knowledge as the better publicized DeadrnSea Scrolls, but which had the good fortunernto escape the political conflict andrnprima donna egos which sabotaged thatrnrival project for decades. Since the latern1970’s, the Nag Hammadi library hasrnbeen available in good and easily affordablerntranslations, which have been assiduouslyrnmined for the “rival traditions”rnthat they appear to present for the earlyrnChristian world. The heavy influencernof later Gnostic texts gives them whatrnmight be termed a Californian air,rnwith copious suggestions of sexual rituals,rndance liturgies, astrology, femalernprophets, and homosexuality. However,rnthe real treasure of the library was thernGospel of Thomas, y’hich in its wayrnseemed to compliment Q. This “FifthrnGospel” comprises Sayings of Jesus, presentedrnin ancient form (“Jesus Said … “)rnand without narrative framework, andrnthere are many substantive parallelsrnto Q. It was soon proposed that Qrnand Thomas represented an authenticrn”wing” of early Ghristianity, even a forgottenrncore, perhaps the most ancientrnstratum of all; and its doctrines wererndistinctly unsupcrnatural and evenrnun-Christian. They were seriously comparedrnto Zen and Greek doctrines, andrnthe “authentic Jesus” became quiternliterally a wandering Gynic philosopher,rnobviously an attractive concept for arnlate 20th-century academic. This ledrninevitably to a further perception, thatrnthe “Q-Thomas” documents provided arnyardstick by which to judge the authenticityrnand accuracy of other traditions.rnSo far, much of this intellectual reconstructionrnis plausible, sensible, and realistic.rnAt this point, however, we meet ThernComplete Gospels, which offers “everythingrnyou need to empower your ownrnsearch for the historical Jesus” (JohnrnDominic Crossan). This includes newrntranslations of the four canonicalrngospels, plus Q, the “Gospel of Signs”rnsaid to underlie the Gospel of John, andrna dozen or so lesser texts—the Gospel ofrnPeter, the Secret Gospel of Mark, thernGospel of the Hebrews, and so on. Thernlay reader is likely to take all this at facernvalue, believing, that these odd documentsrnare somehow “lost,” “hidden,”rn”suppressed,” presumably for their seditiousrnfeminist, political, or mystical appeal.rnIn reality, this book should be soldrnwith a prominently displayed label statingrn”Warning: Cranks at Work.” As fewrnnonspecialists are likely to realize, thernmaterials presented here arc far morerncontroversial than the authors hint. Atrnevery stage, a systematic policy of datingrncanonical documents ludicrously late,rnwhile claiming earh’ dates for the apocryphalrnworks that vary from the speculativernto the hilarious, prevails.rnFor example, the Gnostic sects of thernsecond and third centuries were tremendouslyrnprolific in producing their contortedrnspeculations, most of which bear arndistant relationship to the canonicalrngospels the existence of wJiich they presuppose.rnExamples of these monstrositiesrninclude the “Secret Book of James”rnand the “Dialogue of the Savior,” bothrnprobably written anywhere from 70 yearsrnto a century after the last of the fourrngospels, and lacking even marginal relevancernto the “historical Jesus”; yet herernthey are, with the “Dialogue” unconscionablyrndated between 50 and 100,rnbefore John and Mark. Claiming compositionrnof the late and spurious “Gospelrnof Mary” as “arguably . . . in the late firstrnor early second century” is impudentrnnonsense, explicable only in terms of thernpolitical need to extol an otherwisernworthless tract because it happens torn”suggest that women held prominentrnroles in the early church.” The early andrnindependent character of the Passionrnnarrative in the “Gospel of Peter” is dubiousrnin the extreme, and the case for itsrnpossible value weakly argued. Incredibly,rnthe so-called “Secret Gospel of Mark” isrnincluded as genuine testimony to thernexistence of a deviant secret form of therncanonical work, preserved clandestinelyrnby sneaky Church fathers. Could a footnoternnot have noted the widespreadrnsuspicion that the whole text is a 20thcenturyrnforgery, the Piltdown skull ofrnNew Testament research? And to takernperhaps the most telling example of all,rnthere is no recognition here of the realrnlikelihood that even the text of Thomasrnthat we have from Nag Hammadi mayrnnot be nearly as primitive as claimed, butrnmight reflect the heresies of two or threerncenturies after the time of Jesus. However,rnin this mirror world, the v’ord “canonical”rnhas implications of “staid, narrow,rnbigoted,” while Thomas and its ilk havernacquired an aura of infallibility.rnIf the dates are wrong, the sequence ofrnideas is wrong, and so is any suggestionrnthat the assorted farragoes from NagrnHammadi represent any authentic versionrnof first-century Christianity, as opposedrnto the countless hybrid formsrnwhich the speculative philosophers andrnheretical sectaries of late antiquity lovedrnto invent. A moderately informed readingrnof the texts here only reinforces thernvalue of the four real gospels, and, conceivablyrnbut not certainly, that ofrnThomas. The Complete Gospels is nearrnworthless, not because it challenges arncanon, but because it canonizes the spurious.rnIt will also poison religious discoursernfor a generation, by “empowering”rnevery crank to find some sort ofrnscriptural justification for his fantasies, inrnthe belief that the Gospel of Mary is asrnauthoritative a guide to the “real Jesus”rnas the Synoptics.rnBut are we truly not “empowered” byrnhaving these diverse materials so convenientlyrnbound together in one volume?rnIt is unquestionably useful to have accessrnto such frequently cited texts as Q andrnthe Gospel of Signs, to say nothing of interestingrnlater documents like the “Dialoguernof the Savior”; but the overwhelmingrndrawback in handling them lies inrnthe translation. By this, I mean that therntexts presented here are translated inrnsuch a semiliteratc and downright foolishrnway that they are more or less unusable.rnI assume the Jesus Seminariansrnhave a perfect command of the Biblicalrnlanguages, but their control of English isrntenuous. If this is the historical Jesus,rnthen He was an ill-educated tenth-graderrnwith a painfully limited vocabulary and arnhamfisted turn of speech that often veersrntoward the bureaucratic.rnExamples clamor for quotation, but arnfew will suffice. “Blessed are you” becomesrn”Congratulations to you,” as inrnthe Beatitudes (the Congratitudes?). Tornthe demand “Heal me,” Jesus repliesrnwith the majestic words, “Okay, you’rernhealed!”; and to the demon, He uttersrnthe imperious exorcism “Shut up and getrnout of him.” “Well done, thou good andrnfaithful servant” is transmogrified torn”Well done, you competent and reliablernslave.” Serving God and Mammon? Tryrn”You can’t be enslaved to God and arnbank account.” The translations here arernat least consistent: but so consistentlyrnbad that any sustained reading is impossible.rnThis “fresh, new language” is ostensiblyrntermed the “Scholars Version,”rnSV, but a more plausible descriptionrnmight be the “Hallmark Version”: HVrnperhaps.rnPhilip Jenkins heads the Religious StudiesrnProgram at Penn State University. He isrnthe author of Using Murder: The SocialrnConstruction of Serial Homicidern(Aldine de Gruyter).rn34/CHRONICLESrnrnrn