My new book is just published!
This is The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels (New York: Basic Books, 2015). I have talked about this topic quite a bit on this blog, but this book addresses the subject in much greater detail.
We often hear about newly discovered ancient gospels that are claimed to throw light on Jesus’s life and times. When the media report these stories, they usually suggest that such alternative gospels were once very common, but that the institutional church stamped them out, probably around 400AD, so that ever since, the world has had to rely on the standard “Big Four,” of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Many Faces of Christ shows that that history is simply wrong. Not only did many of the so-called lost gospels actually survive for many centuries after the date, but new “alternative gospels” – and even Gnostic gospels – carried on being written all the way through the Middle Ages and beyond. All manner of gospels carried on being used around the Christian world. Some survive in Ethiopia, others remained in use for long centuries in Central Asia and China, and so on.
I stress that these gospels were not just preserved by fringe or heretical groups. Rather, we are dealing here with absolutely mainstream Catholic and Orthodox churches. For over a thousand years, regular mainstream churches made full use of alternative scriptures like the Gospel of Nicodemus, which describes Christ’s invasion of Hell to rescue the souls of the righteous dead. Such texts were also vastly popular in the work of some of the greatest Christian artists.
The Christian world, in fact, was awash in gospels.
That is an important fact in its own right, but the underlying myth says a lot about what people want to believe – how they create a myth about ancient suppressed truths uncovered in their own time.
I am left with a basic question. If they were so very widely used, and so many still survive, how can we possibly speak of “lost” gospels or “lost” Christianities?
This chapter list gives the structure of the book:
- Gospel Truths: The Myth of the Lost Gospels
- Christ’s Many Faces: The Survival of the Old Gospels in a Wider Christian World
- The Isles of the West: How Irish and British Churches Kept Ancient Christian Cultures Alive
- Old Gospels Never Die: Ancient Gospels That Gave the Medieval Church Its Best-Known Images of Christ
- Two Marys: How Alternative Gospels Continued to Present the Feminine Face of God
- The New Old Testament: Tales of Patriarchs and Prophets That Became Christian Gospels
- Out of the Past: The Heretical Sects That Preserved Ancient Alternative Scriptures for a Thousand Years
- Beyond the Horizon: Muslim and Jewish Versions of the Earliest Christian Traditions
- After Darkness, Light: How the Reformation Era Drove the Ancient Gospels from the Churches
- Scriptures Unlimited? The Place of Alternative Scriptures in Christianity