James M. Robinson is perhaps the leading scholar in the world on the hypothetical source of the canonical Gospels called “Q.” He’s also a leading voice in the Jesus Seminar, which Seminar is not hypothetical but is instead the source for many news shows. The Jesus Seminar gathered for years to discuss and vote on which sayings and events in the Gospels were “authentic.” Robinson’s now written a book, The Gospel of Jesus: In Search of the Original Good News. In this bold book Robinson sets forth what the real Jesus’ original message was, and it is a message significantly unlike the Church’s message about Jesus. I can think of no better “introduction” to how many in the Jesus Seminar understand both what Jesus was like and how the Church then overlayed Jesus with theological interpretation. While I think Q was a source used both by Matthew and Luke, I find myself in constant disagreement with how Robinson understands Jesus and often how he interprets Q texts.
Here is a brief on this book:
First, Q is a source that we now find behind passages that are nearly the same in Matthew and Luke. A good example would be John’s stinging words to those who wanted to be baptized in which he hauls out the famous image of a “brood of snakes” (see Matthew 3:7-10 and Luke 3:7-9, where nearly every word is identical in Greek). Most of the Sermon on the Mount, on this hypothesis, derives from Q.
Second, according to Robinson, once we get hold of it by careful comparison of Matthew and Luke, Q is the closest thing we’ll ever get to the historical Jesus.
Third, here’s a summary statement of Jesus’ essential message: “trust God to look out for you by providing people who will care for you, and listen to him when he calls on you to provide for them. God is somebody you can trust, so give it a try” (viii).
Fourth, the problem Jesus faced is the same one we face today: “most people have solved the human dilemma for themselves at the expense of everyone else, putting them down so as to stay afloat themselves” (xiii).
Fifth, our problem is that “we have ascribed to him [Jesus] a different gospel from what he himself envisaged!” (2).
Robinson then provides a readable introduction and complete reconstructed text of “The Sayings Gospel Q” (pp. 27-54). This is based on his massive book, The Critical Edition of Q, so it is an easy way for those so interested to read a translation of critical scholarship’s version of Q. Chapters follow on these topics, all derived from his study of Q:
Jesus was a Galilean Jew
What we do and do not know about Jesus
Jesus was converted by John
Jesus’ lifestyle was underwritten by God himself
Jesus’ trust in God
Jesus’ view of himself
The End as the Beginning
The Gospel of Jesus and the Gospel of Paul
His epilogue is about where we go from here. He addresses those who have “outgrown” the Church first, and he delves into “God-talk” as a form of rhetoric to talk about important things, but little more. He then speaks to evangelicals and asks them to consider that the Gospels show us the impression Jesus made on others.
Robinson’s The Gospel of Jesus stands at the end of a long line of historical Jesus books that believe the Church messed up the beauty of a simple Jesus by tampering with the evidence. Everyone, Dan Brown told us, loves a conspiracy, and the favorite target of the long line of conspiracy theorists today is the Church.
Jesus and Q