The purpose of this book is to communicate the teachings of the Christ as they were given through the man Jesus. In my opinion Jesus is the greatest spiritual teacher and benefactor of humanity who has ever lived. After his lifetime the most influential religion in the world began to develop. Yet many of the doctrines, methods, and actions of those people involved in the Christian religion have caused many conscientious people to cringe and doubt the value of the religion.
The focus here is on the life of Jesus and what he taught. It is my belief that his teachings are universal and when applied are a most practical way to long-lasting happiness both for individuals and for society. Unfortunately these teachings have been lived to the full by very few individuals and only occasionally by small segments of society.
By loving more, one's inner joy increases; and though difficulties and persecutions aimed at the loving one may occur, even these, if met with love, bring blessings to those in negativity and stimulate reform in the society. Today many people are searching for ways to improve their lives, and material values have not really satisfied that inner longing for spiritual fulfillment and peace of mind. This book is for everyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of truth and the spiritual process of life, whether they be Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, philosophers, or agnostics. Spiritual teachings are universal and may be applied by anyone who desires to become a better person and live a more joyful and loving life.
This book has three parts: a Harmony, a Synthesis, and an Interpretation. Since the emphasis is on the life and teachings of Jesus, the ancient texts have been organized around this central focus for the sake of the reader. In the Harmony all of the four traditional Gospels According to Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John have been presented along with the recently discovered, apocryphal Gospel According to Thomas. Thus the reader may compare each of the different versions on every incident and teaching. Every line of the four gospels that appears in the traditional Nestle text (plus John 5:3-4, which is usually added) has been translated and appears somewhere in the Harmony, as do all of the sayings from Thomas. At the end of each passage the lines translated are indicated, and any line may be looked up in the Harmony by consulting the Index.
Though the numbered years of our common era were supposed to have been based on the birth of Jesus, the one called Christ, it is likely that he was born about 6 BC. According to evidence in the Gospel According to John the public ministry of Jesus lasted about three years. Jesus was executed by the Roman punishment of crucifixion in Jerusalem about 30 CE.
Jesus was the oldest child in his family but had four brothers: James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, and also sisters. Apparently after witnessing the resurrection James became the acknowledged leader of the early Christians in Jerusalem. The letter in the New Testament by James is attributed to him. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, James was accused by Ananus, the high priest in Jerusalem, of breaking the Jewish law. James was stoned to death in the year 62; this caused Ananus to lose his position, because he had not gained Roman approval for the capital punishment.
No evidence of any writing by Jesus exists, and what we know of his life is contained in the gospels. The word "gospel" is a middle English translation of the Greek Euangelion, which means literally a good message or good news; the word "angel" comes from the Greek word for a messenger.
Scholars generally agree that Mark was the first gospel to be written but probably not until about thirty years after the crucifixion. According to Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis in the early second century, John the elder said that Mark had been Peter's interpreter and wrote down as accurately as he could everything he heard from Peter of the Lord's sayings and actions. Though shorter because of fewer parables and teachings, Mark gives more details on specific incidents than the other gospels. In the Harmony Mark's version of each incident is usually given first.
Papias also wrote that Matthew compiled the sayings of Jesus in the original Aramaic language, and everyone had to translate them as best they could. The Gospel According to Matthew in the New Testament, like all the books in that collection, is in Greek. It was attributed to Matthew or Levi the tax collector who became one of the twelve disciples. The Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are attributed to a physician and companion of the apostle Paul. Both Matthew and Luke were probably written a few years after Mark. The Gospel According to John is attributed to the beloved disciple, but scholars don't think it was written until about 100 CE.
A collection of sayings by Jesus known as the Gospel According to Thomas, thought to have been written in the early second century, was found in Naj Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945, written in Coptic, the Egyptian language of the time. This text was probably used by Gnostics (literally "Knowers") who claimed mystical knowledge; some of its ideas were considered too esoteric or heretical to be included in orthodox theology, and it was never accepted by the Roman church. The book is referred to in the early third century by Origen, a Christian who believed in reincarnation and did not believe in the damnation of souls but that all souls eventually return to God. According to early authorities Thomas was the disciple called Didymus or the Twin who had received esoteric teachings from Jesus and later spread the message of the Christ to Persia and India. Many pilgrims venerate his tomb in Edessa.
My English version of the Gospel According to Thomas is based on a comparison of the four English translations of Doresse-Johnston, Grant-Freedman-Schoedel, Thomas O. Lambdin, and Guillaumont-Puech- Quispel-Till-'Abd Al Masih; the numbering is that of Puech.
In the Harmony the four traditional gospels are translated directly from the Greek as exactly as possible in the equivalent English of today. Even the mixture of present and past tenses has been left to give the precise flavor of the original. The order of phrases and words has been adhered to as long as the translation would make sense in English. Most participles have been allowed to remain, instead of turning them into dependent clauses. Accuracy in modern English has been the prime consideration in the Harmony.
The King James Version of 1611 was also a very close translation in the language of the time and has been extraordinarily influential. However, the English language has changed in the last four centuries with the result that many expressions of "Biblical English" from that version are not well understood today. I have translated the expression "amen" literally, because it means much the same today as it did two thousand years ago, being a term of confirmation usually used at the end of a liturgy. Jesus departed from tradition by using it at the beginning of statements.
