Monday, March 17, 2008

Holy Week - The Evangelists - Matthew and Mark

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

The Christian New Testament is composed of 27 books, broadly divided into biographies (also called The Gospels), deeds of the early Christian church, letters to the first churches, and an apocalyptic vision of the end of time. Today, we turn our attention to the biographers of the life of Jesus Christ.

The first four books of the New Testament portion of the Christian Bible are called Gospels. The word Gospel is derived from the Middle English phrase that literally means "good news," for it is the good news of Jesus Christ. This word actually derived from Latin euangelion (eu meaning good + angelion meaning message). It is from a derivative of this word that we get our word evangelist meaning one who spreads the good news. The four gospel writers are also called The Evangelists.

The gospels contain the life history of Jesus taken from differing vantage points. They detail the early life, teachings, condemnation, execution, and ultimately, the resurrection of Jesus. While there are common elements in all four books, and especially the first three, all four present varying viewpoints of the founder of Christianity.

The first book is called Matthew, and tradition indicates that it was written by one of the first twelve hand-picked followers, or apostles, of Jesus.

Matthew, who is also called Levi, was a tax collector before he met Jesus. In those days, tax collectors were people who won the right to collect taxes for the government, plus any extra that they could get from the tax payer. They were looked down upon in Jewish circles since they typically strong-armed the citizens into paying exorbitant taxes. The position was not one a very popular one.

The Gospel of Matthew serves as a bridge between the Old and New Testament canons and that is probably why it is placed as the first book in the New Testament. Matthew tends to write for Jewish readers and makes the strongest case for Jesus being the Messiah as foretold by Old Testament prophecy. As one reads from the Old Testament into the New Testament, Matthew, with a distinctively Jewishness in his writings, helps to bridge the gap from the nation of Israel looking forward to a Messiah to Jesus being the fulfillment of those prophecies.

The second book of the New Testament is the Gospel of Mark. It has traditionally been dated as the oldest Gospel, possibly being written just 10 to 20 years following the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the smallest Gospel and is very straight-to-the-point in its narrative. Mark's gospel omits the birth story of Jesus; the book starts with Jesus being baptized by John the Baptizer.

Mark's Gospel has been traditionally understood to have been written by John Mark, an early Christian, although he was not one of the twelve apostles. Based upon internal evidences in the New Testament, it seems that the writer was a relative of Barnabas, and followed him when a dispute broke out between Barnabas and Paul, early leaders of the church. It was during his time with Barnabas that he was thought to have written his Gospel.

In 1961, Switzerland issued a four-stamp set featuring the writers of the four Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The stamps depicting the authors of the first two gospels are illustrated in this entry. Luke and John will be described in tomorrow's entry.

This four-stamp set is a desirable set and commands a premium. The set sells for around $30 (USD) at the retail level. The set would make a good addition to any stamp collection, but would be especially nice for collectors who specialize in Christian themes on stamp.

Previous Holy Week Entries:

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