Score: 87/100 (8.7 out of 10)
Well, this is definitely a worthwhile read for anyone interested in religion, Christianity, or the life of Jesus. We have to warn you though, this isn't a typical “Christian” non-fiction book. Rather, this is a more literary reading of the Gospels and New Testament from a pseudo-scholastic point of view. This is almost comparable to a character study of someone like Gilgamesh or Achilles rather than a doctrinal Bible study on Jesus. Here's why that is: author Jonathan Dean takes a secular perspective and dares to challenge the traditionally-accepted Christian views about Jesus such as his virgin birth, his status as a Jew, his resurrection, and his fulfillment of messianic prophecy. These are typically things taken for granted by Christians and even historians as truths no matter how unbelievable they seem.
While attempting to take a scientific or analytic approach to the life of Jesus, Dean nonetheless makes some outrageous claims himself. The scariest thing about these claims is that the average reader is not going to do their own due diligence and look into the information for themselves. They're just going to take Dean's word for it. They shouldn't.
For example, he makes the erroneous claim that the Old Testament book of Daniel was written after the life of Jesus. Ohohoho reeeeeeaaaally? If only several copies of it weren't discovered along with the Dead Sea Scrolls dating back to the first century before Christ. If only. Not only was the book of Daniel discovered along with the Dead Sea Scrolls, but eight copies of it were found.
The false statement that Daniel was written after the time of Jesus is very troubling for someone who specializes in eschatology because that would mean that all of Daniel's prophecies regarding the coming of the “son of man” at the “right-hand of God,” the 490 years (70 sevens), the rise and fall of Babylon, Persia, Alexander the Great, and Rome, and many other accurate and fulfilled prophecies would be fabrications. It is simply unfair and untrue to claim that the book of Daniel, a book owned and read by Jews before the life of Jesus, was a fabrication.
Even the Wise Men of the East--yes, the random dudes with the weird names portrayed in every Christmas nativity scene ever (with a budget)--demonstrated they knew about Daniel chapter 9. They knew the king of the Jews would be born around that time. Well, how would they know? Because Daniel--surprise, surprise--was once in charge of the wise men of the Persian Empire about 450 years before. They had his records and at least some of his teachings, including Daniel 9. They would have known about Daniel's prediction as well as the decree of Artaxerxes to rebuild Solomon's Temple as well as the city and wall of Jerusalem around 450 BC. And just so you're aware, Jesus died with 7 years remaining on the doomsday clock, meaning he stopped the countdown.
We'll play: if Daniel was a fabrication as the author proposes, then is Isaiah also a fabrication? What about Isaiah 53? Is that a fabrication? There were 22 copies of the book of Isaiah found with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Isaiah was one of the first books they found in those caves. And yes, Isaiah 53 was part of it. And not only were 22 copies of Isaiah found including Isaiah 53, but the oldest copy may date back to over 350 BC! If you're not aware, Isaiah 53 accurately predicts the violent death of Jesus (in this text the “Suffering Servant”) hundreds of years before it happened.
The author also makes some odd conclusions such as that the Gospel of John is a much more reliable and accurate text than the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. No, we didn't stutter. The author claims that the Gospel of John—a book supposedly written by a man who supposedly couldn't die no matter how hard the Romans tried and talked about such things as Jesus turning water into wine, feeding 5000 people, walking on water, raising a dead man, and pretty much being called God in the first section—was more reliable and accurate than the books written by a government official (tax collector) and a doctor. Wrap your head around that. Never in a million years did we ever imagine someone holding that point of view, especially someone looking at these Gospels from the analytical, scientific lens that he does.
We digress, Dean supplies evidence to back up the way he feels such as the spelling and grammatical errors that the authors of Luke and Matthew make, or the fact that their GPS seems broken sometimes. It is what it is. We don't agree, but whatever, we didn't spend 100+ hours writing this book. We did spend several hours reading it.
There are other strange assertions in this book. One of these is that Jesus was not actually Jewish. Um... Jesus was clearly Jewish. You could debate, as the author does, whether or not he was a “good Jew” from a religious perspective (following Jewish customs), but a Jew is a Jew just like a Hawaiian is a Hawaiian. His mom's family was actually a part of the Levitical priesthood. We know this because Elizabeth is married to the priest Zachariah, a descendant of Aaron. That's not a small deal. The family didn't migrate from Ethiopia or India or something and just suddenly adopt Judaism to get a temple job, they legit had family roots in it. Furthermore, Joseph (Jesus' stepfather) was a descendant of King David and Solomon. Matthew, who had a legal record of this, knew that. Were David and Solomon not Jewish? They were as Jewish as sushi is Japanese.
But, ok... the author isn't wrong that Jesus didn't teach traditional Judaism as understood by most Jews at the time or today. He taught something which could be argued is counter to traditional Judaism—simpler and easier yet counter to it. For example, he narrowed down all of the Jewish laws (including the Ten Commandments) to just two: love God and love your neighbor—assuming the rest are eclipsed or encompassed by these two.
The author also claims that Jesus didn't fast. He fasted so long that it would've killed 100% of us! The author claims that Jesus' family thought he was crazy. Um... no. Jesus' family didn't think he was crazy, he'd just been away for so long and they wanted to speak to him. The author claims that Jesus spent 3 days and 3 nights in the tomb in Matthew, a supposed contradiction with the other Gospels. Um... no. In Jewish tradition, days and nights are conflated into the same period of time. So if he even spent even a second of a day in the tomb one day, then it would count as one day. He was there on Friday night, all of Saturday, and at least some of Sunday morning. Three days. Furthermore, this isn't even Jesus actually being dead in the verse in question (Matthew 12:40), it's Jesus still alive and referencing the prophet Jonah.
There's a statement that Jesus alienated the non-Jewish members of his community. Ohohooo reeeeeeaaaaaally? You mean like how he made salvation available to all of humanity including the gentiles (non-Jews)? You mean like the time he talked about the Good Samaritan, a non-Jew, who did God's will by being kind to a hurt stranger while a Levite and a priest had left him for dead? Or the time when he healed the servant of a Roman centurion? Yes, that sure sounds like Jesus alienating non-Jewish members of his community!
It's like we can't go 20 pages without the author trying to pull a weasel statement out from their behind.
What's extra weird about this book is that when you get to the conclusion, the conclusion really isn't a conclusion at all. First of all, it's long. It's a full-length sub-section with a completely different opinion altogether—one which surprised us granted the contrary information in the rest of the book. The author maintains the faith, yes despite the evidence he provides demonstrating the opposite.
This book is very interesting. There's a discussion we're also familiar with about what's called the “Q” text. This is a hypothetical text recording the life of Jesus that was supposedly read and referenced by the Gospel writers. It's heavily research, and best of all the author doesn't insist that what he's writing is entirely true and the only way to look at things. He invites us to question and disagree with him.
Check it out!