Fabricating Jesus by Craig A. Evans: A Review

fabjesus

Who is Craig Evans?

Craig Evans is the Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College of Acadia University, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.  He received his M.Div. from Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Claremont Graduate University in southern California.   Evans is a well-known throughout the world as a professor, evangelical scholar, lecturer, and author.  He is an elected member of the notable SNTS, a society dedicated to New Testament studies.  In addition to being an author and professor, Evans has made several national television appearances.[1]

Summary

If readers didn’t expect arguments and the citation of sources, Fabricating Jesus (the book) could have begun and ended with the one-page summary of “facts” included before its preface.  These facts, which the book is written to support, include critiques of the contemporary scholarly treatment of the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the “secret” version of the Gospel of Mark, the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar, and the veracity of the New Testament Gospels (as well other popular conceptions about Jesus’ life and character).  The most outstanding of these facts is Evan’s assertion that, “All descriptions of documents, literature, and archeology in this book are accurate.”  The implied message of this statement of fact is that (as they relate to Jesus) the descriptions of documents, literature, and archeology of the modern scholars whom Evans is refuting are not accurate. As the book progresses, Evans addresses a number of the causes that he sees as the reason for the rampant misinformation about Jesus presented by modern scholars.

The first causes that Evans explorers are those of misplaced faith (being unprepared for criticism) and misguided suspicion (confusing skepticism for criticism): some scholars begin from too strict of a fundamentalist worldview that is unraveled into an unreasonable agnostic viewpoint by critical study while others unreasonably doubt the capability of Jesus’ contemporaries to have accurately passed on their knowledge about Jesus in the first place. In a sense, modern scholars start from the wrong place in the wrong way.

On top of beginning from questionable starting points, Evans also believes that modern scholars rely upon questionable sources.   Evans presents several non-canonical gospels as sources for knowledge about Jesus that are considerably less reliable (even flat-out unreliable) than the canonical gospels.  In giving too much credence to these questionable sources, Evans asserts that scholars distort Jesus as he is accurately portrayed in the canonical gospels.  Evan points out that modern scholars come off as quite illogical by giving credence to later-dated non-canonical gospels over the earlier-dated canonical gospels.

Evans further presents the modern scholastic distortions of Jesus as ones of attitude, context, and poor understandings of history.  Some modern scholars start from the assumption that the healings and miracles reported in the gospel are too incredible to take seriously.  Taking such an attitude, scholars cannot give appropriate credence to the claims on the canonical gospels.  While some scholars seek to take components (such as miracles) out of the gospels, others read an outside context into them thereby portraying Jesus as a “Pharisee, an Essene, a prophet, a great moral teacher, a philosopher, a charismatic holy man, or a magician,”[2] anything but the Messiah.  Evans believes one of the most inaccurate views is that of Jesus as a Cynic.  Evans devotes an entire chapter to refuting this view.  Finally, some scholars just rely on bad history (believing in bogus claims) or apply good history erroneously (misunderstanding late antiquity).

The Book’s Purpose

From reading the book’s introduction, it’s clear that Evan’s purposes for writing this book are not unlike those of the Apostle John.  Evan’s purposes are fivefold:  it is written to assist anyone who is “confused by the wild theories and conflicting portraits of Jesus,”[3]   it is written for people who are “interested in Jesus and the New Testament Gospels…but are baffled by the strange books that have appeared in recent years,”[4]  it is written for skeptics,  it is written for scholars of the Gospel in order to call them to a “higher standard”[5] of scholarship, and it is written to “defend the original witness to the life, death and restriction of Jesus.”[6]  Like the John, Evans writes to educate readers about the true life of Jesus Christ, refuting any misinformation along the way.[7]

Since his entire premise (the assertion that modern scholars distort the gospel) is based upon the supposition that the other scholars do not use appropriate scholastic methods to make their cases about Jesus, Evans is compelled to define and use proper scholastic methods himself to present his view of the life of Jesus.  To assure readers of his credibility to discern and apply such methods, he presents himself as an accredited authority on both the Old and New Testaments.  Any reader who may agree with the scholars Evans critiques would be hard-pressed to legitimately doubt Evans reliability as subject matter expert on the life of Jesus.

