"Nearly everything known about Jesus comes from the four Gospel accoutns. Once "canonized" their literal authority and divine stature went unquestioned throughout most of Christian history- just as the books of Moses were unquestioned by the authorities. Since the nineteenth century, many scholars and researchers have begun to raise questions of Gospel authorship. The precise identity of these writers and when the books were written remain subjects of speculation.
MARK: Although it is placed second in the New Testament order after Matthew, the Gospel fo Mark, the shortest of the Gospels, is widely accepted as the oldest. Skipping over Jesus' birth, Mark tells the story of the adult Jesus from teh tiem of his baptism to his Crucifixion and an angel's report of his resurrection. The authors of Matthew and Luke, many scholars believed, relied on Mark's account when they wrote theirs.
But who was Mark? No Mark was listed among the original twelve disciples of Jesus. A person named John Mark is mentioned several times in teh NT and, according to early Christian tradition, he was a companion of Paul on his missionary travels until they quarreled (possibly over Paul's decisions to not require Gentiles to follow the Law in order to convert to Christianity, which was also in opposition to Jesus' brother James' and Simon Peter's wishes that Gentiles convert to Judaism and hence, obey the Torah). Many scholars now believe that the Gospel was written by an unknown early Christian named Mark who drew on a large number of traditions in order to compose his tightly organized narrative. Mark refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by a Roman army in 70AD, either as an event that may happen soon or as one that has recently happened. Although scholars do not know whether to date the Gospel shortly before or shortly after 70 AD, it must have been written sometime around that significant date.
MATTHEW: The author of this book was long presumed to be the Matthew who was one of Jesus' disciples. That Matthew was identified as a tax collector, as unpopular a profession then as it is now. In Mark and Luke, however, the tax collector is named Levi. The widely accepted modern view is that Matthew was written by a later Jewish-Christian who believed Jesus was the promised Messiah of Hebrew scriptures. There are many references in Matthew to Hebrew prophecies that Jesus fulfills. Mattehw opens with an extensive genealogy, tracing Jesus' ancestry back to David- A SLIGHT GLITCH IN THAT THE LINE GOES THROUGH JOSEPH, WHO ISN'T REALLY JESUS' FATHER, IF YOU ACCEPT THE GOSPEL VERSION OF THE CONCEPTION OF JESUS BY MARY (although the Kebra Negast explains that Mary was also decended from David, making it so Jesus did NOT have to have Joseph's blood to be decended from David- a key element). Matthew also includes frequent quotations from Hebrew scriptures, meant to convince other Jews of the fulfillmetn of their prophecies in Jesus. Unique to this Gospel are the Nativity stories of the famous visit of the Magi, inaccurately called the "Three Kings", King Herod's massacre of infant children in Bethlehem, and the "Flight into Egypt" in which Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt to excape Herod's massacre.
Early Christians believe Mattehw was writtten first and placed it first, but modern scholars now consider Mark the earlier book. Relying on literary and chronological clues, they believe the author of Matthew had read Mark, as well as the theoretical collection fo Jesus' sayings called "Q". SOme scholars believe Mattehw was written in Palestine; others favor another early CHristian center, such as Antioch in Syria sometime between 70 and 80 AD.
LUKE: The authoer of Luke, a hightly polished narrative that uses the conventions of classical Greek writings, was presumably a well-educated man who spoke and wrote Greek. The same person is credited witht he writing of the Book of Actds. Together, Luke and Acts account for nearly one quater of the NT and provide a history of the early Christian faith; Luke tells the sotry of Jesus, while Acts traces the missionary movement and early growth of Christianity after his death. "Luke's" works were inteded to be read together, but when the NT was later compiled, the Gospel of John was inserted between the two books of "Luke" to keep the four Gospels together. Mentioned in one of Paul's letters as "the beloved physician", Luke may have been a doctor or a healer who traveled with Paul during his missionary journeys. Several scenes from Jesus' life are unique to Luke, including a genealogy tracing Jesus back to Adam, the story of the birth of John the Baptist, Jesus' trip to the Temple in Jerusalem as a 12-year old boy, along with some of the best known of Jesus' teachings in parables, such as teh stories of the Good Samaritan adn the Prodigal Son.
Luke's author wanted to give his story of Jesus a sense of historical authenticity, and he included Jesus' age -"about thirty"- when he began preaching as well as specific events- which prove contradictory- for dating Jesus' birth. Lukes's message was primarily addressed to the non-Jewish or Gentile, believers, as the church had aggressively begun to reach out to Gentiles by the time Luke was written. It is now generally agreed that Luke also dates from teh decades 70-85 AD and that he may have written from the city of Ephesus (in modern Turkey), a leading center of early Christianity.
JOHN: The fourth book is the most unique of the Gospels. Complex and profound, it has been attributed to John, one of the disciples closest to Jesus. This Gospel draws a different picture of Jesus' life and teachings, leading scholars to detect an eyewitness-like immediacy in John. Among the more conspicuous and significant differences between John and the "synoptics" (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are the absence of descriptions of the birth of Jesus, his childhood, the temptation in the wilderness, the transfiguration, the use of parables in teaching, and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. John's version of the "Last Supper", in which Jesus eats with his disciples before his arrest and Crucifixition, is presented in an entirely different fashion here than in the other 3 Gospels. Jesus delivers a long speech to the disciples in John's "Last Supper" and the symbolic breaking of bread and the drinking of wine (which would mean that Jesus and his followers were not Nazirites, as some believe) are left out of John. Among the other unique elements of John are the only version of Jesus changing water into wine at Cana and his miraculous raising of Lazarus, a follower, four days after his death and entombment.
For most of 2000 years, Christians accepted that John was written by one of the 12 disciples chosen by Jesus. Since the 19th century, the identity of John's author has generated heated controversy. While traditional scholars still believe that John was an apostle and an eyewitness to the events in the book, other Biblical historians refute that idea, arguing that a Galilean fisherman could not have written the book's highly polished and poetic Greek. There are a host of possible "Johns", and it is now thought that John was written late in the first century, or by 110 AD." -Kenneth Davis
(note: To my knowledge, the Gospel of THOMAS is the only Gospel known to be written in ARAMAIC, the language that Jesus and his disciples would have spoke during that time in Judea).
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