Modern historical study of the Gospels seems to give us a new portrait of Jesus every spring--just in time for Easter. The more unusual the portrait, the more it departs from the traditional view of Jesus, the more attention it gets in the popular media.Why are scholars so prone to fabricate a new Jesus? Why is the public so eager to accept such claims without question? What methods and assumptions predispose scholars to distort the record? Is there a more sober approach to finding the real Jesus?Commenting on such recent releases as Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus, James Tabor's The Jesus Dynasty, Michael Baigent's The Jesus Papers and the Gospel of Judas, for which he served as an advisory board member to the National Geographic Society, Craig Evans offers a sane approach to examining the sources for understanding the historical Jesus.
The author does well at showing the faulty viewpoints of the extracanonical gospels (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary, Secret Gospel of Mark, etc.) as he points to the late origin of many of these texts and thus proves that a historical validity cannot be used. Evans is quick to show the reader that what is at stake is the false fabrication of Jesus according to a “distorted” picture of the historical Jesus (62). A major fault of Evans would be his one-sided view of the extracanonical gospels. He is quick to give the fallacies of the extracanonical gospels, but not willing (perhaps because of length) to give the defense for the extracanonical gospels.
As Evans continues to compare the historical Jesus seen by the fabricated scholars, he constantly shows the truth of the canonical gospels and gives the reliability of the canonical gospels. One aspect that strengthens his argument is his willingness early on within the first chapter of the text to discuss some of the major textual problems, such as Mark 16:9-20. In all of the passages comprised of possible textual problems, none of them alter the teaching of Jesus or salvific truth (29-30). In proving the reliability of the canonical gospels, Evans discusses the “authenticity criteria” (historical coherence, embarrassment, multiple attestation, etc.) used to prove the authenticity of the gospels (48-50). A perhaps troubling or problematic statement that he makes in the final chapter needs to be more well defined. In discussing new archaeological research and discoveries, he states that “these discoveries may require an adjustment here and there. But thus far these discoveries have tended to confirm the reliability of the Gospels and disprove novel theories” (235). The reader can only assume after reading Evans’ defense of the canonical gospel that he is stating this to show how archaeological discovery over the years has lent credibility to the gospel truth. The problem is that he leaves the statement open-ended so as to leave questioning for the reader or skeptic as to whether the canon could perhaps be opened due to a new discovery.
One of the more interesting discussions within his text was concerning the popularized book, The Da Vinci Code. This is a book that many in the postmodern and relativistic era of today have bought into as far as “misplaced faith” and “misguided suspicions”. In fact, Evans himself states that the book “says more about the gullibility of modern society than it does about Dan Brown’s skills” (204). A proper conclusion of Evans’ text would have been to point to the prominence of new faulty research and scholarship, and recapitulate the main thrust of his text; which was the proper canonical gospel interpretation of Jesus in light of extracanonical mistruths. There is no doubt that Evans made his point clear and provided Scriptural and historical evidence for his defense of the canonical gospels in light of the extracanonical gospels, diminished deeds, skeletal sayings, etc.
Evans’ book is definitely a great apologetic foundation for the authenticity of our present day canonical gospels. He accomplished his aim of the text which was to point to the need for more adequate scholarship, displace extracanonical mistruths, and point to the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the overarching theme of the gospels. Though, Evans states that the text was intended for “nonexperts”, the aim of his audience appears to be the academic circle of scholars, skeptics and some students (14). With the abundance of the ancient “alternative gospels” today, there is a greater fascination and appreciation for the canonization made by the early church (98). This text is a must read for anyone interested in coming to terms with the misguided historical research of the Jesus Seminar and the abundance of fictional texts accepted as canonical truth in today’s generation.
His approach is very blunt and practical. In a respectful and tactful manner he calls out many scholars and their methods and I think, rightly disproves their theses and hypotheses. Esp Eherman,Funk,Borg, and Crossan and the whole Jesus Seminar.
Negatives: He does a great job bringing clarity to many of the debated issues, but I feel like he drops the ball in explaining how some of the other areas do shed light on our understanding of the Christian faith. The NT apocrypha is no doubt fascinating and important works of history, but after reading this you would think they have no importance at all, for historical Jesus research or anything. He does put forth his views after disproving common assumptions and I agreed with the majority of them. Last negative, it lacks a cohesive flow. Its a bit bumpy from chapter to chapter. Still a great read. Id recommend it especially to anyone interested in understanding who in fact Jesus was. One would enjoy it especially if you have read Schweitzer, Sanders, and Erhman.