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Looking for help

I need a little help.

I’m reading The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury – a book in the same vein of The Da Vinci Code, though better paced and written, in my opinion – and I am bothered by the arguments presented about the person of Jesus.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not doubting my faith or questioning the existence of God or the reality of Jesus. Rather, I doubt my ability to speak to the arguments raised.

So, this is where I need your help. I’m looking for solid, balanced (as in not disregarding the opposing argument by saying it’s false without evidence and respect) and relatively easy to understand books about the following topics:

  • The humanity and divinity of Jesus
  • The years following Jesus’ death and resurrection
  • Why we have the Biblical canon that we have
  • The Gnostic gospels

If you have a book that speaks to all those topics, you’ll win a special prize.

Thanks, and have a good one.

4 CommentsLeave a Comment


  • Those are pretty broad topics. Half of patristics deals with the humanity and divinity of Jesus. How many years after Jesus’ death and resurrection? What, specifically, about the Gnostic gospels? What aspects of the canonization of Scripture exactly are you interested in?

    I haven’t read The Last Templar, but it always helps to keep in mind that the Templar Order historically bears little resemblance to what fiction writers now make of it. Note, for instance, that in recent fiction books the Templars seem to advocate most of the agendas people who have issues with the Catholic Church today also advocate — anti-authoritarianism, feminism, emphasis on reason over faith, the humanity (only) of Jesus, etc. It helps to read such books as ciphers for grudges some of our contemporaries hold against a straw-man church, and little else.

    But becoming more informed is always good.

    Anyway, I can probably point you towards some books if you can be a little bit more specific.

  • Reply

    Todd

    7 years ago

    Gladly.

    The book’s charges deal more with the years following Jesus’ death and how the accounts we have (the four canonized gospels) were written years later. (I studied this at Harding, but all my knowledge has since vaporized.) The book (a complete work of fiction) claims that the divinity of Jesus was a myth and legend, that was deviously hijacked by the Catholic church for political and financial reasons. While I don’t believe the charges, this isn’t the first time I have encountered them. I would like to be better equipped for the next time.

    What I am looking for is a detailed and thorough explanation of the canon-process. Specifically, why do we have the books that we have, while excluding the additional, Gnostic gospels? Additionally, I’m interested in what the apostles were doing immediately following Jesus’ death and before Mark was written. I know we have Acts, but an extra-biblical, historical account would be beneficial I think. One of the most powerful “arguments” I have heard for the divinity of Jesus is Lewis’ “Liar, Lunatic or Lord.” It would be helpful to have historical evidence that those closest to Jesus were willfully dying and suffering for their claims.

    I eagerly await your reply!

  • Reply

    marie

    7 years ago

    Have you checked out any of the books by Lee Strobel? “The Case for Christ” is one and there are more by Strobel that dig into the reality of His divinity and other things that may address your questions.

    He has a web site, but it doesn’t seem to list his books. I’ll post it anyway….

    http://www.leestrobel.com/index.html

    Happy reading and I hope you find the answers you are looking for!

  • Allow me to take your question apart and offer suggestions for each of the parts.

    “What I am looking for is a detailed and thorough explanation of the canon-process. Specifically, why do we have the books that we have, while excluding the additional, Gnostic gospels?”

    While not all the excluded gospels were Gnostic, the Gnostic ones have recently certainly gotten a lot of attention. This is in part the case because Gnostic thinking can be read in ways very amenable to current “progressive” religious thought. For example, the two scholars currently trying to popularize the Gospel of Judas (Iscariot), Elaine Pagels and Karen King, have produced a reading of the gospel that wants to show its author as someone who disagrees with Christian fanatics who were actually willing to die for their faith, citing passages in that gospel where Jesus mocks his disciples’ blind faith. The Gnostics also are appealing because they draw a clear distinction between the body (bad or inconsequential) and the spirit (good), which fits our current climate of bodily permissiveness and the emphasis we place on the mind, where reason counts most, and where anything spiritual can then be treated as metaphorical, and so is always only an idea — something to discuss, but certainly not something to be too convinced of, to push on others, or to die/kill for. That way, one avoids becoming a puritan, intolerant fanatic like those darn fundamentalists who are after us good guys…

    But the canonization process IS a very important question and one the church has actually been quite open about. The reasoning is pretty accessible and the process was remarkably careful and democratic. Two thorough treatments are “The Canon Debate”, edited by Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders, and “The Biblical Canons” edited by Auwers and De Jonge. Those are state of the art, but very, very scholarly books. More accessible treatments are in “The Cambridge History of the Bible”, Blackwell Publishing’s “A Brief History of Christianity”, and of course you can start here.

