New look at an old book

Seminar shines light on ancient literary discoveries shaping Christian dialogue

Published: March 28 2014 | 11:58 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:16 am in

The discovery of more than 100 ancient writings throughout the last century is offering a broader understanding of Christianity’s roots while at the same time giving some faithful a way to renew their own spirituality, according to one theologian who has compiled some of these writings into a new book.

These writings — believed by Christian scholars to be lost articles, or books, of the New Testament — are helping to “reframe” early Christian scriptures, said Hal Taussig, a United Methodist pastor and author of the book, “A New New Testament.”

Taussig and Arthur Dewey, professor of theology at Xavier University in Ohio and co-author of “The Complete Gospel Parallels” and “The Authentic Letters of Paul,” will hold a two-day public forum on how these new discoveries are shaping the understanding of the beginnings of Christianity April 4 and 5 at Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist.

“There have been over 100 new documents that have been discovered since 1850, and those documents are changing the way we think about how Christianity began and how we think about how people can nurture their own spiritual lives today,” Taussig said.

The forum, part of the Jesus Seminars on the Road discussions, will focus on the new discoveries and how they can reshape both the understanding of ancient Christianity as well as its future, according to the Rev. Tom Capo, pastor of Peoples Church.

“There are really two reasons Peoples is bringing this forum,” Capo said. “One, we see this as important for our own spiritual journeys, being exposed to a variety of writings that are intriguing and fascinating and allow us to do our own work differently, but also to offer this to the community because there are people out there who may want to know more about their religion and how it began.”

Some of the newly discovered writings include the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene), the Gospel of Truth, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, the Letter of Peter to Philip, the Secret Revelation of John and the Acts of John.

What Taussig has found since his book was published last year is that many Christian readers are using these writings to enhance their own understanding of the New Testament.

“It turns out that a lot of people in general and those in churches have found these writings to be quite useful in understanding the New Testament,” he said. “People are reading the Gospel of Mary right along with the Gospel of Mark, and seeing how they come together.”

“By and large what I find is that people are very interested in this, but they have three basic thoughts: Why didn’t I know about this before, why isn’t this in my Bible, and when I read the new material alongside the ancient material, it feels like I’ve discovered a long-lost brother or sister,” he said.

Next week’s forum will mark the second trip to Cedar Rapids for Taussig. He was a presenter at another forum hosted by Peoples Church last year. The forums, Capo said, are open to the public and are offered as a culmination from an interdenominational book club that meets throughout the year.

While Taussig believes Christianity is in significant decline — more people say they are unaffiliated with a particular faith or are “spiritual but not religious” than ever — he says these new discoveries, and the discussions addressing them, are creating burgeoning interest in the early writings of the Bible and the scriptures.

“I don’t think there’s necessarily a bigger interest in the Bible, but I think there’s a steady interest in the early writings, and a growing interest in the new discoveries of the ancient gospel writers,” he said. “I do believe these new documents give some people a new handle on their own Christian spiritual practice.”

If you go:

  •  What: Jesus Seminars series
  • When: April 4 and 5
  • Where: Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist, 4980 Gordon Ave. NW, Cedar Rapids
  • Cost: Registration is $75 for all three events — the Friday lecture and workshops on Saturday — and $50 for additional family members. Cost is $20 for Friday evening and $30 each for Saturday morning and afternoon sessions.
  • - Registration: Register at (503) 375-5323 or Westarinstitute.org

- More information: Tom Capo at revcapo@gmail.com

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