Whatever you may think about him or his followers, Jesus of Nazareth continues to capture the attention of billions across the planet. From church-going Christians and New Atheists to the media and academics, Jesus remains a pretty popular guy, at least in terms of the time spent discussing this first century Palestinian Jew and his various views on contemporary issues. Amidst these ongoing conversations about what Jesus would think or say about the latest news cycle there are those who have proposed a quest (or, more accurately, quests) for the real Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of history who stands behind the Jesus of Christian faith. These voices—which are by no means new—have long influenced the popular understanding of the Nazarene and continue to shape how many people interpret the message of Jesus. However, many practicing Christians remain generally unaware of the divergent claims regarding the “Jesus of Faith” and the “Jesus of History” and are (understandably) concerned when they first encounter such statements.
In addition to the plethora of academically-oriented Historical Jesus studies published in recent decades there have also been a bevy of apologetically-oriented works produced to help believers counter the claims of the anti-faith Historical Jesus crowd. Of course, not all books can easily be classified as either “academic” or “apologetic.” An excellent example of faith-motivated scholarship comes in C. Marvin Pate’s 40 Questions About the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2015). In this volume, Pate offers an investigation of forty questions concerning the history of Historical Jesus studies and some arguments of those studies.
Divided into four sections, 40 Questions engages some of the most common issues raised by those studying or just learning about studies involving the Historical Jesus. Part 1 examines some of the academic and background issues pertaining to the Historical Jesus, such as what is at stake and what sources are appropriate for finding the real Jesus. This portion of the book provides especially helpful context for those new to Historical Jesus studies and Pate does an admirable job reviewing existing scholarship and critical approaches. Part 2 considers questions about Jesus’ birth and childhood, since these issues (especially the virgin birth) are often places of contention among those studying the Historical Jesus. In this section Pate also looks at some peripheral issues to standard Historical Jesus studies, such as whether or not Jesus had brothers or sisters (as a Protestant, he argues yes, though without adequate consideration of the Orthodox position) and what languages Jesus spoke (Aramaic primarily, with functional Greek and Hebrew, and possibly Latin).
Part 3 looks at questions about Jesus’ life and teaching, taking a two-pronged approach which focuses on establishing the historicity of miracle accounts and the coordination of the main message of Jesus through the unique emphases of each canonical Gospel. Part 4 examines questions regarding Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. It would have been nice to see additional consideration of which day the gospels say Jesus died and the historical arguments for the resurrection, especially given the prominence of these critiques by the voices that Pate seeks to answer throughout 40 Questions. Overall, this final part continues Pate’s strong presentation of questions and answers regarding the Historical Jesus. The end matter consists of a bibliography and indices of scripture and ancient sources, all of which will be helpful for those reading this book.
40 Questions is a helpful and commendable volume, though at times it feels as if Pate’s attempt to blend an academic and apologetic approach ran out of steam. This is especially true in sections where the emphasis is either more overtly academic or apologetic than a blend of both. For example, the chapter on the resurrection is clearly apologetic in emphasis, despite this event being key issue for many studying the Historical Jesus. Additional source consultation would have been helpful in such chapters, mirroring the many chapters which do strike an appropriate balance between proverbial “faith and reason.” Generally speaking, Pate relies heavily on scholars like Craig Blomberg and Ben Witherington III as well as philosophers and apologists such as William Lane Craig and Lee Strobel, especially where these perspectives are anti-Jesus Seminar (and J.D. Crossan), anti-Elaine Pagels, and anti-Dan Brown. Again, this is noteworthy not as a criticism, but as an indication of Pate’s approach to questions about the Historical Jesus.
Overall, 40 Questions About the Historical Jesus is a well-argued and well-written book which stands as a strong resource for those studying the Historical Jesus. This volume is well-suited for an upper-level undergraduate or graduate-level seminar or for a pastor/teacher looking for insights into Historical Jesus studies. Likewise, this book is well-suited for scholars who are thinking through various issues surrounding the Historical Jesus. On this front, the “Reflection Questions” at the end of each chapter will prove especially helpful. As Pate notes in his introduction, there are a books-a-plenty on the Historical Jesus. 40 Questions is a worthy addition to the field of scholarship on Jesus of Nazareth and the questions surrounding his life.
I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.