    “Additionally, I’m interested in what the apostles were doing immediately following Jesus’ death and before Mark was written. I know we have Acts, but an extra-biblical, historical account would be beneficial I think.”

    In the strictest sense, I’m afraid you’re out of luck there. The early Christians were a very small, fairly local and more or less totally ignored (and often secretive) group, one among many strange cults at the time. There aren’t any historians for that time period other than the Christians’ own (i.e. Luke). The secrecy has some reason if Acts is any indication of how warmly the Christians’ original and most natural mission field – the Jewish diaspora – welcomed them. One reason Acts was included in the canonical gospels is precisely because the early Christians thought it was the most accurate account.

    That is not to say that there aren’t first and second century references to Christ and Christians, but these are frequently third-hand and often slurs based on misunderstandings of certain Christian doctrines (Christians eat human flesh and drink human blood, Christians marry their siblings, Christians are unpatriotic mystic insurgents who don’t respect the rule of law and want to overthrow the Roman Emperor, etc.). Also, it helps to keep in mind that just because a text is extra-canonical does not mean that it provides more accurate information than the canonical text. Christianity has always been very diverse, so the audience the canon was accountable to wasn’t a cowering, gullible, illiterate mass of dolts who swallowed whatever the church hierarchy lopped at them. Quite the contrary. Unlike the Christendom of the so-called Dark Ages, the Roman Empire was highly literate, and if one looks at the concerns that early Christians stoned each other for, they usually seem far too subtle and far too trivial for us to even understand (see Alister McGrath’s “Christian Theology: An Introduction” for an excellent starting point on early Christian controversies). And the Catholic Church never was in a position to destroy all evidence of other voices even if it had wanted to, because the Catholic Church never controlled the majority of Christendom – Rome is only one of five often starkly disagreeing major bishoprics of the first eight hundred or so years of Christianity, of which three (Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) were conquered and suppressed by the Muslims, but the Constantinople-based Orthodox Church still exists quite happily independently, disagreeing with many Catholic positions, and quite enormous in number. But interestingly, the canon was not one of those disagreements.

    One examination of first and second century sources that are not Christian is Robert van Voorst’s “Jesus Outside the New Testament.” A well-respected treatment of early Christian history that ties things together is Everett Ferguson’s “Backgrounds of Early Christianity”. You can also find some early Christian writings outside the canon here and here.

    “One of the most powerful ‘arguments’ I have heard for the divinity of Jesus is Lewis’ ‘Liar, Lunatic or Lord.’ It would be helpful to have historical evidence that those closest to Jesus were willfully dying and suffering for their claims.”

    Of this there is plenty. Too much, almost. Even the most secular historians agree that the mass martyrdom of Christians is one of the main reasons the faith spread throughout the Roman Empire as quickly and thoroughly as it did – as a PR man, you should recognize the combined power of notoriety, mystique, and true believers who have to constantly move around and end up spreading their message wherever they go. Church tradition (which at the time had no reason to be proud of this) pretty much agrees on the martyrdom of all surviving eleven apostles (incl. Matthias) except for John. Likewise, most all the important Christian leaders of the second and third generation were also tortured to death or executed. By the way, to historians this is a combination of two important criteria gauging the reliability of a historical tradition, the Criterion of Embarassment and the Criterion of Rejection and Execution: because most ideologies like to portray themselves as self-evidently right and naturally victorious, edited versions of their history tend to omit embarrassing instances of what looks a lot like failure, so that accounts that are unflattering to the group (such as, “In spite of God’s promises to the contrary, all our most holy and faithful members served as living dummies for the sadistic imaginations of their executors for three hundred years”) are, historians think, more likely to be true.

    An interesting overview on the martyrs is in Ferguson’s “Backgrounds”, but the topic will be treated in any history of early Christianity. You can also start here.

    Since most of these pop-critics love taking pot-shots at the intertwining moments between the church and the Roman Empire in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, it may also pay off to read up on what exactly actually happened during all those much-touted councils. For a fairly good overview, take a look at Henry Chadwick’s “The Early Church”.

    Hope this helps some.

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