A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts

by Hal Taussig

A provocative new edition of the New Testament that includes ten more recently found texts, selected by a council of scholars and spiritual leaders, alongside the classic books, with introductions and contextual background from Hal Taussig.

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547792101
  • ISBN-10: 0547792107
  • Pages: 640
  • Publication Date: 03/05/2013
  • Carton Quantity: 12

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About the Book
About the Author
Excerpts
Reviews
  • About the Book

    It is time for a new New Testament.

    Over the past century, numerous lost scriptures have been discovered, authenticated, translated, debated, celebrated. Many of these documents were as important to shaping early-Christian communities and beliefs as what we have come to call the New Testament; these were not the work of shunned sects or rebel apostles, not alternative histories or doctrines, but part of the vibrant conversations that sparked the rise of Christianity. Yet these scriptures are rarely read in contemporary churches; they are discussed nearly only by scholars or within a context only of gnostic gospels. Why should these books be set aside? Why should they continue to be lost to most of us? And don’t we have a great deal to gain by placing them back into contact with the twenty-seven books of the traditional New Testament—by hearing, finally, the full range of voices that formed the early chorus of Christians?

    To create this New New Testament, Hal Taussig called together a council of scholars and spiritual leaders to discuss and reconsider which books belong in the New Testament. They talked about these recently found documents, the lessons therein, and how they inform the previously bound books. They voted on which should be added, choosing ten new books to include in A New New Testament. Reading the traditional scriptures alongside these new texts—the Gospel of Luke with the Gospel of Mary, Paul’s letters with The Letter of Peter to Philip, The Revelation to John with The Secret Revelation to John—offers the exciting possibility of understanding both the new and the old better. This new reading, and the accompanying commentary in this volume, promises to reinvigorate a centuries-old conversation and to bring new relevance to a dynamic tradition.

  • About the Author
  • Excerpts
    Introducing A New New Testament

    It is time for a new New Testament. A New Testament that causes people—inside and outside church—to lean forward with interest and engagement. This is meant to be that book. It contains astounding new material from the first-century Christ movements and places it alongside the traditional texts. Among its offerings are a new gospel whose primary character is a woman, a previously unknown collection of songs in Christ’s voice lifting to God, another gospel with more than fifty new teachings from Jesus, and a prayer of the apostle Paul discovered in the sands of Egypt less than seventy years ago.

    This New New Testament is not simply the product of one author. The ten added books have been chosen by a council of wise and nationally known spiritual leaders. An eclectic mix of bishops, rabbis, well-known authors, leaders of national churches, and women and men from African American, Native American, and European American backgrounds have studied many of the recent discoveries from the first two centuries, deliberated rigorously together, and chosen those new books.

    What have these deliberations produced? Where did it come from? And what do readers need to know before immersing themselves in this new New Testament experience?

     

    Where did these new books come from?

    How could new books from the first centuries of Christianity, ones not in the New Testament, just suddenly appear? Where did they come from? And why aren’t they in the New Testament to begin with? There is no simple answer to these questions. And these are not questions that need to be in the foreground of our experience of A New New Testament. So, they are addressed them in a number of chapters that follow the scriptures included here, a "Companion to A New New Testament: Basic Historical Background for This New Book of Books."

    But there is a short answer to these important questions that can be summarized here. In the past hundred years a number of new works from the first centuries have been discovered in the desert sands of Egypt, the markets of Cairo, and the libraries of ancient monasteries. In some cases, scholars already knew about the existence of these books because they were mentioned in other, more familiar ancient texts, but the books themselves had never been found. In other cases, these newly found documents from the beginnings of Christianity had never before been heard of at all. In still other cases, some of these "new" documents have actually been in hand for quite a while but have been ignored, repressed, or known only to scholars.

    There is no reason, then, to think that the Gospel of Thomas, which is not in the traditional New Testament, was read any less in the first and second centuries than the Gospel of John, which is in the traditional New Testament. Indeed, in the ancient world the Gospel of Thomas was distributed widely and translated into at least two languages. Early Christian writings that did not make it into the New Testament had, in their time, similar status to the works that did find their way into it. There was no "stamp of approval" until at least three hundred years after Jesus’s birth.

    Wait a minute! Wasn’t the New Testament written, selected, and collected very soon after Jesus?

    No. The New Testament did not exist for at least the first three hundred, if not five hundred, years after Jesus. Some of its books appear to have been written some twenty to thirty years after his death, but others probably not for at least 140 years after Jesus.

