May 27th, 2010
09:50 PM ET

The rise of Historical Jesus, Inc.

The search for the historical Jesus is an academic field, but it’s also turned into a thriving publishing industry, the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik points out:

The appetite for historical study of the New Testament remains a publishing constant and a popular craze. Book after book - this year, ten in one month alone - appears, seeking the Truth.

That “Truth” revolves around the historical study of Jesus: Did he actually exist, what did he really say and do?

Biblical scholars such as the controversial Bart Ehrman have long tried to answer those questions, Gopnik says.

But the search for the historical Jesus has become so popular that it’s now luring non-academics like Paul Verhoeven, the director of the film Basic Instinct. Verhoeven just released a book written from a skeptic’s view of the historical Jesus entitled Jesus of Nazareth.

Verhoeven depicts Jesus as a political revolutionary, according to a press release from Seven Horses Press, the publisher of Verhoeven’s book:

Paul Verhoeven disrobes the mythical Jesus to reveal a man who is, after all, startlingly familiar to us, a man who has much in common with other great political leaders throughout history, human beings who believed that change was coming in their lifetimes.

In one of the most famous passages from the New Testament, Jesus asks his followers, “Who do you say I am?”

Two centuries later, skeptics - and the book industry - are still trying to answer.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Books • Christianity • Culture & Science • Jesus

soundoff (25 Responses)
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    April 10, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  3. hcptomb

    Read "The Evidence that Demands a Verdict" by Josh MacDowell to answer many of the doubts raised in prior Comments. He presents the evidence they neglect to consider. The fact we focus so much on God makes the reality of God so. What is the purpose in attempting to deny that which does not exist, except to admit it does exist and denial is the only means to justiful a more deviant, selfish, lifestyle.

    September 21, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  4. Leon Zitzer

    Nothing has changed in this field since it began. If you read Albert Schweitzer's book carefully, you can see that he was very frightened of a Jewish Jesus, and certainly a very Jewish Jesus. He was outraged that anyone could think of comparing Jesus to the rabbis and repeatedly declared that Jesus was outside history and had very little relationship to his own Judaism.

    This continues in present-day scholarship. The central idea is to create confusion and deny that the Gospels are good sources of historical information. This keeps the very Jewish Jesus suppressed, when he is actually easily recoverable. It also keeps one myth frimly in place: Jesus was surrounded by Jewish enemies who did him in. Even the most liberal, left-leaning scholars promote the idea that a wide contingent of Jews cooperated in the death of Jesus. They will even write that the Jewish religion killed Jesus. No one has ever given a rational argument for this. The evidence does not support that Judas and Jewish leaders conspired to get rid of Jesus. A sound evidentiary analysis will reveal some startling things about the role of Judas and Jewish leaders. But no one wants to lose that myth about Jesus and Jewish enemies.

    By the way, in that article, Gopnik says that Jesus often does not seem very Jewish to him. That shows a profound ignorance of 1st century Judaism. Jesus was, if anything, a Jew to the max. But only close attention to the evidence will reveal that. Something that is still forbidden in so-called historical Jesus studies.

    Leon Zitzer

    August 12, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
  5. John

    I am humored by the REALITY response above. JD Crossan, someone believe has a edge on fact or reality. There are many voices and it looks like some other commenters have gotten at some of the truths about the real Jesus and His real actions.

    June 2, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
    • Reality

      Added references for perusal with respect to the historic Jesus are:

      The books of the following professors, Luke Timothy Johnson, Bruce Chilton, Marcus Borg, Paula Fredriksen, Elaine Pagels and Bishop NT Wright.

      Father Raymond Brown's An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, NY, 1977, 878 pages, with Nihil obstat and Imprimatur.

      June 5, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
  6. Tellurian

    Flavius Josephus and Tacitus did NOT write about the biblical Jesus. Passages about Jesus were added to the works of Josephus by some Christian more than 200 years AFTER Josephus had died. The main suspect is Eusebius of Caesarea who in his writings advocated lying in order to help promote Christianity. Analysis of Tacitus writings show that the word "Chrestians" was changed to "Christians" centuries later in order to make it look like he was writing about Christians. Neither Josephus nor Tacitus can be used as evidence for the existence of a biblical Jesus. There is still NO evidence from any source outside of the New Testament to show that the biblical Jesus was an actual person and not just a fictional character.

