From Publishers Weekly
With all the talk these days about a diversity of Christian beliefs in the first century, here's a book designed to smack some sense into the dialogue. Traditional sense, that is. Witherington, professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, creates well-researched profiles of people in Jesus' inner circle—profiles that stand up to the most rigorous biblical criticism. No flights of fancy—just the historical understandings as they can be agreed upon by the best and brightest evangelical biblical scholars. At times, there is a strong whiff of defensiveness about the orthodoxy of the canon as Witherington skewers views on early Christian beliefs made popular by Gnosticism scholars Elaine Pagels and Karen King (they being among the purveyors of the "strange theories and bad history" in the title). Readers seeking a uniform and conservative view of early Christianity will find a wealth of information about Jesus and his early followers, which offers an ardent corrective to recent popular works by Bart Ehrman and others. Others, however, may be so put off by Witherington's polemical tones that they miss the meat of his research. (Oct.)
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Witherington comes to his topic from an evangelical point of view. As he states in his introduction, "Readers should beware of shocking new claims about Jesus or his earliest followers based on flimsy evidence." His view is that the Gnostic Gospels and other discoveries are too far removed from Jesus' day to have much relation to seminal events in Christianity. The best sources, he believes, are the traditional ones--the Gospels, Acts, and Paul's letters. Witherington uses an interesting method of organization for his material: in order to explore the truth of Jesus' identity and his ministry, he focuses on the two Marys, Peter, Paul, James, and the Beloved Disciple. The book is eminently readable, very much at a layperson's level, but it contains circular arguments and continually strains at reconciling contradictory material--for example, the brusque treatment of Mary by Jesus at some points in the New Testament vis-a-vis his concern for his mother at the Crucifixion. Still, anyone who has been caught up in the recent controversies about the historical Jesus will want to read the other side. Ilene CooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved