Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Pre-Nicene New Testament

The Pre-Nicene New Testament is Robert M. Price's own translation of the early works of Christianity including everything from the canonical New Testament as well as several works which didn't make the cut. It's easier to read than the King James Translation both because he arranges the scriptures into paragraphs rather than verses and because he writes them in modern English vernacular. For example, the King James Version has:

Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice. (John 13:37-38)

The Pre-Nicene New Testament translates this same passage as:

Peter says to him, "Lord, why can I not follow you yet? I will gladly lay down my life for you!" Jesus answers, "Oh, will you, now? Amen, amen: I say to you, cock-crow will not roll around till you have repudiated me three times!"

Citing many other Biblical scholars and variant versions of the scriptures, Price attempts to reconstruct the original versions of the texts. He highlights the parts which he takes to be later additions, makes educated guesses in order to reconstruct fragmentary portions, and in some cases, rearranges the order of the chapters. The Gospel of John, for example, is full of narrative discontinuities which disappear when he rearranges the order of the passages.

Price includes many books that you won't find in a standard New Testament. The Book of John the Baptizer is a reconstruction of the Mandaean Book of John. The Mandaeans are a Gnostic sect which still survives in modern day Iraq who believe that John the Baptist was a true prophet, but Jesus was the antichrist. There are also a couple books by disciples of John the Baptist, The Revelation of Dositheus and The Great Declaration of Simon Magus. There's also The Infancy Gospel of Thomas which recounts the miracles Jesus performed as a child and The Generations of Jesus (Toledoth Jeschu), a Jewish anti-gospel in which Judas is the hero and Jesus is the villain.

Price attempts to reconstruct the earliest known Biblical cannon, Marcion's Apostolicon. The Gospel of Marcion was later rewritten into the Gospel of Luke, and no copies of the original survive. However, using clues from early church fathers such as Tertullian, Price reconstructs the original as best he can.

The best parts of this book, however, are not the scriptures, but Price's introductory essays to each book and his footnotes. I found it interesting that the King James Version originally included the Apocrypha. He points out second century anachronisms in the gospels and epistles which challenge the main stream view held by Christian scholars that these works were written in the first century. The epistles written to the Corinthians seem to have originally been written not to the city of Corinth, but rather to the gnostic Cerinthian sect. 2 Thessalonians actually accuses 1 Thessalonians of being a forgery (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). Ephesians (also know as Laodiceans) is not an actual epistle, but rather a cut and paste compilation of the other epistles. Luke, Acts, Titus, and 1 and 2 Timothy all appear to have been written by the same author who Price suggests might be Polycarp.

The Shepherd of Hermas, which many early church fathers considered to be canonical but which later fell out of favor, is extremely long and boring, however, it's interesting to note that it never mentions Jesus by name, so it was likely written before the Gospels. The Epistle of Barnabas, also considered canonical by early church fathers, is interesting to me since it seems to bridge the gap between the earlier Pauline Epistles in which Jesus is a spiritual personage, and the later Gospels in which Jesus is situated into an historical setting. Barnabas attempts to find out who the mysterious Jesus was by quoting from Old Testament scriptures and claiming these refer to Jesus in code. The Gospels take this idea one step further by giving Jesus a narrative story built almost entirely out of Old Testament passages.

According to Revelation, Jesus was crucified not in Jerusalem, but rather in Rome (Revelation 11:8). Also, Revelation shares more in common with Jewish apocalyptic literature than Christian writings, so it may not even be a Christian work at all. Interestingly, The Revelation of John seems to have been written during the reign of Domitian (81-96AD) based on the fact that its "predictions" are only accurate up to this point. Since most of the other books in the New Testament contain second century anachronisms, The Book of Revelation, which is listed last, may actually have been written first. (see Matthew 20:16)

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