IA decade after he published his famousfirst novel, A Long and Happy Life, ReynoldsPrice began a serious study of the Hebrew andGreek narratives which combine to form thatcrucial document of Western civilization we callthe Bible. Since early childhood, Price hadknown Bible stories of patriarchs, kings,prophets, and the boldly assertive women ofAncient Israel, as well as the four-fold gospelstory of the life of Jesus -- another Jew whosecareer has exerted immense fascination onsubsequent history.
In Price's early middle age, however, he feltcompelled to go further than simple reading;he began to investigate the rudiments ofthe Bible stories as deeply as possible. Hefocused on the Hebrew and Greek originalsthat are unquestionably the most discussedand annotated texts with the close assistance ofother literal versions and of numerous scholarlycommentaries, old and modern. He was likewiseencouraged and helped by frequent discussionswith distinguished scholar-colleagues at DukeUniversity, where he has taught since 1958.
As the work continued over several years,Price expanded his translation attempts into theGreek New Testament. And soon he had begunan informal navigation of the shoals of KoineGreek -- that common Mediterranean dialect inwhich a good deal of the business of the Romanempire was conducted and in which the gospelsand all other books of the New Testament werewritten. Gradually, his translations of separateincidents from the four gospels evolved into aliteral translation of the whole of the oldestgospel, Mark. His first version of Markappeared, along with other translations fromthe Old and New Testaments, in A PalpableGod (Atheneum, 1978). The book met witha wide and favorable reception from scholars,writers, and critics.
Price's studies have expanded steadily in theintervening decades; and in recent years he hasworked at both a revised version of his earlytranslation of Mark and an entirely new literalversion of the Gospel of John (John is the last published gospel and almost surely the one thatcomes, at its core, from an eyewitness of the lifeof Jesus). To his new translations, Price hasadded extensive prefaces, which he hopes will beof interest to scholars and casual readers alike.The prefaces are the result not only of his ownwork as a translator and his discussions withNew Testament scholars of more than twentyyears reading in textual exegesis, in the life ofthe first-century Roman world (including theimmensely complicated realities of RomanPalestine), but also in consideration of the widespread and ongoing attempt to reconsider thehistorical bases of our knowledge of Jesus.
Finally, after twice teaching a semester-longseminar on the gospels of Mark and John atDuke University, Price has written a gospelof his own. The new gospel, which he calls"apocryphal" in a non-canonical sense, makesa fresh attempt at a compact narrative of thelife and work of Jesus. Yet it is an attemptgrounded meticulously in the earliest availablehistoric, biographical, and theological evidence.In a third and final preface, Price describes themotive for writing a gospel of his own. In brief,his new gospel (like the whole of Three Gospels)aims to render the highest possible contemporary justice to a life lived two thousand yearsago, a life presented in -- and, to a startlingextent, still recoverable from -- documentsthat have proved the most influential inWestern history.
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April 30, 1996
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