    June 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
    • qball

      Well stated.

      June 1, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
    • Reality

      Besides the New Testament passages and the Josephus and Tacitus references, there are these non-scriptual references describing the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

      Crucifixion of Jesus:(1) 1 Gos. Pet. 4:10-5:16,18-20; 6:22; (3) Barn. 7:3-5; (4a) 1 Clem. 16:3-4 (4b) 1 Clem. 16.15-16 (5a) Ign. Mag. 11; (5b) Ign. Trall. 9:1b; (5c) Ign. Smyrn. 1.2.-

      June 5, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
  7. Starling

    It's Seven Stories Press, not Seven Horses Press.

    June 1, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  8. Doyle

    this is newsworthy???? people are skeptical of Jesus as Lord and Saviour? what else is new?

    May 30, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  9. Chantla

    Many secular scholars and some religious scholars still agree that Paul the Apostle was the 'progenitor of what is now Christianity.' I personally think it was Augustine, but for the sake of argument, let's assume he was. What then would possess a well respected Jewish leader who had devoted himself to zealously keeping Torah and making others do the same in order to procure the Lord's favor with the hopes of having his God overthrow Rome, with all its paganism, and reestablish the Jewish Kingdom as the spiritual, religious, and ethnic authority on the earth, to suddenly join or start a 'sect' of Judaism (christianityt) that was completely contrary to the above stated hopes and aspirations of not only himself, but of the majority of the Jewish community?

    We are talking about a guy devoted to his God, his temple, and his Law so much so that he would kill and imprison any in his own community who were not loyal to the same, and then for some reason change his mind and join or start a group contrary to everything he held dear; why would someone do that?

    It must have been a pretty spectacular revelation or experience to cause a guy to change his entire paradigm and life purpose like that.

    N.T. Wright writes a book called "What Saint Paul Really Said" that sheds some light on the matter.

    May 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  10. Reality

    As per most contemporay historical Jesus exegetes, Jesus of Nazareth lived and was crucified but he did not rise from the dead.

    May 29, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
  11. Joel3

    Jesus Christ was fully man and fully God. He was filled to the brim with God's spirit which enabled Him to do miracles,wonders, and healings that no "man" on earth since the beginning of time was EVER recorded of doing. When asked by the pharisees who He was He said without hesitation: "I AM" When Peter called Him the Christ, with no hesitation Jesus CONFIRMED. Furthermore, after the crucifixion He raised HIMSELF from the dead. What man or prophet has ever done such things? The problem came along when men began to base their "facts" on THEORIES. The masses (or sheep) would take these lies straight to the head because the theoretical explaination tasted sweet as honey even with little to no proof. These lies eventually made their way into our history books and science books and WALA!! Man becomes the supreme being, the source and answer to His own existence. God has been pushed out of the picture and the consequence is ever-before us. And if you think the world is in hot water now, just wait...you ain't seen nothing yet.

    May 28, 2010 at 11:49 am |
    • Tellurian

      How do you KNOW that your biblical Jesus ever existed since there is no evidence of his ever having been known by anyone outside of the those in the gospel stories? If he was supposedly bringing a message to ALL the people of the world then why didn't he write his message for everyone to read instead of relying on others to write contradictory stories? The Talmud's Sanhedrin 43a tells of a person named Jesus (Yeshu) who appears to have been the basis that the biblical Jesus legend was built on and enhanced over the years. Are you simply accepting the biblical stories without asking for any evidence simply because someone told you they were true without providing any proof?

      May 28, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
  12. Tellurian

    People are more intelligent these days and a more believable historical Jesus would gain more followers for Christianity than would the less believable biblical Jesus. Those looking at the actual history should be more open to the possibility that the biblical Jesus is actually a composite figure created from the stories of several different persons the way the modern legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood were created.