I have attempted to avoid sexist language as much as possible but not so much as to change the original meaning of the texts. For example, Jesus often refers to God as Father and himself as the son; I left these this way. Yet most translations of the Gospels in the past have used sexist language when the original text is not. When pronouns are indefinite as to sex I have usually used "one" and sometimes "the same" when "oneself" would be too awkward. Instead of using the patriarchal term "kingdom" I have used "sovereignty."
The silver coin denarius was considered the average daily wage for a worker and has been translated as such even though it was worth about as much as a drachma, another silver coin a little smaller than a quarter of a dollar. A talent was worth more than a thousand dollars, and a mina was equal to one hundred drachmas or about three months' wages. The word "stadium" has also been left as such, because it was about the length of a stadium, actually 607 feet. The twelve hours of the day were counted from sunrise to sunset; the night had watches of two hours each such that the fourth watch was the first two hours after midnight.
Herod reigned over Judea from 37 BC to 4 BC; late in life he suffered from arteriosclerosis and manifested irrational behavior. The Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, who ruled from 31 BC to 14 CE, did order a census, which began in 8 BC and could have taken a couple of years to reach provinces like Judea. The term "magi" refers to priests of the Zoroastrian religion who were usually knowledgeable in astrology. According to the astronomer and astrologer Johannes Kepler, a conjunction of major planets in the sign of Pisces occurred in 6 BC.
Jeremiah was a prophet and reformer of Judah who lived about 650-570 BC. Ramah was a transit point for those being deported into exile to Babylon. Rachel, Jacob's wife, had trouble bearing children and finally died in childbirth. Archelaus reigned in Judea from 4 BC to 6 CE when he was replaced by a Roman procurator.
Since Tiberius Caesar was invested with equal authority in the provinces two years before the death of Augustus, the fifteenth year of his government there refers to 26 or 27 CE. Pontius Pilate was appointed procurator of Judea in 26, was unpopular for flaunting pagan religious symbols, and was finally removed in 36 for executing people without proper trials. Herod Antipas and Philip were the sons of Herod who divided the remainder of their father's kingdom. Herodians supported Herod and his sons. Annas had been high priest but still retained influence during the high-priesthood of his son-in-law Caiaphas.
Elijah was a Hebrew prophet in the 9th century BC who emphasized the reality of one God. After prophesying a drought he was directed by God to go stay with the widow Zarephath. Elisha, also in the ninth century, succeeded Elijah as the prophet of Israel; he told Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan River, which cured him of his leprosy. Isaiah (Chapters 1-39) was called to be a prophet to Israel in the year 742 BC. In 701 he opposed going to war against the Assyrians. Second Isaiah (Chapters 40-66) was written by an anonymous prophet during the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BC.
The Samaritans were not allowed to help build the second temple of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile and therefore built their own at Mt. Gerizim. The author of the prophetic book of Daniel was a Jew who lived during the persecution by Antiochus IV Epiphanes between 175 and 164 BC.
The Pharisees were a major religious party of Jews who emphasized the oral tradition as well as the written law and were more liberal in regard to spiritual ideas such as immortality, resurrection, divine retribution, free will, and angelic spirits than were the Sadducees who denied these things, controlled the temple, and tended to be wealthy conservatives favoring strict punishments for violations of written law.
The way the words are arranged on the page in both the Harmony and the Synthesis I have termed "phrase-form." Ancient texts were sometimes written this way. By placing a meaningful group of words on each line it is designed to be most easily read and comprehended.
The purpose of the Synthesis is to provide one coherent and comprehensive version of the life and teachings of Jesus as given to us in the four gospels with a few highlights from Thomas. It is a compilation of all the significant details and accounts from Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John without the repetitions found in the Harmony. Tenses are regulated, and excessive "ands" are dropped.
For the most part these four versions of the life and teachings of Jesus harmonize with each other rather well, but each includes many things not found in the others. By putting all of the elements together in one compilation, the reader can most easily understand the actions and teachings of Jesus as a whole. The only major elements left out from the four gospels are the two contradictory genealogies of Joseph and the opening dedication to Theophilus in Luke. This is the version everyone can read to get the message in the simplest way possible.
Most readers will probably want to read the Synthesis first. The Harmony is really for those who wish to make a comparative study of the different versions. Therefore feel free to skip to the middle of the book and begin with the Synthesis. The Harmony was placed first, because it represents the foundation upon which the Synthesis was built. The Synthesis has been organized into one hundred chapters.
The Interpretation has been written in order to assist the reader in gaining a deeper spiritual understanding of the teachings. It is organized as a chapter-by-chapter commentary on the Synthesis. The reader may choose to read the Synthesis straight through and then read the Synthesis again with the Interpretation chapter by chapter. The Interpretation follows the Synthesis so closely that it is advisable to refer to the chapters of the Synthesis while reading the commentary.
I am grateful to John-Roger and the Mystical Traveler Consciousness for spiritual guidance and connection to the Sound Current of God. May the blessings of God fill all our hearts with love and joy, and may our love for each other and all people bring happiness and peace and harmony to the world.