Sunday, December 09, 2018

The Gospel of the Savior: Setting Expectations on the Authors' Terms

This continues a review of actual contents of various documents that are referred to as gospels, here considering the Gospel of the Savior. Of the documents we are considering that are outside the Bible, the Gospel of the Savior is second only to the Coptic Gospel of Thomas in the amount of material that consists of saying attributed to Jesus. Let's begin as usual by surveying the actual material. Because the Gospel of the Savior contains different sections containing different types of material, I'll skip around somewhat to present examples of different types of material:
  • The kingdom of heaven at your right hand. Blessed is he who will eat with me in the kingdom of heaven.
  • Since I have healed those of the world, I must also go down to Hades on account of the others who are bound there.
  • And you will all flee and fall away because of me. 
  • On the mountain. We became as spiritual bodies. Our eyes opened wide in every direction. The whole place was revealed before us. We saw the heavens, and they opened up one after another. The guardians of the gates were alarmed. The angels were afraid and fled this way and that, thinking that they would all be destroyed. 
  • Then again the Son threw himself down at his Father’s feet, saying “O my father … to die with joy and pour out my blood for the human race.
  • “I am the king.” – “Amen!”
    “I am the son of the king.” – “Amen!”
    “I am the spring of water …” – “Amen!”
  • A little while, O cross, and what is lacking will become complete, and what is stunted will become full. A little while, O cross, and what has fallen will rise.

We begin with the basic question, "What type of material was the author collecting?" The document has a central figure who is referred to as the savior, though without reference to the savior's name in the text available to me. Although unnamed, there is no serious doubt that the savior in question is Jesus. While the savior speaks most of the lines, we do hear briefly from other people such as Andrew and John. There is some material that is familiar from the Biblical gospels such as the prayer that the cup should pass. There is also material that is not familiar from the Biblical gospels, such as an account of a vision of the savior reaching the seventh heaven and the throne of God, a liturgical responsive prayer glorifying the savior, and the savior addressing the cross. Thematically, most of the material deals with topics relating to the last supper, the prayer to let the cup pass, the arrest, and the approach to the cross. The approach to these topics is sometimes through the saviors' comments, sometimes prayerful and reflective, sometimes through a vision.

Parts of the liturgical responsive prayer contained here could be used in a Christian service today without seeming out of place. It also contains theological sayings that mainstream Christians would find orthodox (e.g. "Because I am divine and yet I became human"), while others are not quite what someone familiar with the Biblical gospels would expect (e.g. "to die with joy" in the middle of the "let this cup pass" prayer). While the document is fragmentary, based on what we have it seems to contain a meditative re-imagining of the time from the Last Supper to the arrest, as the savior prepares to face the cross.