    May 28, 2010 at 10:41 am |
  13. Reality

    For another review of the historical Jesus and said experts in the this field, see Wikipedia's take.

    May 28, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  14. Steve Dave

    A really interesting article by Gopnik, particularly his interpretations of The Gospel of Mark and how it relates to the other Gospels.

    Unfortunately, I think he falls into the familiar Good Jesus / Bad Paul trap. As C.S. Lewis wrote: This is really quite untenable. All the most terrifying texts came from the mouth of our Lord: all the texts on which we can base such warrant as we have for hoping that all men will be saved come from St. Paul. If t could be proved that St. Paul altered the teaching of his Master in any way, he altered it in exactly the oppostie way to that which is popularly supposed."

    I think one of the best books written in response to the Jesus Seminars was Luke Timothy Johnson's "The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels."

    May 28, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  15. HurpnDurp

    >implying Jesus ever existed in the world's history

    May 28, 2010 at 7:52 am |
  16. Abdul

    I d like to see some scholars research the swoon hypothesis. Did Jesus really die on the cross? or did he survive the ordeal as per the narrative in the synoptic gospels.

    May 28, 2010 at 5:36 am |
    • Ilya

      Jesus died on the cross due to a ruptured heart brought on falling on the ground while carrying the cross on his back. That's why he didn't hang there for a week, as most people did.
      Watch History Channel it will kill any sense of mystery in your life.

      May 28, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  17. Ichthus

    I believe two millennia have passed, not two centuries.

    May 28, 2010 at 12:48 am |
  18. qball

    Does irrefutable evidence exist that an Israelite named Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth among men a couple thousand years ago? No. Is there any evidence that suggests this Jesus was anything more than simply an amalgamated expression of the predominate anti-Roman sentiment and political ideologies which dominated the popular culture of 1st century Roman occupied Judea? Again, No. The validity of the New Testament, widely considered to be the only detailed account of his life and exploits has long been challenged by skeptics and, due in large part to the general discontinuity between the gospels and the letters of Paul, along with a great deal of missing information about the life of Jesus prior to the commencement of his ministry, is no longer held to be the gold standard of historical accuracy with respect to the teachings of Jesus.

    But this missing, blank page in the historical account may in fact be the biggest reason why the Christian faith has seduced so many to partake of its fruit. What's absent from the story of Jesus is precisely what legitimizes and energizes the faith. There is no unimpeachable evidence for the resurrection. There is no unassailable proof of the miracles Jesus performed during his brief ministry. If one could present empirical data which discounts these events as nothing more than mass delusion, faith would be disarmed. And thus, we are left to ponder the fallibility of any proposed evidence for the existence of this historical figure who, while questionable in terms of his very existence, surprisingly, his teachings have made an incalculable impact upon history.

    May 27, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
    • Reality

      "That Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, as the Creed states, is as certain as anything historical can ever be.

      : “ The Jewish historian, Josephus and the pagan historian Tacitus both agree that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea. And is very hard to imagine that Jesus' followers would have invented such a story unless it indeed happened.

      “While the brute fact that of Jesus' death by crucifixion is historically certain, however, those detailed narratives in our present gospels are much more problematic. "

      “My best historical reconstruction would be something like this. Jesus was arrested during the Passover festival, most likely in response to his action in the Temple. Those who were closest to him ran away for their own safety.

      I do not presume that there were any high-level confrontations between Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod Antipas either about Jesus or with Jesus. No doubt they would have agreed before the festival that fast action was to be taken against any disturbance and that a few examples by crucifixion might be especially useful at the outset. And I doubt very much if Jewish police or Roman soldiers needed to go too far up the chain of command in handling a Galilean peasant like Jesus. It is hard for us to imagine the casual brutality with which Jesus was probably taken and executed. All those "last week" details in our gospels, as distinct from the brute facts just mentioned, are prophecy turned into history, rather than history remembered." – Professor JD Crossan

      May 29, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
    • Marian Steffen

      Belief without evidenciary proof is called FAITH.

      May 30, 2010 at 9:52 am |
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