Wrestling with the challenges of radical skepticism
Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels by Craig Evans (IVP: 2006), $19.00.
The DaVinci Code, Dateline, and Craig Evans: What do they have in common? The answer is that they have all played a part in the recent explosion of discussion about Jesus, the Scriptures, and Christianity.
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary recently hosted Evans for a discussion on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He told us about Fabricating Jesus, one of his first books written on a popular level. His wife helped him in the writing by reading each chapter and pointing out where he should make things more clear and understandable.
Evans says that many of the questions being asked by scholars today would not even have been taken seriously thirty years ago. Questions such as:
Did he write letters to the Jewish court and explain that it was all a mistake, and that he never claimed to be the Son of God?
Fabricating Jesus is written to answer these types of questions, and to defend the original witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Evans opens with some biographical anecdotes of four scholars known for their skepticism. What is fascinating is that these men were educated in either fundamentalist or evangelical schools such as Wheaton and Gordon-Conwell. Evans wonders whether the fundamentalist statement, “Show me one mistake in the Bible and I will throw out the whole thing,” is actually counterproductive to the building up of faith in the Scriptures.
Evans thinks modern scholars box themselves in from the start with overly strict critical methods. He says, “Some scholars seem to think that the more skeptical they are, the more critical they are. But adopting an excessive and unwarranted skeptical stance is no more critical than gullibly accepting whatever comes along.” Evans lays out a few of the “criteria of authenticity” that function without undue skepticism – historical coherence, multiple attestation, and coherence (consistency).
What about those “other Gospels” that we so often hear about? News programs such as Dateline often showcase scholars who talk with glowing excitement about these texts, claiming they contain new and different information about Jesus and Christianity.
There are five main questionable texts – The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter, the Egerton Gospel, The Gospel of Mary and the Secret Gospel of Mark. One by one Evans shows that these texts do not overturn or distort historic orthodox Christianity in any way whatsoever.
Was Jesus just a Jewish philosopher of the Cynic school of thought? Some scholars theorize that Cynic philosophy was prevalent in Palestine and was a major influence on Jesus. Evans states, “There is no evidence, neither literary or archaeological, or the presence of a single Cynic in Galilee in the time of Jesus.” Evans also shows that the supposed similarities between Jesus’ teaching and Cynicism do not carry as much weight as the dissimilarities.
In the remaining chapters, Evans guides us through a discussion about miracles, the dubious use of Josephus, and distorted history. In the concluding chapter, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?” Evans lays out what he sees as the most important and fundamental aspects of Jesus and Christianity.
Evans’ books have often helped me chart a path through the skepticism of modern critical scholarship. Fabricating Jesus is yet another resource from Evans to help our generation wrestle with the challenges of radical skepticism. (Scott Lamb pastors Providence Baptist Church in St. Louis, and is a regular book reviewer for The Pathway. To respond to this review or to read about other books, visit www.wisdomofthepagescom.)