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Andrew Phillip Smith, The Lost Sayings of Jesus: Teachings from Ancient Christian, Jewish Gnostic, and Islamic Sources. (Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2006). 

Reviewed by Robert M. Price

It is hard not to pick up a book with a title like this! The book compiles non-canonical sayings from many sources, an endeavor not exactly new (nor does its author so claim), but still worthwhile. Even connoisseurs of such collections will find some material that had previously escaped their notice. One new feature of this volume is that it does not flinch from including tidbits from modern gospels (or gospel hoaxes, depending on one’s disposition) if they seem interesting or well wrought.

Each page contains three to five sayings or anecdotes, keyed to annotations on the facing page. The annotations seem adequate, albeit a little skimpy sometimes.

The charm of the book is the manner in which it conjures for the reader a kind of second naïveté, enabling us to return for a moment, in our imaginations, to that time when the sayings of Jesus were new to us and could still shock or delight us. And then we realize there is something about material ascribed to Jesus which makes its own kind of impact, at least if the saying seems at all appropriate to that great name. Reading the gospels or other sources, ancient or modern, we cannot help being drawn in when the narrative says “Jesus said…” We are playing the role of Jesus’ audience, even if the scene we are acting is fictitious. And in turn this experience helps us to understand the phenomenon of early Christians manufacturing sayings for Jesus after the fact. Bultmann said that Christian prophets spoke under the perceived afflatus of the Risen Jesus. Burton L. Mack says that Christian students followed the practices of Hellenistic secondary education, showing their grasp of the thought of a famous sage by coining sayings that should, if successful, sounds like what Socrates or Diogenes or Jesus would have said if addressing some question. In either case, the result was a great number of sayings that filled out and colored in the picture of Jesus, even if they were not actual, historical recollections. In either case, it is meaningful to say that the voice of Jesus lives on. And this book proves that. It even suggests that the apologists and critics who alike wish to protect the fund of authentic sayings of Jesus (whether their list of them is as long as the canonical texts or amounting to just 18% of their contents) are alike falling into the trap of those who despise prophesying and quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20).



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