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Sources and Layers: Probing the Gospel Accounts

African American news - studying social-religious policyThe social-religious policy of Jesus was met with fierce oppositional resistance by the religious establishment who also happened to serve as the governmental/civil officials of late Second Temple Palestine. It was a century prior to this (circa 150 B.C. to 63 B.C.) where these same religious officials (Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees) reigned as the governmental authorities unaffiliated with Rome.

Here the Apocryphal book of Maccabees informs. These groups succeeded their predecessors, the Hasmoneans (a.k.a. the Maccabees), who themselves fought and successfully gained Jewish independence from the Seleucid empire led by the famous Syrian ruler Antiochus the IV. During the time of Hasmonean rule, numerous Jewish splinter groups arose due to the Hasmoneans usurping inherited priestly rule.

In consideration of the inter- and intra-relation differences, the New Testament is written as polemic where, in fact, the gospel of John is considered by some scholarly circles to read like a gospel of Hate. John's gospel, more so than the synoptic gospels, ratchets up the tension and verbal assailing of Jesus against the religious establishment to an all time high.

Based on this an interesting observations can be made here; how much of this language and mood really is the expression of Jesus rather than the actual author (authorial community)? Moreover, how much of what is presented in this gospel actually is expressive of contemporary moods?

The Johannine community, similar to the synoptic gospel authors (Mark, Matthew and Luke) expressed their particular context as they went about compiling and arranging the text. Luke 1:5 appears to shed some light on this process. Here Luke offers to Theolophis his reasons for also arranging a distinct gospel account from others:

I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:3-4, NRSV)

[Dr. Jamal-Dominique Hopkins is Scholar-in-Residence at St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Atlanta, GA and is a Professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center also in Atlanta. He is the author of "Ecclesiastes" in the African Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures through Africa and the African Diaspora (Fortress Press), 2009, and "Duty or Responsibility? The African American Evangelical's Identity" in the Journal of African American Christian Thought 1 (2009). Hopkins is available for preaching, lecturing, speaking or conducting workshops or seminars. You may contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .]


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