Monday, June 2, 2008

Fabricating Jesus - How modern scholars distort the gospel

Craig A. Evans is a brilliant scholar and writer. Dr. Evans teaches at the Acadia Divinity School in Canada, but every summer he comes to California for a couple of weeks and teaches at Fuller Seminary. I had the opportunity to take two classes from him, as well as attending several lectures on popular topics that were presented in the evenings.

Dr. Evans is very good at making clear the convoluted issues that surround the gospels and biblical interpretation. This is exactly what Fabricating Jesus is about. After a solid introduction in which he introduces some of the issues and key players, he dives into the topics at hand.

He begins by discussing the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, the Egerton Gospel, the Gospel of Mary, and the Secret Gospel of Mark. Evans does an excellent job of distilling the key issues and reasons that these works are late and not authoritative. In the case of "Secret Gospel of Mark" by late we mean "written in the 20th century" as it is a forgery.

In regards to the Gospel of Thomas, for example, one of the works that many people have been told is "authoritative" Dr. Evans details four key points against the Gospel of Thomas being an early work:

(1) Thomas knows many of the New Testament writings.
(2) Thomas contains Gospel materials that scholars regard as late.
(3) Thomas reflects later editing in the Gospels.
(4) Thomas shows familiarity with traditions distinctive to Easter, Syrian Christianity, traditions that did not emerge before the middle of the second century.

The reason the dating of Thomas is important is that those who argue that it is authoritative argue that it was written before the canonical gospels, and is therefore more accurate, particularly when it contradicts the other gospels. Evans lays out a clear argument (unpacking each of those four points above as well as others) that Thomas is late, written to support gnostic ideals, and should not be used to form an understanding of Jesus and His teaching.

After discussing these other writings, Evans moves on to tackle the idea that Jesus was a cynic, something that a few scholars have advocated. Cynics were known for their ragged appearance, and for behavior such as urinating, defecating, and engaging in intercourse in public. Hardly the kind of behavior that attracts followers and draws crowds of thousands. Evans goes far beyond simple logical analysis, and brings research and evidence to the table to show that Jesus was not a cynic, nor was there a presence of cynics in the area of Galilee.

There are also chapters on taking sayings out of context, the reality of the healings and miracles of Jesus, the dubious use of Josephus, and other exaggerations and fabrications that misrepresent who Jesus was and what He was about. The book closes with a positive affirmation of who Jesus was and how he is to be understood from scripture.

The book is well arranged and reads quickly. It is scholarly in content but not in style. Evans moves through each of the issues and provides the reader with solid evidence and scholarly analysis.

Highly, Highly recommended.


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