Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels
Craig A. Evans. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006. 290 pages.
The current popularity of research on Jesus has reached the point where many people feel a need for help in sorting out what is legitimate, careful historical research from reconstructions that are largely speculative and fanciful. In Fabricating Jesus, Craig A. Evans provides a valuable service to a wide ranging audience by surveying representative approaches to Jesus and subjecting them to historical evaluation. Evans holds the position of Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College, and is well qualified to undertake such a task with numerous outstanding published works in this field.
The main point of the book is that the current climate in Jesus studies, both popular and scholarly, has created a situation where authors press the historical evidence beyond what is warranted in order to produce new and exciting perspectives on who Jesus was. This has led to the wide variety of “pseudo-Jesuses” that have flooded the scene. Evans strongly objects to these “fabricated” reconstructions of Jesus right from the Introduction and uses the rest of the book to trace the influences of this movement and interact with them.
Evans suggests that one major influence on several of these scholars is their own personal reaction to a rigid fundamentalism that insists on “idiosyncratic standards” of inerrancy. This has led many scholars to become disillusioned and eventually to reject a traditional faith altogether, sometimes producing a strong skepticism and anti-Christian bias in their research. One of Evans’ recurring criticisms is that while the four New Testament gospels routinely receive unfair skepticism and overly harsh criticism, the same skepticism and criticism are not applied to other texts used by modern scholars in their reconstructions of Jesus’ life.
For many non-specialist readers, the most valuable part of the book will be chapters 3 and 4, where Evans methodically surveys and evaluates the most important of these non-canonical texts. In a day when the Gospel of Thomas and the Secret Gospel of Mark have entered mainstream knowledge and become media favorites, Evans carefully describes what these and other documents are about and what their real value is to modern gospel research. He shows how too often they have been misinterpreted and credited too easily with historically valuable information about Jesus. At the end, Evans sketches out what he feels is a presentation of Jesus’ life and teachings based on a responsible approach to the sources.
The great strength of this book is the extent to which it interacts with primary sources. Readers will come away with not only a clear understanding of Evans’ arguments but also with the sense that they have seen the evidence for themselves. The book is written with a lively engaging tone and is highly recommended for anyone who is curious about the current buzz surrounding Jesus and wants to genuinely interact with it instead of dismissing it out of hand based on theological presuppositions.