Quaker Universalist Conversations

A New New Testament, edited with commentary by Hal Taussig

A brief review with excerpts

A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts, edited with commentary by Hal Taussig (Polbridge Press, 2014).

Reading the The New New Testament is a powerful step in convincement, evidence of the universalist element in the earliest know traditions of the Jewish-Christian community.

A New New Testament A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts, ed. by Hal Taussig The book is compiled by Professor Hal Taussig of Union Theological Seminary from the collective decisions of a council of diverse religious leaders and experts in the early literature of the Jewish-Christian tradition.1

Bolstered by research on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi Library (Coptic translations of early Greek originals, found in Egypt), and other Christian texts dating from 175 CE or earlier, the Council expanded the New Testament by adding ten other authenticated documents to the traditional 27 books.

This expansion transforms the tradition of Christian scriptures from that of a canon2 into a collection of the best known documents of early Christian tradition, available for review and reflection by 21st century people who stand in that tradition. The community of people, standing together, can now listen more fully to the 1st and 2nd century voices of those who heard the gospel message (good news).

One of the additions to the New New Testament is the earliest known documented prayer of the Christian tradition, “The Prayer of Thanksgiving.” A second is “The Prayer of the Ambassador Paul.”

These prayers are offered here as translations from the early Coptic. Readers may use them for review and reflection responding to the question, “What can you say?”

Gospel of Thomas and The Secret Book of John (Apocryphon of John), Codex II The Nag Hammadi manuscripts

The Prayer of Thanks Giving

This is the prayer we say:

We give thanks. Every life stretches in your direction. You are the name untroubled, honored by us with the name of ‘God.’ Praised also with the name of ‘Father,’ reflects our sense of your kindness, love, and desire. To everyone and everything comes your kindness.

There can be a sweet and simple teaching. It gifts us with knowledge, mind, and word: knowledge that we may know, mind that we may understand, and word that we may interpret and communicate. We rejoice. We have experienced your knowledge.

We rejoice that you have taught us about reality. We rejoice in this community through which you have made us whole through your knowledge. When a person reaches you, the person stands alone. We know, and have known, you as the light of mind and light of life.

We have known you as the womb of all that grows. Yours is the womb, pregnant with the reality. You show never-ending endurance and patience in giving birth. We are grateful for your goodness. We seek to be protected in this knowledge and not to stumble in this life of service.

When we finish saying these things in prayer, we welcome one another and settle in to eat shared food.

The Prayer of the Ambassador Paul

Grant me your mercy.

You are my Redeemer. Redeem me, for I am yours and one who has been birthed from you. You are my mind, my treasure, my fullness, and my rest. Birth me, open for me, receive me, and give me unrestrained maturity.

I reach out to you who exists now, and preexists, in the name raised up above every name through the Christ, who is Lord of lords and King of ages.

Give me your gifts of perception that is beyond the edge of perception through the Child of Humanity, the Spirit, and the Advocate of Truth.

I seek authority and healing to my body when I ask through the one who brings good news, redeems my soul and opens my mind, which is enlightened and eternal. Open my mind to the firstborn child of the fullness of grace.

Grant to me that special something that no angel’s eye has seen and no ruler’s ear has heard, and has not entered into any human heart. That something is angelic and was molded in the image of the living God, which was formed at the beginning of time.

I trust. Place upon me your beloved, chosen, and blessed greatness, who is the firstborn, the first brought forth, and the amazing mystery of your house.

For yours is the power, the glory, the praise, and the greatness forever. Amen.

Through these prayers, we can touch deeply into early Christian reflection on the realities of their life, the attribution of value, the broadening reach of the scope of care, and the elements of behavior leading to a good life and final reconciliation with that reality.

It is breathtaking to see this deep understanding of individual and collective experience communicated through language.

Review contributed by Larry Spears.


Notes & Image Source

1 When Houghton Mifflin Harcourt contracted with Taussig to do A New New Testament, they agreed to fund the selection and work of a Council to make the selection of which of the over seventy-five ‘non-canonical’ works from the first 175 years of the Jesus and Christ movements should be added to the traditional New Testament.

Taussig describes the recruitment and work of the Council in an interview with The Fourth R, the magazine of the Westar Institute:

It is important to note that our goal was not to have a Council of scholars from the field of New Testament/early Christianity, but a group of nationally known spiritual leaders. The nineteen eventual Council members did include six such scholars (including Jesus Seminar members John Dominic Crossan, Karen King, and myself), but I only considered scholars who explicitly saw their work as theological and spiritual as well as academic.

Although I intentionally left the criteria for the work of the Council vague, two factors were centrally important to me: (1) that scholarly matters not trump all others; and (2) the primary expertise of the Council members be that they had national experience in telling large numbers of the American public what they might read for their spiritual welfare.

The decisions of the Council were made within the following parameters:

  • each Council member had the same amount of votes to cast and all votes were democratically decided
  • the votes allowed each Council member to express both which individual documents they preferred and how much they wanted particular books, an arrangement that allowed members to weight some documents more heavily than others
  • for about six months the Council studied a wide variety of documents, and the publisher agreed that they could select as many as they thought worthy to be read alongside the traditional New Testament writings (The Council eventually selected ten to be added.)
  • a subset of ten Council members met in October 2012 to reduce the range of documents to be selected down to twenty, and the full Council met in February to make the final selection.

2Biblical canon,” from Wikipedia.

A biblical canon or canon of scripture is a list of texts (or “books”) which a particular religious community regards as authoritative scripture. The word “canon” comes from the Greek κανών, meaning “rule” or “measuring stick”. Christians became the first to use the term in reference to scripture, but Eugene Ulrich regards the idea as Jewish.

Image: “Gospel of Thomas and The Secret Book of John (Apocryphon of John), Codex II The Nag Hammadi manuscripts