In this boldest book since Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Bishop John Shelby Spong offers a compelling view of the Gospels as thoroughly Jewish tests.Spong powerfully argues that many of the key Gospel accounts of events in the life of Jesus—from the stories of his birth to his physical resurrection—are not literally true. He offers convincing evidence that the Gospels are a collection of Jewish midrashic stories written to convey the significance of Jesus. This remarkable discovery brings us closer to how Jesus was really understood in his day and should be in ours.
Building upon his earlier conclusions that Jesus' Jewishness is the key to understanding Jesus' life and work (This Hebrew Lord), Spong contends that the failure to read the Gospels as fundamentally Jewish impoverishes many traditional Christian readings. Tracing the history of New Testament interpretation, Spong demonstrates the tendencies among Christian interpreters to read the Gospels as documents addressing primarily an audience of Greek Gentile Christians rather than as narratives connected to the broader history of Judaism. Spong relies on a wide range of New Testament scholarship to argue that the form and content of the Gospels reflects not Greek influence or concerns but a peculiarly Jewish outlook on matters of religion and culture. Thus, for Spong, the Gospels are neither objective accounts of historical events nor biographies of Jesus but midrashim, or interpretive narratives, connecting the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth to the history, literature and religion of Judaism. For example, he isolates the symbolic roles that certain characters from the Hebrew Bible, like Elijah and Joseph, play in transmitting the story of Jesus to a Jewish audience. While Spong's conclusions about the value of reading the Gospels through Jewish lenses are neither new nor exciting, his forceful readings of the Gospels and his imaginative speculations about biblical figures are sure to provoke heated discussion among Christian interpreters.