Biblical Archaeology Review 42:3, May/June 2016

Strata: In Their Own Words

By Helmut Koester

When were the Gospels written and by whom? The late Helmut Koester was the John H. Morison Professor of New Testament Studies and Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History Emeritus at Harvard Divinity School and an expert on the historical Jesus, the New Testament and the emergence of Christianity (see obituary). In his book From Jesus to the Gospels: Interpreting the New Testament in Its Context, he explores the complicated development of the canonical Gospels.1

The fluid state of gospels and gospel traditions in the second century that is evident in a number of so-called apocryphal gospels raises the question of whether the gospels that later became canonical were not also subject to changes, additions and new editions. Except for the small fragment of the Gospel of John in [Papyrus] P52, no gospel manuscript written in the second century or fragments of such a gospel manuscript have survived. The earliest manuscripts of the canonical gospels date from around the year 200, mostly John and Luke. Matthew appears less often and Mark only 50 years later. What happened to these gospels in the time from their autograph to their earliest manuscript evidence? This does not concern the changes in the texts of the canonical gospels that are evident in the later manuscript tradition, such as the addition of the secondary ending of the Gospel of Mark and the addition of the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 7:59–8:11.

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