What Can We Know About Jesus? 25 Suggested Readings

1.Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy: The Jesus Legend, The: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition

This is one of my favorite books on the topic. Its comprehensiveness and attention to detail is hard to match. What is so refreshing is it’s coverage of the critical issues involved in doing history. Topics include oral tradition, genre studies, Paul’s knowledge of the historical Jesus, the reliability of sources outside the Gospels, etc. In this chapter Boyd and Eddy present a historical method that is lacking in so many books of this nature.

Secondly, the chapter called A Jewish Legend of “Yahweh Embodied” demonstrates the call for an historical explanation about the early Jesus devotion of the Jewish followers of Jesus. Boyd and Eddy discuss how the old argument that Jesus’ divinity was simply borrowed from paganism or some sort of mystery religion is overly problematic. Also, the attempt to fit Jesus into some sort of “divine men” category is a bit strained. If anything, Jews were resistant to Hellenism and paganism. In the end, I think this book succeeds in deconstructing the method of Jesus mythers. After all, it is about method! Give this book a read. You won’t be disappointed!

2. Paul W. Barnett:  Jesus and the Logic of History (New Studies in Biblical Theology). This is a short little book that is a gem. Barnett focuses primarily on Paul and how he can be treated as providing historical knowledge for Jesus.

3. Darrell L.Bock: Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods. This is a great resource and covers a lot of ground. Bock discusses  both biblical and extra-biblical sources for Jesus, the history and culture at he time of Jesus as well as the use of criticism (e.g., historical, redactional, etc).

4. Michael F. Bird: Are You the One Who is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question. This is a book that discusses Jewish Messianism and whether Jesus thought of Himself as the Jewish Messiah. It is outstanding!

5. Michael J. Wilkins: Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus. This book has some very good essays. Back when it was written, many of them were a reaction to some of the Jesus Seminar writings. Granted, many of us have moved on since the Seminar. However, this should be in your library.

6. Jonathan T. Pennington: Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction. This book did do a bit more on the theological side of the Gospels. But the author still discusses genre and the importance of having four Gospels of Jesus.

7. Craig A. Evans: Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels: Evans has a mastery of the languages, the Dead Sea Scrolls and extra- biblical literature. Anything by him is worth reading. This is a must read.

8. Paul W. Barnett:  Finding the Historical Christ (After Jesus). This is a much more extensive book than his previous one I mentioned.  Much attention is given to the Gospels. I highly recommend it.

9. Richard Bauckham: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. This was one of my favorite books on  the topic. As Bauckham notes:

The Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), does not have forensic meaning, and in that sense the English word “eyewitnesses” with its suggestion of a metaphor from the law courts, is a little misleading. The autoptai are simply firsthand observers of those events. Bauckham has followed the work of Samuel Byrskog in arguing that while the Gospels though in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period. These historians valued above all reports of firsthand experience of the events they recounted. Best of all was for the historian to have been himself a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy). In other words, Byrskog defines “autopsy,” as a visual means of gathering data about a certain object and can include means that are either direct (being an eyewitness) or indirect (access to eyewitnesses). Byrskog also claims that such autopsy is arguably used by Paul (1 Cor 9:1; 15:5–8; Gal 1:16), Luke(Acts 1:21–22; 10:39–41) and John (19:35; 21:24; 1 John 1:1–4).

One of the greatest assets of Bauckham’s book is the reminder that ancient historians thought that history had to be written during a time when eyewitnesses were still available to be cross-examined.

Historically speaking, eyewitness testimony is generally considered more reliable than testimony that is heard from a second-or third hand source. But as Bauckham notes, the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), means that the historian was a firsthand observer of the events.

10. Birger Gerhardsson: The Reliability of the Gospel Tradition. This is a short little book that discusses the role of Jewish culture and oral tradition in the Gospel accounts. Rabbi Jesus taught his disciples which required memorization of the master’s teaching.

11. Reinventing Jesus: J. Ed Komoszewski , M. James Sawyer,  Daniel B. Wallace

12. The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide: Gerd Theissen , Annette Merz

13. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels: Craig Evans

14. The Historical Jesus: Five Views: James K. Beilby , Paul R. Eddy   

15. Behind the Gospels: Understanding the Oral Tradition: Eric Eve  

16. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth: Ben Witherington III

17. New Testament History: A Narrative Account: Ben Witherington III

18. Who Was Jesus?: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Paul Copan

19. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened: Craig Evans and N.T. Wright

20. The Gospel of the Lord: Michael F. Bird

21. Jesus Is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels: Michael F. Bird

22. Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, Second Edition: Craig Blomberg

23. The Jewish Reclamation of Jesus: Donald Hanger

24. Jesus the Jew: Geza Vermes

25. Jesus and History; How We Know His Life and Claims: Dr. Steven Waterhouse

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