Such a reader may wonder, however, why the modern scholars Evans decries come to their supposed wrong conclusions.  After all, aren’t these individuals scholastically credible as well?  Why are their methods worse than those of Evans?  Evans addresses this concern immediately before he even begins to talk about the facts of Jesus’ life that he feels have been distorted.  Evans asserts that some of these scholars are more interested in demagoguery than history.  One such Scholar, Bart Ehrman, is just as accredited as (if not more so than) Evans.   However, according to Evans, Ehrman gets it wrong on Jesus because he is prejudiced by his own initial misplacement of faith in biblical inerrancy (rather than gospel harmonization).  His assertion about Ehrman has standing, given that he is not alone in believing that Ehrman is a prejudiced source.  Fellow Bible-scholar Ben Witherington has stated regarding Ehrman, “…in his scholarship he is trying now to deconstruct orthodox Christianity which he once embraced, rather than do ‘value-neutral’ text criticism.”[8] Evans believes that, like Ehrman, other critical scholars are prejudiced in some way by their own overly-skeptical worldview or personal agenda.  This prejudice shows through in their work.

Evans, on the other hand, presents himself as interested in true history.  He presents his own scholastic methods as balanced, and not motivated by his own Christian faith.  Like a fellow graduate student who also reviewed this book, I agree with many of Evan’s methods and assertions, but feel that there are “some small, very small, unscholarly portions where the author’s Christian convictions are too obvious”[9]  Some may see Evan’s religious convictions as a weaker point than do others.  An evangelical Christian can subscribe to the theory that Holy Spirit’s effect upon any Christian author will stack the deck towards a high view of Jesus Christ.  For others who don’t share this viewpoint, they may have to take Evan’s Christian viewpoint with a grain of salt.  (Of course, adversaries like Ehrman may take it with a whole pillar of Salt) In the end, Evan’s Christianity does not effectively diminish his scholarly reliability or his ability to correctly assess the prejudices of overly skeptical scholars.  Evans can be regarded as writing heartedly from the head. (Regardless of the fact that Evans and Ehrman make quite a living out of debating each other on the historical Jesus).  The truly scholarly, (mostly) unbiased Evans takes to the task of debunking the unreliable methods of other scholars with precision.

In several cases, he refutes bad history with good.  In other cases he refutes phony history with the facts.  It may be currently fashionable to take the sayings of Jesus out of context, to insert “alien contexts” into Jesus’ world (such as the idea that he was a Cynic), and romanticize the teaching of lost gospels and early variants of Christianity, but doing show demonstrates poor historical scholarship.   Evans has an easy time refuting the phony history portrayed by fictional characters such as Dan Brown’s Professor Robert Landgon.  Evans makes it clear that The da Vinci Code is far from historical fiction.  Worse than the bad research included in The da Vinci Code is the out-rightly forged Secret Gospel of Mark, which as it turns out, was written around 1960.[10]  Evans has more work to do when it comes to refuting the claims of the non-canonical gospels.

Evans specifically addresses the non-canonical gospels of Thomas, Peter, Egerton, and Mary.  He compares and contrasts these later-penned documents with the older canonical gospels and their (widely accepted theoretical) source, Q.  Evans demonstrates that Q and the canonical gospels hold up to examination as of first-century Palestinian writings, while the later documents are also-rans at best…submitted by authors who neither knew Jesus nor first-century Palestine in order to further their own agendas.   Relying on these gospels over the older, more authentic canonical gospels just does not make sense to Evans.  It makes for interesting History Channel programming, but it makes for poor scholarly history.

