Books by Burton L. Mack

Released: Dec. 1, 1995

Mack (New Testament/School of Theology, Claremont) argues that the New Testament, far from representing historical facts, is the product of a process in which the countercultural sayings of Jesus were transformed into a universally acceptable myth. According to Mack, the only items in the Gospels genuinely deriving from Jesus are collections of pithy aphorisms, labeled Q by scholars for over a century, that focus on a very this-worldly, social concept of the kingdom of God. Mack envisages the existence of various groups of ``Jesus people,'' such as those whose Jewish influence can be seen in Matthew's Gospel or others, of a distinctly Gnostic bent, who produced the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, discovered in 1945. The Christianity of the New Testament, we are told, was a sophisticated myth that grew out of the groups' need to show that their kingdom of God movement had the backing of the God of Israel, even though it repudiated the ethnic exclusiveness of traditional Judaism. Mack argues that Paul's letter to the Galatians is the first elaboration of the Christ myth's logic that gentiles could belong to Israel. In this scenario, the formation of the Christian Bible as a closed ``canon'' of inspired writings was due to the demands of Constantine, who wanted Christianity to be a monolithic state religion throughout his empire. Mack hopes that his demythologizing the Christian Bible will enable Americans to treat it in a less simplistic way, but some of his premises will alienate many believers, e.g., that Jesus' teachings must have been purely social and that the Gospel accounts of his miracles are ``preposterous.'' Although he makes a plausible case, Mack never gets near to actually proving that his version of Jesus lies behind the extant texts. Read full book review >