Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels by Craig A. Evans (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006).
In another article, I’ve given a review of The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity, by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Michael J. Kruger. This is a significant book that supports the historical foundations of the Christian faith and the trustworthiness of the documents within the New Testament.
In this same trajectory, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels should be mentioned. This book takes up several attacks against the Christian faith and refutes them. The author deals with misplaced faith, critical methodology, and a whole slew of apocryphal writings, which some defend as candidates for the New Testament canon.
The table of contents shows Evans’ approach. First, he surveys how people may be led from faith in Christ to skepticism, citing examples that he has known, such as James Robinson. He then cites the examples of Robert Price and Bart Ehrman.
In chapter two Evans deals with various claims made about Jesus, such as, Jesus was not literate; he was not interested in Scripture, nor in eschatology, nor did he consider himself to be Israel’s Messiah. The last part of the chapter deals with the six criteria of authenticity.
In the next two chapters Evans deals with claims that other books should be added to the NT canon. He deals first with the Gospel of Judas, then with the Gospel of Peter, the Egerton Gospel, the Gospel of Mary, and the Secret Gospel of Mark. As a side note, this reviewer observes that when National Geographic developed its film for television to tell the story of the rediscovery and publication of the Gospel of Judas (2006), it called on Craig Evans to be its representative evangelical among the panel of experts cited throughout the film.
In subsequent chapters Evans rebuts the claim that Jesus was a cynic (ch. 5); he shows the error of skeletal contexts (interpreting texts such as the parables without considering contexts—ch. 6); he takes a “fresh look” at healings and miracles (ch. 7); he deals with dubious uses of Josephus (ch. 8), and then addresses anachronisms and exaggerated claims made about so-called “lost Christianities” (ch. 9).
His chapter 10 is especially appropriate and current, since he discusses “Hokum History and Bogus Findings” regarding the historical Christ. Herein he deals with Barbara Thiering and her books, the legends about the Holy Grail, the allegations found in The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception (1991), Margaret Starbird’ writings, and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which was influenced by the preceding. Evans moves on to expose Michael Baigent’s The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-up in History (2006); and, under the section titled, “Archaeology on the Edge,” Evans deals with James Tabor’s The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity (2006). Under the section, “In Search of the Cosmic Principle,” Evans exposes the new claim that Jesus did not exist as claimed by Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ. About these books Evans remarks at the end of his chapter that none of these works “offer anything approaching genuine history” (221).
In his last chapter, titled, “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? Unfabricating His Aims and Claims,” Evans takes up seven issues that sustain the proper identification and historicity of Jesus Christ. He shows Jesus’ relationship to Judaism, His claims, His aims, His death and resurrection and the birth of the Christian church, the nature of the four Gospels, and the Christian faith as part of the Jewish story.
Evans concludes his work with two appendices, the first dealing with “Free-floating Sayings of Jesus” (the Agrapha), the second answering the question: “What Should We Think About the Gospel of Judas?”
Making the book complete are a glossary, list of abbreviations, endnotes for each chapter, a list of further reading, and indices of authors, subjects, Scripture, and of Extracanonical Ancient Sources (pp. 288-290). The many charts, tables, and other illustrations scattered throughout make this book a wealth of information.
This book deserves to be read by every pastor, college and seminary student, and informed lay person. It provides a solid foundation from which to answer the manifold forms that challenges to the Christian faith take today.