Burton L. Mack

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Burton L. Mack is an author and scholar of early Christian history and the New Testament. He is John Wesley Professor emeritus in early Christianity at the Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California[1]. Mack is primarily a scholar of Christian origins, approaching it from the angle of social group formation. Mack's approach is skeptical, and he sees traditional Christian documents like the Gospels as myth as opposed to history ("myth" in New Testament studies is not meant to imply "falsehood" or "lie", but rather it is meant to take into account the social, cultural, and political situations of their author. The gospels, then, he sees more as charter documents of the early Christian movement than as reliable accounts of the life of Jesus).

In the field of religious studies more generally, Mack is known for popularizing the term "Social Formation" - originally coming from the work of Louis Althusser - as a descriptive category for religion. This stems from his development of a theory of religion as "social interests." Along with his close friend Jonathan Z. Smith, Mack is active in the Redescribing Christian Origins Group of the Society of Biblical Literature.[1]



Though he does not regard himself as a Historical Jesus scholar, he suggests that Jesus was a wandering sage, similar in style to the Greco-Roman cynics, and that the earliest "Jesus Movements" followed a similar model. He is a noted scholar of the hypothetical Q Document, and is confident that it can be sifted into three layers: one containing primarily wisdom sayings, another giving details on how the community ought to behave, and another containing apocalyptic pronouncements. This model of Q is highly controversial.

The Lost Gospel

The Lost Gospel develops the hypothesis of the "Q" source for the common material of Luke and Matthew not found in Mark. Mack develops the thesis that this was the earliest writing about Jesus, developed over decades by a community which he describes with unwavering confidence. Following John S. Kloppenborg, he believes that there are three major layers to it, each of which coincides with a stage in this community's life. The layers are significantly structured - the earliest material is spaced out and bracketed by later material, the later material showing awareness of the earlier sayings, but not vice versa.

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