    In the early centuries of Christianity the only hints of a sacred collection of texts are several lists of some gospels, letters, and apocalypses suggested for reading, with different Christ communities following different lists, and many communities not following any list. The second through fourth centuries after Jesus did see some actual bound books of collected early Christian works, but none of them are identical to, or even progenitors of, the New Testament. In other words, as is shown in more detail in the "Companion to A New New Testament" at the back of this book, these new additions to the New Testament existed for many years and during the crucial early period of Christianity alongside the books we know, without any privilege of one over any other, for a very long time. This "new" New Testament, then, in a very real way restores the kind of mix of early Christian documents about Jesus that existed in the first centuries.

    The assumption that the existing New Testament was always the privileged, authorized book about Jesus is not true. The New Testament did not somehow descend from God after Jesus was gone. Christian churches spent centuries engaging in arguments and political deals to decide which early books would be included in their most sacred collections. This, of course, does not mean that the New Testament is fraudulent or less meaningful. It simply means that the historical record shows that collection to be a product of complex human negotiation over a long period of time.

    So, if the New Testament as a collection of early Christian books did not come into existence in the first century, where did all these different books from the traditional New Testament and beyond it come from? And when were they written?

    The introduction to each ancient text in A New New Testament gives an approximate date for when it might have been written. But it is difficult to know these dates exactly. None of these individual books make note of when they were written, and historians are left with many imponderables in dating them. It is reasonably clear that Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Corinthians were written in the 50s CE (AD). On the other hand, the Gospel of Luke could have been written anywhere from 60 CE to 140 CE, according to different historians. Many scholars now argue that the Gospel of Thomas (not included in the traditional New Testament but included in this New New Testament) was written much earlier than the Gospel of Luke. We will look more closely at the difficulties and approximations of when the books in and outside of the traditional New Testament were written later, in both the individual introductions to each ancient text and in the "Companion to A New New Testament."

    The books inside and outside the traditional New Testament specify little about the conditions in which they were written, though from their hints at times, places, and real-life circumstances it is clear that they were written by and for particular people. The precise origins of the individual works of the traditional New Testament are in many cases just as elusive as the new additions to this new New Testament.

    It can be shocking to learn just how many ambiguities and unknowns surround the origins of these documents, both familiar and new. However, it is worth stepping back from specific questions about individual texts to look at the bigger picture of the things we do know about them—because all of these documents have much in common. For instance, none of the traditional New Testament was written after 175 CE; so the 2012 council that chose the new books also did not allow books definitely written after 175 CE. Although there is little certainty about when, by whom, and for what these individual works were written, there are some general similarities in all of them. They were all—traditional and new—composed by and for people between 50 and 175 CE, somewhere around the Mediterranean Sea, with certain similar themes and within certain realities of life. All these books had a life of their own long before they were in the New Testament—not unlike the new books added to this new New Testament.

    Why are certain books in the traditional New Testament and others are not?<...

  • Reviews
    "This brilliant contextualization of the familiar New Testament in the context of other early Christian writings illuminates both. It is important both historically and theologically. Readers will not be able to see the New Testament in the same way again."

    —Marcus Borg, author of The Heart of Christianity

    "A New New Testament does what some of us never dreamed possible: it opens the treasure chest of early Christian writings, restoring a carefully select few of them to their rightful place in the broad conversation about who Jesus was, what he did and taught, and what all of that has to do with us now. This new constellation of early Christian scriptures adds brilliant facets to the diamond of divine revelation, waking up those of us who thought we knew it all. While this book will be a welcome addition to the academic courses in New Testament, Christian origins, and theology, I expect it will have its greatest impact in churches, as people of faith become better acquainted with some of their first forebears in faith."

    —Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Leaving Church and An Altar in the World

    "A New New Testament offers its readers an expansive opening onto the world of the early Christians. For the first time, modern readers can explore a range of voices and theological perspectives that have not been heard for centuries, set side-by-side with well-known biblical books. Old texts become freshly vibrant, and new texts open ancient avenues for renewed reflection and spiritual practice. A New New Testament will be a vital resource for the 21st century."

    —Karen L. King, Hollis Professor of Divinity, Harvard Divinity School "Remarkable...Not meant to replace the traditional New Testament, this fascinating work will be, Taussig hopes, the first of several new New Testaments."

    Booklist, starred

    "A culminating work of the Jesus Seminar era and of others influenced by it, this collection of manuscripts serves to complete and update the standard Christian New Testament."

    -- Kirkus


     
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