Thursday, October 04, 2007

'The Case for the Real Jesus': A Book Review

Lee Strobel has written a new book called 'The Case for the Real Jesus.' It is a fitting sequel to his prior best seller 'The Case for Christ.' The book focuses attention on six challenges to Christianity that have been prominently publicized in recent years. The challenges involve rehashing old objections that have been answered previously. However, new generations tend to forget both the objections and the answers that overcame them.

Strobel repeats a pattern established with 'The Case for Christ' by interviewing reknown scholars and getting their responses to the six challenges. The six are as follows:

* Alleging that there are plausible ancient manuscripts providing different views than the four gospels

* Allegations that the church tampered with biblical texts and therefore the texts cannot be trusted

* New refutations of the resurrection

* Christian beliefs were actually copied from pagan religions

* Jesus was an imposter and did not fulfill messianic prophacies

* People are best advised to pick and choose that which they wish to believe about Jesus.

The interviewed scholars did a thorough job of debunking each challenge. Craig A. Evans, PhD in biblical studies and prolific writer and editor of more than 50 books, was questioned about the claim that our understanding of Christianity would change if certain ancient manuscripts were incorporated into what the church considers canonical writings. One manuscript specifically mentioned was the so called Gospel of Thomas. Critics have dated the writing of the "Gospel of Thomas" to around the middle of the first century. This would lend support to a number of arguments they make based on this assumption. Unfortunately that also seems to be the motive for the dating of Thomas.

The Evans interview, in many ways, paralleled the results of other interviews by bringing forth decisive evidence against charges that the church ignored plausible early writings that would have changed the nature of Christianity. An objective scholarly analysis would date Thomas to at least a century later than the time frame provided by critics. An examination of the actual evidence is revealing. Evans disclosed the facts that are downplayed or ignored by those touting Thomas as a canonical candidate. Evidence indicates that Thomas was written no earlier than the latter part of the second century which contrasts with dating from the middle of the first century proposed by critics. The reasons:

* More than half the New Testament writings were referred to or paralleled in Thomas including 14 or 15 of the 27 New Testament books. Some of this material was not recorded until the last decade of the first century. Evans, a noted New Testament scholar, was unaware of a single Christian writing prior to the year 150 that referenced as much of the New Testament as Thomas.

* Thomas was written in a number of languages which include Syriac- spoken in Syria. Syrian Christians did not have access to the four Gospels in their own language until the year 175 when a blend of the four Gospels known as the Diatessaron was recorded in Syriac. The content of Thomas reveals familiarity with the Diatessaron particularly its material arrangement and order. In addition only the Syrian church referred to Thomas as Judas Thomas; the name used in the Gospel of Thomas. Values of the Syrian culture of the second century- its ascetics and anti-commercialism, its mysticism and its elitism are all evident in Thomas.

* Most striking though are 114 sayings that appear in Thomas. Their order does not appear noteworthy in Greek or Coptic but in Syriac there are catchwords that act as memory aids. The catchwords link the sayings together. A word in one saying is indicated by the preceeding saying and so on.

Similar devastating refutations of revisionist Christian history are evident throughout 'The Case for the Real Jesus.' Strobel's other interviews reflect the knowing scholarship evidenced by Evans which contrasts with the selective use of evidence by church critics. Strobel has authored another fine Christian apologetic.

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