There are few books that I start that I never intend to read all the way through – at least someday – but Burton L. Mack’s “Who Wrote the New Testament?” (1996) is one of them. After 120 pages (out of 310), it was plain to me that the book is so bad that it is not worth continuing.
This was back in 1996 when I had just read the Bible all the way through. I was wondering if the Bible was true or just made up. Mack wanted to prove just that about the New Testament, the Christian part of the Bible: that it was made up. Yes, Jesus did live, but he was hardly divine. He was just a very good and wise man.
It was just the book I was looking for. So when I started reading it, I ate it up, page after page.
But then by page 100 I started to wonder if Mack was writing satire. By page 120 I saw that, no, it was not satire: it was just a bad book. So I stopped. Which is rare for me once I get that far into a book.
Mack points out that Matthew and Luke copied part of their gospels from Mark and from a lost gospel known as Q - something Bible scholars have known for a long time. But Mack goes beyond this. He assumes that the part of Q we can recover from Matthew and Luke is complete and that it was the main book of an early Jesus movement, as he calls it, a book that has everything they believed.
Without saying how he knows, Mack says that Q was written in three stages:
- The 30s: Jesus is a thinker like Diogenes who overturns the thinking of comfortable, well-to-do people and gains a following among the poor. A sort of hippie philosopher.
- The 40s: Jesus is a prophet who says the world will end and his followers will suffer terrible things but win in the end.
- The 50s: Jesus is a near-god, one that suffers.
In the 60s Mark wrote his gospel and then, some time between 70 and 100, Matthew and Luke copied from Mark and Q to write their gospels and made Jesus into a god, the Son of God.
Very interesting. But there are two things wrong with it.
First, if we did not have Mark, we would think Mark and Q were the same book. We also would not have the most important part of Mark where Jesus dies on the cross and rises from the dead. That is because Matthew and Luke used Mark only to flesh out their gospels. The same with Q. So it is unlikely we have all of Q.
Second, we have to assume that people will leave their families and old religion and suffer for a philosopher – not a prophet or a divine being, mind you – and then make up strange lies about him, ones they give their lives for.