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The Elite Authorship Of The Gospels: A New Book From Cambridge University Press

Updated: Apr 29

the origins of early christian literature robyn faith walsh

Past studies of the gospels, many times, have incorporated a lot of presumptions taken for granted in mainstream scholarship. But a new book by Assistant Professor Robyn Faith Walsh, at the University of Miami, shows modern theories of Christian origins have been very much influenced by nineteenth-century German Romanticism.

In ‘The Origins of Early Christian Literature’, published by Cambridge University Press, Walsh demonstrates that most studies of the Christian gospels describe their origins by presuming an oral tradition of various communities.

The description of the book, which has received positive reviews from Cadbury Professor of Theology, Candida Moss; Frances Hill Fox Professor of Religious Studies, Marc Goodacre; and Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Yale Divinity School, Laura Nasrallah, is as follows:

In this book, Robyn Faith Walsh argues that the Synoptic gospels were written by elite cultural producers working within a dynamic cadre of literate specialists, including persons who may or may not have been professed Christians. Comparing a range of ancient literature, her ground-breaking study demonstrates that the gospels are creative works produced by educated elites interested in Judean teachings, practices, and paradoxographical subjects in the aftermath of the Jewish War and in dialogue with the literature of their age. Walsh’s study thus bridges the artificial divide between research on the Synoptic gospels and Classics.

Walsh states in her book that:

“To assume sources like the Synoptics emerged from the folk speech of established early Christian groups presumes a social environment for these writers that agitates against what is known about ancient authorship practices. It privileges a presumed social formation (religious communities) over an axiomatic one (networks of literate specialists) without demonstrating why such a move is warranted.
Moreover, religion is not a matter of “more or less” in this scholarly construction; it is a matter of "only”: the author’s assumed religious community is the only considered social context, leaving more plausible associations-like broad networks of elite cultural producers -largely unexamined.”

The main reason for sharing news of this publication is that, unknowingly, the information supports the findings presented on this site and in my book. The argument for a historical Jesus continues to be very important for many to attempt to explain Christian origins. But there are more convincing ways of accounting for the emergence of apparent groups that called themselves ‘Christian’. One important fact supporting elite authorship of the Gospels is the literary ability, or rather inability, the supposed authors were likely to possess, that is investigated here

I will note, however, that Walsh’s position is that Jesus and Paul existed, and when referring to “Roman literary elites” she is not pointing to the aristocracy or ruling classes. Of course, based on the evidence I have seen and not ignored, which is presented here and in my book, I cannot share her view.

But this is a recommended read for those interested in learning what data, information and new understandings have been reached that challenge traditional presumptions.

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