Thursday, March 29, 2012

Book Review--Did Jesus Exist?

Did Jesus exist? Was there a person named Jesus of Nazareth who taught people about the Kingdom of God, who performed miracles, who healed the blind and the lame, and who raised the dead? Of course you say! But deep down the question still nags at you probably. I know it bothers a lot of people. When I taught introductory courses in the New Testament to college students we always had very lively debates about the person and work of Jesus, some believed, others didn't, and still others were left in the middle. The good thing, at least in my opinion, was that people were actually interested in Jesus!

Thanks to the work of Bart Ehrman we now have a handy reference and resource which surveys the recent scholarship surrounding the person and ministry of Jesus. Yes, Ehrman says, there was a person named Jesus but, as he says himself,

"He may not have been the Jesus that your mother subscribes to, or the Jesus of the stained glass window, or the Jesus of your least favorite televangelist, or the Jesus proclaimed by the Vatican, or the Southern Baptist Convention, the local megachurch, or the California Gnostic."

In other words, we have to get back to the gospel image of Jesus rather than the Jesus constructed in our own image and likeness.

Did Jesus Exist is divided into three parts Evidence for the Historical Jesus, The Mythicists' Claims, and Who was the Historical Jesus. Ehrman goes through the known evidence that we have about Jesus in the early centuries, which is very little to the suprise of many people, and then deals with the more modern approach that denies that Jesus existed at all. Ehrman has a clear writing style and his prose reads as if he were in the room with his readers leading a book discussion, a result I assume of his many years teaching at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where Ehrman serves as a Professor of Religious Studies.

As we enter into Holy Week and then Easter we will certainly hear more about Jesus of Nazareth and the Easter event. We will see documentaries of all sorts either debunking Jesus as a fabric of peoples' imaginations. Major newspapers and magazines will run stories about Jesus too.

If you want solid scholarship in an easy to read format, that turn to Bart Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist (NY: HarperOne, 2012). Certainly this book is not the last word in the perennial Jesus debates but at least it is one step closer to a better understanding of Jesus.