Has Anything in the Gospels Changed Recently?
Jul 22, 2009 by Craig Blomberg | 13 Comments
The exchange is predictable. I am talking with a friend who is not a fellow biblical scholar but they know I like to write books. “So what’s your latest,” I’m asked. “Well,” I reply, “I’ve just finished a revised edition of Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey.” In fact, as of this month, I can now say that the book is in print and available for purchase from Broadman & Holman Publishers (or through your favorite bookstore or on-line).
“That’s great; congratulations,” comes the reply. Then after an awkward pause, I’m asked some kind of question that basically amounts to “But if you write a textbook about Jesus and the Gospels, what’s there to revise? Has ancient history changed?” The question is understandable, but still a little surprising. After all, any high school graduate who has ever paid attention to the history textbooks they’ve used over the years will have seen one or more works in their second, fifth or even eighth editions. I suspect there is something about the aura of the person of Jesus (after all wasn’t he divine) and of the Gospels (weren’t they inerrant) that makes us not think of revised editions of books about them as being as natural.
So what is different about the new edition of my book? First, it’s about 15% longer. Particularly in the sections on social-scientific study of the ancient Mediterranean world, on literary criticism of the Gospels, on background to the Gospel of John, on the historicity of the Gospels more generally, on the quest of the historical Jesus, and on the Gnostic and other apocryphal Gospels, I have added extra material. These are areas on which there has been an intense flurry of scholarship in the last twelve years, since the first edition came out.
Second, I have reread every word in the manuscript, leaving many sentences unchanged, but always asking the question of whether or not I can express myself any more clearly, and often making minor, stylistic changes hopefully to improve the work on that score. Third, I have replaced a substantial majority of the footnotes predating the late 1980s with their equivalents from more recent publications and occasionally updated even slightly more recent footnotes. Fourth, I have completely reworked the bibliographies to include the latest and best scholarship available on each topic surveyed. Finally, the publishers have created a brand-new cover, a nicer-looking font, and the maps and charts are a little smaller and definitely more professional looking, at least in my opinion.
In case someone is wondering, no, I haven’t changed my mind on anything of any great importance. But as long as biblical scholarship continues to produce such a vast, diverse of array of publications, there will always be the need for revised works, especially textbooks, to be aware of, interact with and/or incorporate the most influential and/or valid insights of the latest rounds of research. Who would have expected twelve years ago that the first decade of the new millennium would bring us The Da Vinci Code, the Gospel of Judas, or the Talpiot tomb with its claims to be the family mausoleum of Jesus? Who could have predicted the so-called new atheism with its unfounded but vigorously argued claims that Jesus never even existed? Who’d have guessed the swift decline of approaches such as canon criticism, structuralism and deconstruction or their rapid replacement by historically impossible claims about the formation of the canon, the proliferation of narrative criticism and the skyrocketing amounts of sociological analysis? And we were already overloaded with excellent commentaries twelve years ago, but the number of good, new series begun since then has grown at a record pace.
So I’m grateful for this chance to keep a well-used textbook as useful as possible. Check it out!