Gospel tells of True Jesus
Says Canadian Scholar
Mainstream academics are increasingly confident about the
historical portrait of Jesus in the gospels, says a prominent Canadian
scholar -- despite the skeptical headlines generated by a few celebrity
theologians. "If you bracket off the Jesus Seminar -- and they grab
all the headlines -- the work of the last 30 years has given us much greater
confidence that the gospels can yield a coherent, historically accurate
portrait of Jesus," said Craig Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor
of New Testament at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S.
"The half-dozen leaders and three-dozen members of the Jesus Seminar
create the impression the scholarship is seriously divided. But I've been
at annual meetings of the Institute for Biblical Research, with hundreds
of scholars, and no one can take their outrageous claims seriously any
more. "The trend -- from archeology, new literary discoveries and
reassessing the cultural context -- is to see the gospel as essentially
reliable. Our understanding of Jesus is more nuanced, more Jewish and
more unpredictable." Evans, the author of 14 books (including the
Dictionary of New Testament Background), was delivering the University
of Calgary's annual Bental Lecture on Education and Theology, Monday,
at Northmount Baptist Church. Before a packed house of over 250 academics,
students and laymen, he addressed on the topic, "What Are They Saying
About the Historical Jesus?" -- the "They" being scholars.
Evans began his lecture with a slap at Dan Brown's blockbuster The Da
Vinci Code; for all Brown purports to use modern scholarship, "some
of his facts are at best dubious and some are demonstrably mistaken,"
Evans said. However, Brown can be credited with stirring up renewed interest
in the historical Jesus -- including the 10 new books refuting him. Scholars'
new confidence in the historical accuracy of the gospels has resulted
largely from a new appreciation of Jesus' Jewishness, said Evans. This
came initially from Jewish scholars like Geza Vermes, with his trilogy,
Jesus the Jew. Jesus' Jewishness discredits the theory of celebrity academics
John Dominic Crossan and Burton Mack, that he was a cynic philosopher.
Though few of the Dead Sea Scrolls are devoted to First century Jewish
messianic hopes, the scrolls have clarified those expectations, said Evans,
who helped found Trinity Western University's Dead Sea Scrolls Institute
in the mid-1990s. And Jesus clearly expressed those hopes. Scroll 4Q521
(fourth Qumran cave, fragment 521), from 100 BC, prophesizes, "when
the messiah comes, the good news will be preached to the poor, the eyes
of the blind will be opened, and the dead will be raised" -- exactly
the message the gospel says Jesus sent to John the Baptist in prison to
confirm his messianic identity (Matt 11:3-5).
Seeing Jesus as the Jewish messiah must influence how Christians see their
saviour, Evans said in a later interview with the Herald: "He wasn't
saying, 'Come on, fellows, it's time to go to heaven.' He was saying,
'God's reign is breaking into the world. And God can't abide sin, so it's
time to return to the ways of righteousness.' "
Both archeology and an appreciation of Jewish culture also discredit Crossan's
theory that a crucified criminal would never have been buried -- that
Jesus' body would have been thrown to the dogs. The preserved remains
of a crucified Jew proves Jewish burial laws applied to criminals. There
is cultural credibility in the gospel stories of Jesus' use of Passover
imagery for his impending execution, the interaction of Roman and Jewish
officials, the Jewish council taking charge of the body, and the women
finding the empty tomb -- "careful attention to the tomb would have
been exactly what we expected."
Addressing the controversy over Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ
-- particularly the issue, who killed Jesus? -- Evans said the consensus
is, "Roman and Jewish authorities working together" in standard
imperial procedure. Gibson, however, was "too soft on Pilate,"
whose hesitation to condemn the troublemaker was simply cynical political
caution. The full text of Evan's lecture will be available by mid-November
at the website of the Chair of Christian Thought, www.christchair.ucalgary.ca
© The Calgary Herald 200