I grew up in Atlanta, GA. This means that any time I travelled north, particularly to Kentucky or Ohio, I had to pass through Tennessee and passing through Tennessee meant being inundated with billboards about attractions I had to visit (or, so they wanted me to believe). The big attractions specifically in mind are Rock City, Ruby Falls, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge. And just in case I snubbed all of those, there was one more and it was this final one that always made me laugh: the exciting ‘Lost Sea‘ in Sweetwater, TN.
I would always laugh at this not just because the ‘Sea’ is really a lake (but let’s not quibble over semantics) but also because, if the ‘Sea’ is a tourist attraction (and has been for quite some time) then the ‘Sea’ is no longer ‘lost.’ They should really change the name to, the ‘Found Sea’ because that’s really what it is; they’re not fooling anyone by calling it ‘Lost’. However, it seems as though they kept the name because it adds mystery and excitement–and let’s not forget money in their pockets. Let’s face it, we live in an age when mystery, intrigue, lost things being found, and conspiracy theories are the attractions, and they are certainly the kinds of things that rake in the dough. (That’s really the primary reason why Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code did so well). So I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised if the good people over at the ‘Lost Sea’ want to capitalise on this because they know it works.
The BBC (channel 4) ran a show back in March of 2008, which they re-aired a couple of weeks ago, on the so-called ‘Lost Gospels‘* which made me laugh. Quick caveat: I did not see the original airing in 2008, mostly because my wife and I did not move to England until September 2008, did not have a TV (or want to pay the TV license) and we had no knowledge of a thing called an ‘iPlayer’ until early 2009. By that point, the show was certainly no longer available. Knowledge that the show had aired before my finding it yesterday tempered my enthusiasm. I wanted to do a summary of this show in the spirit of, ‘check out this new thing’ but I then realised that it’s possibly been done before. However, I’m still going to give it go–just for fun. Caveat over.
I laughed at the title for the ‘Lost Gospels’ for many of the same reason I laughed at the ‘Lost Sea’ billboards. First of all, the so-called ‘Gospels’ in question are no longer ‘lost’; they’ve been found and they’ve been known about for quite some time. Again, I think they retain the ‘lost’ qualifier simply to add intrigue and/or attraction to the story about these so-called ‘Gospels’. Secondly, and this explains my use of ‘so-called’ and the use of scar-quotes around ‘Gospels’ (I just can’t stop myself): in terms of form and content, the documents in question are not Gospels in the same way that the four canonical Gospels are. In the words of NT Wright (slightly paraphrased): these other ‘Gospels’ claim to be ‘good news’, which is what ευαγγελιον essentially means, but their news is not really news and even if it were news it’s not really good.
These other texts, and this will certainly open me up to some criticism, are often nothing more than a collection of either esoteric stories about or sayings from Jesus and the early disciples. I will admit that these other texts do show affinities with material found in the canonical Gospels, usually with regard to basic historical elements (e.g. characters involved, places, timeframes) but specifically key ethical teachings. However, these other texts present a (theological) view of Jesus and the early disciples that not only conflicts with the canonical portraits but also emerges from esoteric groups of a later period who operate within a theological framework that is primarily Gnostic with a few bits of Judaism and Christianity thrown in for flavour. To adapt the phraseology of the Jesus Seminar: these other texts are theologised history whereas the canonical Gospels are historical theology.
I’ll leave things there for the moment. In the next post I will give a summary of the key points of discussion from the show as well as provide a critique of those points.
* If you do not have the ability to see things on BBC iPlayer, then you’re out of luck. Sorry. If you do have the ability, give it a go before you luck runs out, which will be on 28-Sep.