Skip to comments.Book Review: N.T. Wright’s “Who Was Jesus”
Posted on 09/10/2009 11:21:34 AM PDT by Teófilo
Who wouldve said that at when I finished reading N.T.Wrights Who Was Jesus? my most of the academic paradigms I used to guide my reading and understanding of the New Testament were to shift so drastically to the side of historicism. Yet, thats exactly what happened. Its not that I didnt know there was something seriously amiss, incomplete, selective, and ultimately seriously wrong with some of the tools Ive been told to trust, but that I didnt know how to construct a convincing, rational counterargument to those who diminish the historical value and accuracy of the New Testament. That was until now.
Nicholas Thomas "Tom" Wright (born 1 December 1948) is the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and a leading New Testament scholar. His literary output on the subject is, well, vast. Yet, his prose is not dry and academic, but endearing, inviting, clear, concise, direct and even humorous, qualities that make Who Was Jesus? easy to read, to digest, and to ponder.
Basically, this short work (about 100 pages), published in 1992, is a three-pronged critique of three popular works by three different authors on New Testament exegesis: Australian Barbara Thiering, British A.N. Wilson, and an American, the retired Episcopal bishop of Newark, John Shelby Spong. I admire Bishop Wrights classy praise of each of these authors when they deserve it, but when he goes for the kill, Bishop Wrights critique is devastating.
To tell you the truth, Id never heard of Thiering until I read about her in Who Was Jesus?, although I have a vague memory of her being interviewed as an expert in one of the many History or Discovery Channels biblical documentaries or rather, hit pieces. Thiering seemed to have pioneered an exegetical method called the pesher technique that allowed her to affirm that the Dead Sea Scrolls should be read as a decoder for the Gospel. The technique led her to assert that, among other things, that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, divorced her, married someone else, had children, travelled the Mediterranean it almost sounds like that other thing, The Da Vinci Code, but without the excitement, and almost as fictional. It gets weirder, but then I will be spoiling it for you if I continue. Bishop Wright took her to task and disassembled her technique strand after strand until nothing substantial was left.
A.N. Wilson is a better known author, a biographer and a novelist. Bishop Wright thinks that, of the three, Wilson is the closest one to a real epiphany regarding the historical character of the Gospels. Then again, Bishop Wright disassembles Wilsons construct piece by piece, demonstrating all his false assumptions and incorrect conclusions along the way, until the reader is left to wonder how Wilson ever thought that he was qualified to write a scholarly book on the New Testament to begin with.
Two things remained with me from this section. The first one has to do with the penchant of all skeptics, either atheist/agnostic types like Wilson was when he wrote this, or Gnostic/New Age types like Thiering, that they and they alone are giving us the straight historical dope of what really happened and that the Gospels themselves, and/or the traditional interpreters are biased and therefore unreliable conveyors of objective historical knowledge. Bishop Wright takes this conceited attitude to task. No one is dispassionate. Why is it that Wilson or any atheist for that matter pretends to know the objective facts about the Gospels and the New Testament when their passion for iconoclasm is evident in everything they say or write? How are they dispassionate observers? Would you trust either General Tommy Franks or Osama Bin Laden to write dispassionate accounts of the War in Afghanistan? Yet, thats what Wilson and company ask of us, to believe their own claims of objectivity.
The second thing is a prophetic statement Bishop Wright made about A.N. Wilson. After cleaning from the layers of confusing pseudo-data that Wilson covered it with, and re-presenting the image of the real historical Jesus anew to Wilson and to the reader, Bishop Wright said: I hope that Wilson himself will come to recognize this, and will think again about Jesus. If he has changed his mind once, there is no reason why he should not do so again. In fact, this year of 2009, 12 years after Bishop Wright took him to task, A.N. Wilson returned to the Anglican Church of his youth, much to the atheistic communitys dismay. Thats what happens when a seeker of truth really seeks the truth, and not unreasonable facsimiles thereof, based on their subjective ego projections.
Anyway, the third author Bishop Wright takes to task is the now retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, John Shelby Spong. Now, he is an author that Ive actually read. Since then, Ive always felt that there was something farcical about his approach to Scripture interpretation, and I say farcical because in Bishop Spongs case it borders on the comedic. After deconstructing Bishop Spong and his midrash technique of interpretation as he did the others, and upon reading Bishop Spongs styling himself as a persecuted hero along with John Robinson, David Jenkins and Hans Küng Bishop Wright tartly added though he lacks the historical sense of the first, the quicksilver mind of the second, and the enormous learning of the third. Ouch, that one mustve hurt. It is an ad hominem argument to say the least, but a damned good one.
Finally, Bishop Wright pulls all the strands together into a final chapter where the image of Jesus is restored to its original, pristine form: a first century Jew, who, while acting well within the religious parameters, ethos, and language forms of his day, claimed that the God of Israel was acting uniquely through Him, and that the Gospels, being historical biographies as they are, capture the essential facts of His claims.
If believing in the historicity of the Gospels is so reasonable, why are Jesus claims so difficult to accept? Let Bishop Wright answer that question in his own words:
Aye, theres the rub: to do this will cost no less than everything. But that is perhaps what one should expect. Pearls of great price do not come cheap.
Just ask A.N. Wilson. Bottom line: read Bishop Wrights Who Was Jesus?
Faithful Anglicans too!
Wonderful that you posted this. Great news for today.
“Aye, theres the rub: to do this will cost no less than everything. But that is perhaps what one should expect. Pearls of great price do not come cheap.”
Great quote. Spot on.
Thank you! :-)
I have read most of N.T. Wrights works and they are marvelous. His is not a wavering branch. He clearly knows who Yeshua is and how he was.
Chambers said: ‘After being exposed to the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, one has but two alternatives: Become a Disciple, or become a deserter.
N.T.Wright shows how to cross that line very well and leave religion behind for good.
If he had the title in present tense, I would be more inclined to read it. Past tense indicates to me someone that is likely to get too much wrong.
Yours in Christ,
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