Book Review: Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms (Khan)

Perceptions of Islam (Kahn)History is contested. Though far from a novel statement, we often need to be reminded that the past is not as clean and easy as our history textbooks make it out to be. This is especially true in matters of religious history and conflict, where seemingly everyone wants to contribute their two cents to hot button issues. Occasionally, however, someone will produce a historical narrative that—while outside the mainstream—remains valuable enough to warrant consideration. Nasir Khan’s Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms may be one such book. Continue reading

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Book Review: 40 Questions about the Historical Jesus (Pate)

40 Questions about the Historical Jesus (Pate)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. Continue reading

Were the Gospel Writers Eyewitnesses? Mark

This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not the writers of the canonical gospels were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.

The Gospel of MarkWe begin our examination of the question “Were the Gospel writers eyewitnesses?” with consideration of may have been the earliest written record of Jesus’ life, that narrative referred to as the Gospel According to Mark. Many modern scholars believe that Mark’s gospel was written between 50-70 CE,[1] placing its composition within one generation of the life and death of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.  Mark’s Gospel does not explicitly profess to have been written by an eyewitness to Jesus, though some traditions and interpreters have understood Mark’s account to have been based primarily upon the theology and understandings of the Apostle Peter (who would have been an eyewitness to the accounts recorded therein). Continue reading

Jesus and Crossan (Part II)

This is the second part of a two post-series looking at John D. Crossan’s view of the Historical Jesus as outlined in Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography.

jesus_catacombKey for understanding Crossan’s perspective on the historical Jesus is his understanding of Jesus as a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant.[13] In Crossan’s view, this understanding points to Jesus as a religious, social, ideological, and borderline political revolutionary who defied social norms and practiced “a shared egalitarianism of spiritual (healing) and material (eating) resources.”[14] Connecting Jesus with John the Baptist, and a form of Jewish eschatological thinking, Crossan suggests that perhaps the best approach to understanding and interpreting the historical Jesus would be through the lens of an Ancient Mediterranean Jewish Cynic.[15] For Crossan, such an understanding would explain textual traditions of both calls to poverty, social radicalism, commensality, freedom, kingdom language, and talk of followers as royalty.[16] Only with such an understanding, Crossan argues, can we really understand the methods and message of the truly historical Jesus. Continue reading

Jesus and Crossan (Part I)

Around Easter, various theories about the life, death, and (non) resurrection of Jesus tend to find their way onto various media outlets. Sometimes these theories are outlandish and little more than attempts at attention; other times claims about Jesus come from more respectable sources. In today’s and tomorrow’s posts, I examine one of the more respectable voices on the Historical Jesus (though a voice I often disagree with): John Dominic Crossan and his book Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography.
John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan

In Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, scholar John Dominic Crossan presents his reconstruction of the historical Jesus. Citing the fourfold accounts of the canonical gospels as presenting a problem for the Christian tradition when trying to determine the historical narrative of Jesus’ life,[1] Crossan endeavors to make use of historical-critical methodology in determining the true narrative, words, and actions of the historical Jesus. Considering the cross-cultural anthropology, Greco-Roman and Jewish history, and literary and textual considerations of canonical and non-canonical material,[2] Crossan seeks to find accounts that fits the known historical record, cultural expectations, and presents material unique enough to demonstrate the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Crossan operates with a set of presuppositions that some may find difficult to accept, such as his philosophical naturalism on some points. Overall however, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography presents a narrative of the life of Jesus that, given the materials and criteria used by Crossan, presents a problematic image of the historical Jesus. Continue reading

Book Review: Encountering the New Testament (Elwell and Yarbrough)

PrintFirst impressions matter. Whether at a job interview, social function, or classroom, the initial picture people paint tends to color all subsequent interactions with that person. To a large degree, this is true of non-personal interactions as well, with institutions, places, and subject matter. And while a bad first impression can be overcome (often through much hard work), nothing sets the stage for future success in any relationship like getting off on the right foot. When it comes to education, this is one of the reasons why introductory level courses are so foundational for future learning.

