Who Is Jesus? What did he do? What did he say? Are the traditional answers to these questions still to be trusted? Did the early church and tradition "Christianize" Jesus? Was Christianity built on clever conceptions of the church, or on the character and actions of an actual person? These and similar questions have come under scrutiny by a forum of biblical scholars called the Jesus Seminar. Their conclusions have been widely publicized in magazines. "Jesus Under Fire" challenges the methodology and findings of the Jesus Seminar, which generally clash with the biblical records. It examines the authenticity of the words, actions, miracles, and resurrection of Jesus, and presents compelling evidence for the traditional teachings. The purpose of this book too is to help readers judge for themselves whether the Jesus of the Bible is the Jesus of history, and whether the gospels' claim is valid that he is the only way to God.
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This book is a collection of short essays purporting to show the weaknesses in the methodology and conclusions of the "Jesus Seminar", a group of "radical" New Testament scholars who challenge the authenticity of most of the canonical Gospels' reporting on Jesus. The book also presents a defense of the more "conservative" view, that most of the Gospels' reporting on Jesus (sayings, acts, historical events) is trustworthy. Anyone who has considered the work of the Jesus Seminar is likely to find it largely self-refuting, even without the help of this (or any other) critique. So, the latter point, a defense of the more conservative view, is really the book's primary value. One essay, "Is Jesus The Only Way?", is pompous twaddle not worthy even of a monograph. It certainly should not have been included in a volume of otherwise very substantial scholarly merit. That said, the weakest essay is "Where Do We Start Studying Jesus?" The problem I have with it is that it takes supposed "checks" on the integrity of the early oral tradition, from which the authors of the canonical gospels (or at least the authors of the synoptic gospels) draw, uncritically. For example, based on a few citations from Acts, the author supposes that a Jerusalem magisterium existed, which could effectively control the development of legends concerning Jesus, many of which I suspect became foundational for the "heresies" (alternative views of Jesus) which plagued the early Church, and against which orthodoxy came to be defined. The efficacy of such a policing body would have been news to Paul, whose letters evince an underlying concern with runaway misunderstandings about Jesus and his ongoing relationship to the nascent faith. Or, for example, the author mischaracterizes rabbinical interaction as "correction", a kind of predicate for the development of this perceived magisterium. The sources, starting with the Mishnah, which preserved centuries old oral tradition, in fact show disputation and, occasionally, persuasion, but hardly "correction". That remains true through the development of the Talmud, and on down to the present day. In all, however, the book (minus the first essay cited above), is well worthwhile, and, in the main, of exemplary academic quality.
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Review 2 for Jesus Under Fire
Date:January 3, 2008
A really great book. A great rebuttal to the Jesus Seminar group that is trying to do their darndest to do an hatchet job on Christianity. Highly recommended.