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I recall a cartoon picturing two ancient shepherds walking along together.

One says to the other, “No, I’ve haven’t read the New Testament. But I read the Old Testament and liked it quite a bit.”

Now comes a volume to spice up both their reading lists: Hal Taussig’s “A New New Testament” (Mariner Books, $16.95).

And since we stand at the threshold of a new year, today seemed like the time to take a look at this “double-new” set of scriptures.

In essence, “A New New Testament” takes the traditional collection of books of the New Testament and seeds it with 10 texts from early Christianity that have come to light over the past century. These recently found writings, many discovered in a desert cave by herders, go back to the very beginnings of Christianity. They are often called “The Gnostic Gospels,” though Taussig steers clear of that label.

“When you use the word ‘gnostic,’” he told me at a recent seminar, “it just allows readers to dismiss it all as heresy.”

Taussig wanted the newly discovered writings to blend in. Hence, the “Gospel of Thomas” shows up in his collection beside the four gospels we already have. “The Gospel of Mary (Magdalene)” is also given some space, as are “The Acts of Paul and Tecla,” “The Prayer of the Apostle Paul” and “The Secret Revelation of John.”

To whittle down the number of new texts and weed out suspect writings, Taussig brought 19 scholars, teachers and writers on board. He served as the main editor and also wrote a commentary.

“Christianity is an old bottle,” I said to him. “Do you think it can hold all this new wine?”

“No,” he said, “the bottle will have to shatter.”

I posed the same question to John Dominic Crossan, an author and personality on the Catholic ETWN network. Crossan penned the new book’s foreword.

“I’m hoping the bottle will expand and accept the new,” he told me, trading on the notion that “bottles” in scripture are really wineskins.

As for me, I’ve been dipping into the new volume and — to quote William Stafford — trying to read “with my brights full on.”

I’ve found some passages in the new texts that are very moving and feel, to my mind, very authentic.

I’ve also found some verses that appear to come out of left field.

The question is, will “A New New Testament” catch on and become a Christian staple?

I’m thinking probably not.

Will the book spark animated discussions, open old texts up to new interpretation and keep believing Christians on their toes?

It already has.



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