For each of the distortions of Jesus he presents, Evans exhibits a clear understanding of the distortion itself and how it misrepresents the orthodox misunderstanding of Jesus.  Evans doesn’t believe Jesus was a Cynic, but he understands who Cynics were and where they lived.  Evans doesn’t agree with the application of the history of Josephus to the life of Jesus, but he does understand that Josephus’ accounts can in some way be applied to the history of the lives of Jesus and his contemporaries.  Evans believes that the non-canonical gospels are bogus and illegitimate, but he does understand when they were written, how they were discovered, their relation to the canonical gospels, and their proper place in history.  Evans doesn’t just stake out his own positions and defend them; that’s not what Fabricating Jesus is about.  The book is about “how modern scholars distort the gospel.”  In presenting the how other scholars arrive at the wrong conclusions and retorting those conclusions, Evans credibly arrives at the right ones.

The book achieves most of its intended purposes.  It calls for a higher scholarly standard and exhibits what that standard should be.  It educates readers about the life of Jesus, clearing the scholastic water where it had otherwise been muddied by scholarship of dubious authenticity.    Unfortunately, for Evans, he may be preaching to the choir with this book.  It defends the life and witness of Jesus as orthodox Christians know it.  However, it may fall short of convincing the skeptics.   By Evan’s own assessment, many of those who distort the gospel in the first place do so because of a preexistent prejudice.  Evans points out this prejudice and its disastrous results but doesn’t make a sufficient plea for the prejudiced to change.  Their distortions don’t come from a misapplication of the facts alone but from the prejudice in their hearts.  Evans can lead the horses to water, but he can’t make them drink.  This book is a great resource for any Christian who wants to know more about the historical study of Jesus, whether or not such a person has been confounded by the “hokum history” and bad scholarship Evans decries.  For the prejudiced distorters of Jesus, the case may be that if they did not believe Moses and the prophets already they will not believe in Jesus even though he came back from the dead and Craig Evans tells them all about how the story of it happening was distorted.

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dunn, Seth. “Craig A. Evan’s Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the
Gospel.” A Book Review Submitted to Dr. Micheal Edens of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminiary. October 31, 2010.

Evans, Craig A. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. IVP Books, 2008.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The 2011 Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum – Craig. A Evans. http://www.nobtsapologetics.com/greerheard/aboutevans.html (accessed September 29, 2011).

prosario2000. “Book Review: “Fabricating Jesus” by Craig A. Evans.” http://pmrb.net/blog/2010/07/21/book-review-fabricating-jesus-by-craig-a-evans/. Juy 21, 2010. http://pmrb.net/blog/2010/07/21/book-review-fabricating-jesus-by-craig-a-evans/ (accessed October 28, 2011).

Witherington, Ben. “Misanalyzing Text Criticism–Bart Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’ .” http://benwitherington.blogspot.com. March 26, 2006. http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2006/03/misanalyzing-text-criticism-bart.html (accessed October 28, 2011).


[1]  New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The 2011 Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum – Craig. A Evans. http://www.nobtsapologetics.com/greerheard/aboutevans.html (accessed September 29, 2011).

[2] Evans, Craig A. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. IVP Books, 2008, 100

[3] Ibid, 16

[4] Ibid, 16-17

[5] Ibid, 17

[6] Ibid, 17

[7] John 30-31

[8]  Witherington, Ben. “Misanalyzing Text Criticism–Bart Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’ .” http://benwitherington.blogspot.com. March 26, 2006. http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2006/03/misanalyzing-text-criticism-bart.html (accessed October 28, 2011).

[9]  prosario2000. “Book Review: “Fabricating Jesus” by Craig A. Evans.” http://pmrb.net/blog/2010/07/21/book-review-fabricating-jesus-by-craig-a-evans/. Juy 21, 2010. http://pmrb.net/blog/2010/07/21/book-review-fabricating-jesus-by-craig-a-evans/ (accessed October 28, 2011).

[10] Evans, Craig A. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. IVP Books, 2008, 61

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s