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The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic

John Shelby Spong.
Publisher HarperOne  
Format hardcover
Product Dimensions 9.25 x 6.25 x 1.1 inches
ISBN 9780062011305
Pages/Publication Date 342/2013
Daedalus Item Code 64800
List Price: $26.99
Sale Price: $6.98
You Save: $20.01
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The Fourth Gospel, the Book of John, posits retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong, was misinterpreted by the framers of the 4th-century Christian creeds as a literal account of the life of Jesus. In fact, he argues, it is written so differently from the previous gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke because it is a literary, interpretive retelling of the events in Jesus's life through fictional characters, from Nicodemus and Lazarus to the "Beloved Disciple." The Book of John was designed first to place Jesus into the context of the Jewish scriptures, then to place him into the worship patterns of the synagogue, and finally to allow him to be viewed through the lens of a popular form of first-century Jewish mysticism.

"We now approach our scriptures with a literalism that is unparalleled in the history of religion. This new and imaginative book by John Shelby Spong will liberate many people from this unnecessary complication of the religious life."—Karen Armstrong

"The Gospel of John differs from Mark, Matthew, and Luke in terms of style, tone, and many of the events described. Further, the gospels tendency to negatively call out 'the Jews' has led, in many ways, to anti-Semitism. So it's surprising that Spong, a former bishop and educator who has written persuasively about the need for a nontheistic Christianity, would choose to devote a book to John. And in fact, Spong writes about his difficulties coming to terms with John's message. But, in his 82nd year, Spong feels he at last understands John, seeing it now in a new light, as the writing of a Jewish mystic. He moves readers deliberately through the pages of the gospel, explaining by example how he's come to his conclusions. John, he maintains, was written after the Johanine community had been expelled from the synagogue. Consequently, John's purpose in writing is to use Jewish symbolism to explain Jesus and his movement to those who would not or could not accept him. Spong himself says that many of the ideas here—let's boil it down to God is love—aren't new. But Spong is writing for a lay audience, and he does so magnificently. His thoughts are bracing, his writing exciting, and his conclusions thought provoking. Those who love reading about religion in general and Christianity in particular may want to go through this volume more than once."—Booklist (starred review)

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