Who Wrote the Gospels? Randel McCraw Helms. Altadena, CA: Millenium Press. ISBN 978-0965504737 and 0965504735. Also available in hardback, ISBN 978-0965504720 and 0965504727.
Helms, a literature professor, writes here of the origins of the canonical gospels. His theories are, to me, fresh and refreshing, as well as interesting. His basic premise is that the names/authors given to the four Gospels are not the actual authors and are pseudonymous (though he doesn’t use that term). This is not a particularly surprising or novel idea, save for/to those in the fundamentalist community, for the books were written long after the events they purport to discuss. That latter nugget itself is not particularly novel or surprising, again save to fundamentalists.
Helms posits that Mark was a gentile convert to Christianity, who knew little of the Septuagint and jumbled quotes, misquoted and miscited even from that poor version of the Hebrew Bible. “Mark” was an apocalypticist who expected the “second coming” to happen within his lifetime, indeed, within three years of writing the Gospel (obviously “Mark” was mistaken as to the timing of the second coming). These were new ideas for me.
Mark was written first, with Matthew and Luke written sometime after (Helms doesn’t suggest who wrote what, when). “Matthew,” a Jewish Christian, took pains to correct Mark’s more obvious, glaring errors and had another source with him when writing, the so-called “Q.” Again, not a novel or new concept.
Luke, Helms suggests, was a woman who wrote in couplings: first, a man, then a woman in Luke, and in Acts, first Peter then Paul’s similar experience. Typically, Peter was dealing with men, Paul with women. The idea is that Luke wanted to present women as key and central to the early church which, from what we can glean from Paul’s letters may in fact be true.
John, on the other hand, had at least three writers: one, the “signs” John; a second, the more Gnostic-leaning John and then John 2, a.k.a., the redactor, who made the ethereal Jesus comments to more mundane, physical stuff.
I agree with the Mark and Matthew theories more than those about Luke and John, and John more than Luke. The thing I think most important is that Helms notes numerous anachronisms (but doesn’t call them that) that can be found in the different Gospels. These are important to dating the time period in which each Gospel was written. For example, there’s a part in John where Jesus talks about them being thrown out of the synagogue. As that didn’t happen till the 80s or early 90s, the Gospel has to be dated from that time – or later. The thing is that conservative writers will argue that proves Jesus’ prophetic nature, rather than anachronistic ideas.
I could go on more about the contents, but the idea is that this is important scholarship (if perhaps a bit derivative from others Helms cites) and the findings should be read and understood by more. The difficulty is that those who wish to be convinced by the arguments will be and those who question anything that denigrates or diminishes Jesus’ divinity or the inerrant nature of the Gospels will reject the underlying premises. Those underlying premises are well demonstrated in the book (even those parts that I don’t completely agree with) and should become the biblical studies norm. Recommended, as this is an easy to read and follow book that has much valuable information for those with ears and are willing to hear.