel approach will help point to an important linkage that has not often been highlighted among Christians as yet, though it is widely appreciated in the Muslim world. The Old English and the imagery of the King James Version, together with certain other versions in other languages, is said to more accurately capture the apocalyptic mood for what comes next in the Quran, the final portion of this trilogy or family of Scriptures.

These matters will become clearer as we work on the material together. Thank you to all those, mainly in the Jewish community, who contributed directly to Part One. Part Two should come together in the next six months, led by Christian scholars with the rest of us looking on. Muslim friends, your turn is coming early in 2011, but Muslim scholars are getting organized meanwhile, and considering the formats established by our Jewish colleagues in particular. I have just had the pleasure of a visit in Niagara Falls from our respected Mawlana, Siddiq Nasir, from Trinidad, whose helpful advice and guidance I appreciate as I personally begin a draft of the chapters for Part Three.

Posted by: Brian Arthur Brown