|The Historical Jesus
The Signs Gospel
Gospels of Matthew and Luke contain material which is common to them both,
but doesn't appear in Mark or John. These passages were first spotted more
than 100 years ago. It has taken that long for a majority of scholars to
come around to the view that Matthew and Luke used the same written source
- now lost. That source is generally called "Q" (which stands for
Quelle, the German for "source").
It wasn't until comparatively recently
that many scholars have proposed that some sections of John's Gospel also
derive from a similar, probably written, source which hasn't survived the
It seems to be an account of seven of
Jesus' miracles which were thought to be "signs" or demonstrations of his
special nature, and some material about the crucifixion of Jesus. The
Signs Gospel 
has to be reconstructed - unlike "Q" - from only one text, that of John's
When the text is carefully analysed,
rough patches appear - points where the original Greek shows a seam or
slight break in form. Matthew and Luke paste over such breaks so well that
they are much harder to spot. If it weren't for the duplicated texts we
might not have discovered "Q" at all - or at least have been uncertain
about its extent.
John, on the other hand, doesn't do such
a good job of pasting in the Signs source. He seems to insert them
verbatim. One commentator suggests that he did this because the Signs
Gospel was already well known and that John's author therefore didn't dare
alter it. At any rate, the Signs Gospel stands out from the long
discourses because it is entirely narrative.
John's Gospel is late. It probably
didn't appear as a whole until around 100 and perhaps up to 20 years after
that - nobody is sure. But if so, the Signs Gospel would have been
considerably earlier. But, whatever some scholars may claim, there's no
way of knowing exactly how much earlier. Nor is there any way of knowing
if it reports "what really happened" or if it was a collection of blown-up
accounts made up by those who needed to turn the man Jesus into a Messiah.
The language and form of the Signs
Gospel indicates that those who knew and used it were Jewish. They may
have had close links with Greek culture and a Greek or Roman city. But
they were Jews first and followers of Jesus second. Perhaps they would
better be called Jewish Messianists.
The way all four Gospels are put
together demonstrates clearly that these Jewish-Christian groups, living
as they initially did within the Jewish faith, used the text of the Jewish
Bible (the Old Testament) to "prove" their beliefs about the meaning of
There are many examples of John's author
doing this with the "Signs" material:
John 2.17 Jesus
disruption of the Temple trade is justified by a quotation from Psalm
69.9. Perhaps the Jewish-Christians were thinking of the crucified Jesus
as one who has "become the gossip of the people sitting at the city
gate" (Psalm 69.12).
John 12.38 The man who
"bore our sufferings" in Isaiah 53.4 is the subject of Isaiah 53.1 which
is quoted to "prove" that Jesus was the Suffering Servant - one of
John's favourite themes.
John 19.24 Did soldiers
actually gamble for Jesus' clothes at the crucifixion? We can't be sure
because John says directly that it "happened in order to make the
scripture come true," and then quotes Psalm 22.18. When Gospel authors
do this, we have to question the historicity of the material, if only
because they didn't have our idea of history as "what really happened."
From the point of view of plain
historicity, the Signs Gospel doesn't raise the credibility of John's
Gospel. We have to be content that, for all its remarkably good writing
and convincing face-validity, it simply doesn't contain much that we can
identify as "what really happened."
 The sections of John's Gospel which have been
identified as from
the Signs Gospel are:
1.6-7, 19-34, 35-49; 2.1-11, 14-19; 4.46b-54;5.2-9;
6.1-25;9.1-8; 11.1-45, 47-53; 12.1-8, 12-15,
37-40;18.1-11, 12-27; 18.28-19.16a; 19.16b-37,
20.1-10, 19-22, 30-31; 21.1-14;