Quick Book Review: Parallel Gospels – A Synopsis of Early Christian Writing

pargosTitle: Parallel Gospels: A Synopsis of Early Christian Writing

Author: Zeba Crook

Bibliographic info: XLV + 320

Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2011.

With thanks to OUP for the review copy!

Buy the book at Amazon.

This volume is an English synopsis of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), as well as John, Thomas, and Q in relevant passages. The author employs a “source-language translation”, which is to say that he provides a very literal translation of the Greek text of the Gospels, one in which he is consistent with how he translates the Greek into English. The point of this is show the reader (who does not know Greek) the agreements that exist in the Greek text in the English translation.

It seems like a disservice to the reader to attempt such a consistent rendering of a Greek word with the same English word. Yet I can see how it could definitely be useful for the reader who does not know Greek yet wants to see where the parallels are between the synoptic Gospels.  The author, of course, knows that this is not the best way to translate a text, so one must keep in mind that this is not his purpose in this book. Instead, the author is attempting to provide a rendition of the text for a specific purpose (i.e. to bring the parallels that exist in the Greek over into English). I imagine it must have been quite a challenge for the author to try and assign a one-to-one Greek-to-English rendition (especially with those prepositions!).

A helpful feature of this book are the many excursuses found littered throughout the book. There are seventeen of these “Synoptic Study Guides”, covering such issues as the various synoptic hypotheses (Griesbach, Farrer, Two-Document), double tradition, triple tradition, Mark-Q overlaps, redaction criticism, special Matthew, special Luke, the end of Mark, the minor agreements, and several more.

Another feature I like is the inclusion of Thomas and Q in the synopsis. After all, it is quite possible that Thomas preserves some earlier versions of certain logia attributed to Jesus (if memory serves I think Thomas has parallels to the logia Iesou in the synoptics about 50% of the time). And the existence of the hypothetical document Q has been, and still is, the consensus view amongst New Testament scholars. So including these two texts in the synopsis displays some useful New Testament scholarship to the lay reader. Also, since Thomas is extant in Coptic, the author does not use the one-to-one rendition for it.

In the end, I would recommend this gospel synopsis to anyone interested in understanding the relationships between the New Testament gospels but who is not familiar with the Greek language they were written in. Otherwise, if you know Greek, I think you will be better served with a Greek synopsis. Or better yet, getting a ream of paper, a variety of coloured pens, and coming up with your own synopsis. That is the best way to really understand the synoptic problem!

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