First a disclaimer. As I stated with my posts on the various Books of the Old Testament, these following posts on the New Testament are not to be read as criticism or discussion of the Books as religious texts but solely my experiences reading them as literature. I have never read these in their entirety before now, but obviously know the basics and many of the parables since Sunday School.
The first book of the New Testament is the Gospel according to St. Matthew, relating the life of Jesus Christ from his conception by the Holy Ghost to the virgin Mary, through to his crucifixion and resurrection. There are three further tellings of his life in the NT (Mark, Luke and John) and from what is and is not present in Matthew, I think the story will be like four layers hopefully building as near-complete a picture as possible, sometimes repeating events, and sometimes filling in gaps.
I won’t outline all the events in Matthew as I suspect all my readers will have at the very least the broad outlines. Instead I’ll focus on what were, for me, the lesser known stories and surprises.
Firstly the sheer wealth of famous quotations. Of course, on reflection this would be obvious, but it is the strongest impression I was left with :
the meek shall inherit the earth/ salt of the earth/ hiding one’s light under a bushel/Get Thee hence Satan/ mote in one’s eye/casting pearls before swine/false prophets (wolves) in sheep’s clothing/by their fruits shall ye know them/blind leading the blind/o ye of little faith/suffer the little children/out of the mouths of babes/many are called but few are chosen/render unto Caesar/spirit is willing but flesh is weak/take the sword perish with the sword/’washing his hands’ of something unpopular, and many more.
Then there were the parts I hadn’t heard before:
- Matthew was a publican (no, not the owner of a pub, but a tax collector for the Romans)
- that there were two instances of Jesus feeding the multitudes with loaves and fishes, the first with five loaves and two fishes, feeding five thousand (chapter 14), and then with seven loaves and a few little fishes feeding four thousand (chapter 15)
- that Judas threw back the thirty pieces of silver after the arrest of Jesus, and hanged himself
- the Lord’s Prayer is laid out verbatim in Matthew (6 : 9-13)
What I didn’t understand well, or seemed to jar with the rest of the Gospel, was the Parable of the Talents. A master going away entrusts his servants with talents of gold, and all but one invests the money and shows a profit. The exception is scared and buries the gold. When the master claims back the talents, he is pleased with the profits made, but berates the man who merely kept the gold safe. Even though this is meant as an analogy, perhaps to spread the word of the Lord after Jesus dies, it still seems an odd vehicle for the message, given that Jesus scoured the temple of moneylenders.
What I did like was that now the Lord’s message is to be shared with all the nations of the World – the God of the New Testament is for all mankind, not just the tribes of Israel; and the Gospel ends with the disciples being sent to spread the Word.
Each of the Four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is usually depicted in Christian art with one of the four creatures in Revelation 4:7, which I will try to include in the post images. Matthew is usually depicted with a winged man (angel)
My rating : 5/10
Other reading : Sharpe’s Tiger, a re-read of the chronologically first volume in the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. Set in the war between the forces of the British Army (acting in the interests of the British East India Company) and the Tippoo Sultan of Mysore in 1799. Private Sharpe is entrusted with a mission to pretend to be a deserter and enter the Sultan’s forces at Saringapatam and return with knowledge of the city’s weaknesses gathered by captured spy McCandless. The flaws and bravery of men on both sides is portrayed well. A great story with lots of colour and excitement, a wonderful anti-hero in brawler Sharpe and unforgettable villain in evil, twitching Sgt Obadiah Hakeswill. 9/10
Next : The Gospel according to St. Mark