Ron Miller. The Hidden Gospel of Matthew: Annotated & Explained. Woodstock, Vt.: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2004. Paperback, xxx + 229 pages.
Skylight Paths Publishing is dedicated to issuing books that promote the understanding and appreciation of and between spiritual traditions. As can be expected, Ron Miller’s book has a commendable interfaith orientation. A Jesuit, Miller has for over 30 years championed the dialogue between religions, and his well-informed exposition of Matthew’s gospel illustrates the potential fertility of an interfaith approach, which seeks to go beyond the provincialism of doctrinal Christianity and penetrate into its universal spiritual core.
Matthew’s gospel, composed after Mark and Luke, has long been found suspect by nonfundamentalist theologians. Miller characterizes it as “commentary”—notably a restatement of Mark’s gospel. Specifically, Matthew wrote as a Jewish Christian and, more than the earlier gospel writers, with an eye out for the up-and-coming Church (ecclesia).
Miller accuses Matthew of having concocted the “great lie” that it was the Jews, not the Romans, who killed Jesus. This anti-Semitism in Matthew’s gospel, he goes on, caused centuries of persecutions. Yet, clearly, the Temple priests were eager to get rid of the self-declared messiah, even though some of them had come to wonder about him. As is also well known, the Jewish prophets have had a history of ill treatment by their own people. According to Miller, Matthew’s Jewishness “reflects the stratum connected with the hidden gospel, the anti- Jewishness comes from Matthew’s community in its tension with the rise of rabbinic Judaism” (p. 218).
Matthew’s image of Jesus was tailored to promote the Church and serve the apocalyptic expectations of his fellow-Christians. In including materials, Matthew seems to have deliberately suspended critical judgment. Miller considers the physical resurrection of Jesus and the surrounding signs—empty tomb, guards, etc.—a pious story that was invented to consolidate Jesus’ role as messiah and bolster the apocalyptic mood. At the same time, Miller does not deny the possibility of “miracles” and seems aware of the paranormal powers mentioned in the literature of Yoga.
A self-confident writer, Miller managed to wrest from Matthew’s gospel every shred of relevance for a postmodern spirituality, which does not cling slavishly to any authority but is open minded and open hearted to the spirit of the letter. Thus he has an uncanny eye for what is relevant in our own time, and his exegesis is a constructive commentary on Matthew’s commentary on Mark’s commentary on the elusive Urtext designated as Q (German “ Quelle” meaning “Source”), which supposedly consists of the words of Jesus himself.
This book includes Miller’s new translation of Matthew’s gospel, which is easy to read without the customary and often obscure archaisms. I am, however, a bit skeptical about the anticipated longevity of some of Miller’s linguistic choices, such as “Rock” for Peter (even though the Latin petrus means just that), “wait a minute,” “hang on,” or “got wind of the matter.”
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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