Thumbs Up for Craig Evans' Fabricating Jesus

It seems that The Da Vinci Code, among other sensationalistic books, has elicited a response from the scholarly community. From many specific Da Vinci Code responses to Ben Witherington's Beyond Strange Theories and Darrel Bock's The Missing Gospels, bona fide scholars have turned their attention to the sensational in greater numbers than usual. With so many options available, how do you pick the right one?

Much of that depends on your particular interest. If you are looking for responses to The Da Vinci Code, check out the book descriptions at the Cadre's Da Vinci Code Page. If you are looking for information about how we got the New Testament and whether it was reliably transmitted through history, Reinventing Jesus -- reviewed here -- is your best bet. If your interest runs towards the more sensationalistic claims made by scholars with admittedly impressive credentials, then Fabricating Jesus, by Craig Evans, is the book for you.

Craig Evans is a very well-respected New Testament scholar with a background in historical studies. Although Fabricating Jesus includes brief though able refutations of claims made by The Da Vinci Code, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, The Jesus Papers, and The Pagan Christ, the bulk of material addresses popularized claims made by more reputable commentators, such as J.D. Crossan, Bart Ehrman, James Robinson, the Jesus Seminar, and James Tabor.

Evans begins by discussing his own religious background and how it was affected by the critical study of the New Testament and historical Jesus. He uses this personal reflection to try and understand why some respected scholars have embraced such far-fetched theories. One of his explanations is that some of these scholars came from strict, fundamentalist backgrounds. When exposed to the critical studies, they were not flexible enough to accomodate the new information in their existing religious mind set. As a result, their faith was shattered instead of modified. They see little middle ground betweeen strict fundamentalism and utter rejection of traditional positions. Evans points to himself as evidence of a middle ground that actually bases its opinions on better historical evidences.

The next few chapters demonstrate Evans' knowledge of the material, including especially the Jewish context of Jesus' ministry and the early Church, and ability to engage in dispassionate historical inquiry. Taking up some of the more unfounded scholarly conclusions about Jesus, Evans shows that Jesus likely was literate, interested in eschatology, and understood himself to be Israel's messiah. He then proceeds to discuss the criteria of authenticity often used by New Testament scholars, falling back on his background in history to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. As others have done, Evans demonstrates the limitations of the "criteria of dissimilarity."

Evans also provides sound refutations of two ideas advocated by more liberal New Testament scholars. First, he provides one of the best popularized discussions of the Gospel of Thomas I have read. He moves through the evidence methodically, leaving little doubt that the Gospel of Thomas is a late second century writing that is dependent on the canonical gospels. Thereafter, he provides effective though less thorough discussions of the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary, and Secret Gospel of Mark. Second, Evans devotes a chapter to the idea that Jesus was a kind of Greek cynic philosopher. His analysis demonstrates just how unfounded are such theories.

Additional chapters address the treatment of Jesus' miracle accounts by some modern scholars and how Josephus' accounts of Pilate and John the Baptist have been misused to create unnecessary tension with the Gospel accounts. Evans closes out with chapters reconstructing the early beliefs of the Church and how they are in line with traditional conceptions of Jesus. He then adds two useful appendices; one on the agrapha (non-gospel sayings of Jesus) and the Gospel of Judas.

Having found a used copy of Fabricating Jesus for only $10, I think I got a bargain. Evans again and again uses sober historical inquiry and a wealth of knowledge about Jesus' and the New Testament's backgrounds and contexts to counter those theories we hear are advanced by those in the know, but which are revealed to be worthy of our initial suspiciouns.


John R. said…
I just bought this book in my last order with Amazon. I look forward to reading it.



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