Sunday, February 04, 2018

"Red Letter" Content of the Better-Known Non-Canonical Gospels

This post continues the project of an objective analysis of the better-known documents that are called gospels that are not part of Christian Scripture, using computerized methods to the extent possible. Here we analyze the collection of 8 better-known non-canonical gospels to answer the question: How much of the content is "Red Letter" type content that consists of quotations of Jesus? In the analysis, I've included quotations even if the document frames them as someone else quoting Jesus in order to comment on what he said. I've also given the benefit of the doubt to those documents that never explicitly mention the name "Jesus" (Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Mary, Gospel of the Savior), agreeing with the view that the "Lord" or "Savior" meant in those documents is Jesus. Here is a chart of the relative word counts contained in quotes attributed to Jesus in those documents:

Several of these documents are incomplete, with missing fragments or pages. If there are future discoveries that lead to more complete documents, that would enable us to make a more complete assessment.

These documents show a wide range of difference in how much Jesus is quoted, ranging from "not at all" in some of the documents that we reviewed last week, to "almost all of the content" in the Gospel of Thomas, which largely consists of a collection of sayings. As the Coptic Gospel of Thomas distinguished itself earlier as being the one that mentioned the name Jesus more than the other seven combined, again it distinguishes itself here as having more sayings attributed to Jesus than the other seven combined, by a considerable margin. While the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas are largely familiar from the canonical gospels, still the material does raise the interest in the Gospel of Thomas as more nearly the same type of document as the Biblical gospels, where the document intends to relate information on the life and teachings of a historical Jesus.

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