Thursday, May 13, 2010

"The Book of Jesus"

Pope Benedict is getting closer and closer to admitting the "sin" of the hierarchy: enabling and covering up the sexual abuse of children. But he is not there yet--it is still the sin of the priests. At least he has moved beyond blaming it on the media! or the "enemies" of the church! I am still waiting.

In the meantime, it's back to the gospel project. Here is a copy of the whole introduction to "The Book of Jesus." I will be posting excerpts from the gospels over the next weeks, months, years.


The Book of Jesus: Renditions of New Testament Writings is a collection of four new gospel renditions and one of The Book of Revelation. I have chosen to call them renditions, rather than translations, for obvious reasons. Foremost among these reasons is that I wanted to write different gospels for different audiences, and therefore I needed to take some liberties with the texts.
Let me explain by giving an example. The very first lines of this project I wrote were the rendition of the Prologue to the Gospel of John. I had picked up every new translation of the New Testament that had come out in the last thirty years or so; and every single one of them began this Prologue with the phrases, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The commentaries always offered the necessary explanations. But I waited in vain for a translation that would need no commentary. I would have kept right on waiting were it not for the new translation of the Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell. When I read these opening lines,

The tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
Of all particular things,

I realized right then and there that I would never look at the Prologue to John's Gospel in the same way; for what John was writing about was exactly the "naming" of the Eternal and the creation of "particular things." So, armed with that sensibility, that understanding, that awareness of the tension between silence and speaking, I rendered the Prologue anew,

This is how it began:
When the Eternal, the Unnamed,
Uttered the word 'God,'
That word, too, was God.

God was the first to name God.
Before that, there was only silence and the unnamed.

Thus it has gone with all the renditions below. I have not tried to imagine an evangelist living today, writing to an audience living today. Rather I have tried to imagine us and the evangelist, alive at the time of Jesus and/or shortly thereafter, armed with the sensibilities we possess today. A sensibility is simply a way of looking at things, an orientation, a disposition toward one or another point of view. We know them particularly in their worst manifestations. There is the "conspiracy nut," for example, for whom everything explains or is explained by a conspiracy. Or there is the "bottom line guy," for whom every thing is reduced to the economic dimension. I have tried to pick some of the more neutral and/or uplifting of the modern sensibilities.
For the eco-conscious among us, and for the eco-awareness we all possess in our day, I have rendered "A Gospel of the Earth." For those among us who continually search for the wisdom of the ages, who read the great masters, who seek the depth of being--in short, for those for whom there is always something more-- there is "The Hidden Gospel." On the other hand, for the doubters, the questioners, for those who are not quite so sure that everything is always perfect, about themselves or about the world, I have rendered "The Dark Gospel." Finally, for the intensely personal and individual, for those who want right now to be attended to in their need, there is "The Testimony of John." To these four gospel renditions I have appended a new rendition of "The Book of Revelation." The sensibility here belongs to those among us who are the real poets, the seers, the visionaries--the ones who deal with it in words.
The true test of the worth of these renditions will be if they inspire the reader to create another rendition. For I have always been of the mind that instead of longing for that one, perfectly harmonized gospel, we need instead as many more as there are seekers after Jesus.

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