Thursday, April 5, 2007

Book Note: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels (Frederick J. Murphy)

I just received a copy of An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels by Frederick J. Murphy. I was very excited to get it in the mail because I am in love with his book Early Judaism: The Exile to the Time of Jesus which I have used whenever I have taught my second Temple course, The World of Jesus. Usually I avoid textbooks like the plague, but this one is so well done, I can't run my course without Early Judaism. In fact, a few years back when the book had another title and was not in print while Professor Murphy worked to revise it, I personally contacted him and asked permission to duplicate the book for my course. He kindly gave me permission for that semester, for which I am very grateful. Professor Murphy integrates all the extracanonical Jewish literature right alongside the canonical voices, giving them an equal and full hearing within their historical context, and the result is wonderful chorus about Judaism in the second Temple period. He includes too Jesus and the first Christians within this Jewish symphony, and the result is striking, I think.

So as you can imagine, I really was enthusiastic about getting his Gospels book. But I was disappointed when I received it and discovered that although Professor Murphy does a good job on the canonical materials especially in terms of standard biblical criticism, the extracanonical gospels are not integrated into his discussions or his history of early Christianity. They are all collected like afterthoughts into one chapter (25 pages) at the end of a 394 page book in a chapter called "Other Gospels." He covers them from a narratological perspective, but that is all. The book is fine for a class that only covers the New Testament gospels, but not for mine which tries to integrate them all.

So I think I will stick with the only other textbook I use in teaching, by Jarl Fossum and Phillip Munoa, Jesus and the Gospels, although it too could use a boost in its coverage of the non-canonical gospels. But at least the few that are covered (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of the Nazarenes, and Gospel of the Ebionites), are dealt with as important early Christian documents with social locations and their own stories to add to the mix.

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