Book Plunge: The Jesus Legend

What do I think of Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy’s book. Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I have often made the complaint about how weak our apologetic material is due to a lack of real scholarly interaction. Many popular writers avoid it. There have been writers in the past who have not taken this route such as Lee Strobel in interviewing numerous scholars, and J. Warner Wallace, who in the back of his book “Cold-Case Christianity” lists a number of scholarly works and authors to go to.

Fortunately, the Jesus Legend is not like that. I noticed on the back of the book that even Robert Price encourages people to read this book alongside of his. Unfortunately, I suspect most who read Price’s book will not take the time to read a work like this one.

The Jesus Legend is a work written to deal with many of the ideas out there that say Jesus is entirely mythical or that there was much baggage added on to a historical figure that came from pagan sources. You’ll find everyone from Robert Price to John Dominic Crossan dealt with here.

Boyd and Eddy are upfront about their bias at the start. They are Christians. They have no thought that any of us will come to the data entirely neutral. I agree with them. We all have our biases and presuppositions that we bring to any area of study.

The start of the work is about the methodology that will be used, which is absolutely essential. Too often claims are made with no idea given as to how those claims are reached. Boyd and Eddy give reasons why the assumption that miracles cannot happen and all happens on a naturalistic system should be called into question. They are not against someone being critical, but they are stating that those who are critical of miracles should just be just as critical of their skepticism of miracles to make sure it is well-grounded.

From there, the writers lay out the groundwork of first century Palestine. Again, this is a must. Jesus must fit into his historical context somehow. This also includes looking at the question of the relationship of Judaism to Hellenism. Would they be open to making up a Jesus and use pagan ideas to do so?

The next part deals with ancient history and Jesus. We are often told today that if Jesus was so important, surely some people would talk about him! In reality, we should be surprised anyone did. Jesus’s account would have been seen with skepticism and many a Messiah figure was walking around town supposedly doing miracles and such.

In fact, that he is mentioned by Tacitus and Josephus and others instead of all these other would-be Messiahs is incredible. It shows Jesus had the farthest reach, and why should this be the case? Could it be because there is more to the case for Jesus than for anyone else?

What about Paul? Paul wrote when there was a heavy background tradition orally sharing much about Jesus, yet there are allusions to the work of Jesus in Paul and facts about his life. In an oral community, these would have been recognized. (The authors want us to keep in mind we live in a post-Gutenberg culture so it’s difficult to understand how an oral culture would work.)

Speaking of the oral tradition, that’s our next stop. Boyd and Eddy give a rundown on how oral cultures work and what impact writing would have on them. Also, they ask the question concerning if the events in the gospels really happened, or were these the result of prophets in the early church having revelations about Jesus and getting them imposed on him for the gospels?

The final section deals with the use of the gospels as historical sources for Jesus. It starts with answering the question of genre. If the gospels are shown to be Greco-Roman biographies, and they are, then this increases their credibility. Next the authors evaluate the gospels as sources. Are they reliable? Can we give them general trustworthiness? Finally, they have a section completing their cumulative case. The end result is the Christ of orthodox Christianity is the same as the Christ of history. No other Christ better fits the picture.

I hope there will be more works coming out like The Jesus Legend. The only downside is that few people who read someone like Price will bother to pick up a work like this one. It is their loss when they refuse to do so. Christianity needs more material like this than it does soft apologetics that lacks in-depth scholarly research.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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