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Fabricating Jesus

Fabricating JesusFabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels

Author: Craig A. Evans
Paperback: 290 pages
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
ISBN-10: 0-8308-3355-9
ISBN-13: 978-0-8308-3355-9

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I wish to think those kind people over at InterVarsity Press for sending along a review copy of Fabricating Jesus to me. I always appreciate it!

In Fabricating Jesus, Craig Evans sets out to dispel myths that some scholars have proposed as fact that involve Jesus and the texts about Him. Evans says that there are four reasons for producing his book:

to assist anyone who is confused . . . for people who are interested in Jesus and the New Testament Gospels . . . for skeptics . . . to defend the original witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  [16-7]

The first two chapters of the book are really a starting point. A way to get everyone reading on the same page, so to speak, before jumping into the matter at hand.

In these chapters Evans deals with the characters in the “game” – the old and new school skeptics. Old school skeptics suggest some of the NT Gospels’ material is historically inauthentic and give undeserved early dates to some non-NT Gospels. New school skeptics, on the other hand, believe that even less of the NT Gospels are authentic, and entertain thoughts of Jesus not having been a historical person. They see errors everywhere in the NT that dissuade them from orthodoxy.

At this point Evans also discusses some basic issues. They include Jesus’ literacy level, His interest level in Scripture and eschatology, and His belief of Himself as Messiah. Evans says that scholars should start looking at these issues with certain criteria in mind: historical coherence, multiple attestation, embarrassment, semitisms and Palestinian background, and coherence.

The third and fourth chapters of Fabricating Jesus deal with five extracanonical Gospels, like the Gospel of Thomas. Here Evans goes through the dating of the canonical Gospels and shows that there is good reason to assume that they were written within a generation of Jesus. The extracanonical Gospels, he says “were written in the second century and later.” He does point out that some scholars suggest that earlier editions, or at least elements, of these extracanonical writings could stretch back earlier.

Evans presents a basic history of our knowledge of the Gospel of Thomas before showing sections of translated material. He explains the differences between the Jesus presented in this Gospel and the one we know in the NT. He says that Thomas was composed later than other canonical writings since Thomas seems aware of several NT books, contains later Gospel information, reflects later editing in the Gospels, and shows that the author knew late traditions. From here Evans goes through four more Gospels in similar fashion (albeit shorter), showing that these are indeed later or, in the case of the Secret Gospel of Mark, completely fake.

The next six chapters of this book explain how some scholars misunderstand and distort the historical Jesus. The topics dealt with here include ancient interpretations of Jesus compared to modern ones (such as that he was a cynic), the idea that one has to weed out the early Church’s beliefs and interests that they put into the Gospels, the lack of interest by historical Jesus scholars on His miracles and healings, the exaggeration of the differences between the Gospels and Josephus, the thought that early Christianity  was diverse rather than in unity, and false information distributed in titles such as The Da Vinci Code and The Jesus Papers.

In his final chapter, Evans reassures his readers that the Jesus they know from the NT was the Jesus of history. He says:

In this final chapter I treat seven important topics: (1) Jesus’ relationship with the Judaism of his Day, (2) Jesus’ claims, (3) Jesus’ aims, (4) the factors that led to Jesus’ death, (5) the resurrection of Jesus and the emergence of the Christian church, (6) the nature of the New Testament Gospels, and (7) Christian faith as part of the Jewish story.  [222]

Topic by topic, he goes through saying that Jesus accepted the tenets of the Jewish faith, He made claims that were messianic in nature, He died because of these claims, the resurrection made the Early Church distinctive from Judaism, the Gospel authors were concerned with retelling the “teachings and deeds of Jesus,” and that Christianity has it’s origin in the Jewish story.

After this conclusion are found two appendices. The first deals with some free-floating sayings of Jesus called agrapha. The second asks what we should think about the Gospel of Judas. Both are rather short and are interesting articles that have add little additional information to what has already been said.

Fabricating Jesus is an excellent introduction to the claims of other scholars that delineate between a historical Jesus and one that is presented in the NT Gospels. It gives readers information that should bolster their resolve or at least make them question the skeptics a little more closely. I enjoyed the explanations of how and when the extracanonical Gospels were formed and found interesting the various ways that certain scholars attempt to show Jesus in a light other than He is portrayed in my Bible.

There is not much to look down on this book about. I do wish that the notes were footnoted rather than endnoted. Some of the charts seemed slightly out of place or that they should have contained additional information. This book could have contained more information, but at the same time it was meant to give non-scholars a look at the debate, so I understand that.

I recommend this title to those non-scholars especially and to those looking to become scholars one day. The book is well-written and easy to understand. It will help lay people to understand some current issues in the debate more clearly while giving those students looking to become scholars a decent introduction from which to jump into further study.

Grade: A

MSE

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks for this excellent review. I definitely intend to get this book. There’s been so much mis-information published about Jesus and Christianity lately that it will be nice to read something that’s isn’t biased.

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