To help set the stage for a successful introduction to the Christian New Testament comes the third edition of Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough’s Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013). This textbook is designed to facilitate an understanding of the theology and history of the New Testament that enables students to undertake an honest and informed reading of the New Testament text for themselves. Continue reading

The Evolution of God

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Conceptions of the Ultimate, the manner in which world religions understand the divine. Today’s article reflects on a portion of Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God, raising several questions concerning the viability of his presentation of Christianity.

The Evolution of God (Wright)In the third part of The Evolution of God, Wright traces the development of early Christianity and its contribution to growing love and toleration within the Abrahamic traditions, arguing that the Apostle Paul, and not Jesus of Nazareth, produced the thinking and methods of inclusive incorporation into Christian communities that laid the foundations for the tradition’s latter success. However, in order for Wright’s summary of Christianity to fit into his overarching thesis concerning the evolution of God, he makes several claims concerning the historical Jesus, claims that I wish to briefly problematize in this reflection. Each of these considerations touches on an important question regarding Wright’s presentation, namely, does his view adequately address the criterion of historical dissimilarity regarding Jesus? Continue reading

Richard Bauckham on The Lost Gospel

The Lost GospelControversy sells.

If that’s not an adage about publishing books, it should be. It’s no secret that the controversial statements (or perspectives which can be made to sound controversial) catch the headlines. Look no further than The DaVinci Code or Reza Aslan’s Jesus. Unfortunately, much of culture is predicated on the idea that the bigger the “splash” you make, the most important you are (*insert censored joke about Kim Kardashian here*).

The same is true in scholarship, especially if you can write a book suggesting something even remotely scandalous about Jesus.

This type of stir is what Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson’s new book The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary Magdalene (New York: Pegasus, 2014) is all about. Fortunately, there are still sane scholars who can debunk such claims in the course of a few articles. One such authority is Richard Bauckham, longtime professor (now retired) at the University of St. Andrews.

If you’re interested in learning why Jacobovic and Wilson are wrong and learn how to deal with the latest “Jesus and Mary Hype”, I would strongly encourage you check out Bauckham’s Seven Article Refutation of The Lost Gospel, helpfully posted over at Mark Goodacre’s NT Blog. Engage these articles, they are well worth your time.

Book Review: Jesus of Nazareth (Ratzinger)

Jesus of Nazareth, RatzingerPart of a three book series on the Historical Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism to the Transfiguration (Image, 2007) begins Joseph Ratzinger’s examination of the life and teaching of the founder of Christianity.† In this book Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) engages the major moments and messages from Jesus’ ministry, combining historical, literary, and theological insights into a masterful work not only on the ‘Historical Jesus’ of scholarship, but also on the ‘Living Jesus’ of Christian faith. Coming in at just over 350 pages, Ratzinger’s work stands at the pinnacle of contemporary Roman Catholic Historical Jesus research, and is a must read for those studying the Gospels and Early Christianity. Continue reading

Book Review: The Case for the Real Jesus (Strobel)

The Case for the Real JesusIn some respects, The Case for the Real Jesus: Student Edition stands as but one Christian apologetics book among a market full of many. The back cover isn’t full of important Christian ‘celebrities’ and theologians saying how great this book is. There was no flashy marketing campaign when this book hit the shelves. It’s not a hardback tome proclaiming itself to include the answers to every question which might confront the Christian faith. In some ways, this relatively short book (at just fewer than two hundred pages) is pretty easy to overlook. But to ignore the contents of this book would be a major mistake.

In The Case for the Real Jesus: Student Edition, journalist Lee Strobel and Jane Vogel engage six of the most common challenges to Christian claims about the Historical Jesus and offer serious historical information on these claims for readers to consider. Through interviews with six scholars, Strobel tackles questions about the reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus, the reliability of New Testament texts, counters to the resurrection, the influence of pagan religions upon stories about Jesus, Jesus’ fulfillment of Jewish prophecy, and what Christians should believe about the historical Jesus in today’s context. By looking at each of these topics seriously, Strobel provides a valuable tool for those seeking to understand and defend their Christian faith. Continue reading