James H. Charlesworth summarizes the historical evidence of Jesus
(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), 131 pp., $18 (softcover)Did Jesus exist? After reading James H. Charlesworth’s The Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide, reviewer and Biblical Archaeology Review contributing editor John Merrill believes there is considerable evidence Jesus existed. According to Merrill, Charlesworth’s book boils down the historical evidence of Jesus to 27 key questions—a sort of “Everything you wanted to know about the historical Jesus (but were afraid to ask).” Included are simple, straight-forward discussions of scholarly research into the evidence Jesus existed, the relationship between Jesus and the Judaism of his day, and the archaeological and non-biblical, textual evidence Jesus existed.
Merrill finds Charlesworth’s discussion of Jesus’ beliefs in the context of Second Temple Judaism particularly valuable for answering the question, “Did Jesus exist?” As argued by Charlesworth, concepts like grace, forgiveness and belief in resurrection were well developed within Jewish thought by the time of Jesus’ ministry. The historical evidence of Jesus illustrates that earliest Christianity was very much a “Jewish phenomenon.” But as the historical evidence of Jesus also shows, Jesus’ message cannot be easily identified with the teachings of other Jewish groups.But in answering the question, “Did Jesus exist?” Charlesworth’s Essential Guide also leaves out a few important details, writes Merrill. For example, in his discussion of the evidence Jesus existed, Charlesworth only briefly examines the relationship between Jesus and the Essenes, the sectarian Jews often associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the library of Qumran. And while Merrill believes Charlesworth’s 27-question approach runs the risk of over simplifying the historical evidence of Jesus, he concludes the approach is useful for summarizing the evidence Jesus existed.
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