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What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History--Why We Can Trust the Bible Paperback – October 16, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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 Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (October 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061120022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061120022
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,450,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bible scholar Ben Witherington is Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. A graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill, he went on to receive the M.Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Durham in England. He is now considered one of the top evangelical scholars in the world, and is an elected member of the prestigious SNTS, a society dedicated to New Testament studies.

Witherington has also taught at Ashland Theological Seminary, Vanderbilt University, Duke Divinity School and Gordon-Conwell. A popular lecturer, Witherington has presented seminars for churches, colleges and biblical meetings not only in the United States but also in England, Estonia, Russia, Europe, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia. He has also led tours to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.

Witherington has written over thirty books, including The Jesus Quest and The Paul Quest, both of which were selected as top biblical studies works by Christianity Today. He also writes for many church and scholarly publications, and is a frequent contributor to the Beliefnet website.

Along with many interviews on radio networks across the country, Witherington has been seen on the History Channel, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, The Discovery Channel, A&E, and the PAX Network.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Marc Axelrod VINE VOICE on October 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dr. Witherington contends that the primary source documents found in the New Testament are a much more reliable source for information on the historical Jesus than anything you will find in the gnostic Gospel of Judas or in any of the documents found in the Nag Hammadi Library. He also feels that getting close to the historical Jesus involves getting close to the people who knew Him best, and so there are chapters about Peter, Paul, his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the beloved disciple (the author of the Gospel of John), and his brother James.

Ben reveals that there is no historical foundation for identifying Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus, and that the material about her in the Gospel of Philip and in the gospel bearing her name are inconclusive and appear to tell us more about 2nd and 3rd century gnosticism than they do about Mary Magdalene or anything in the life of the historical Jesus.

The chapter about the mother of Jesus shows quite clearly that she didn't really put all of the pieces together about who her son really was until the end of His life, and that she is found in the upper room with the other disciples in Acts 1:14.

The chapter on Peter shows that the Gospel accounts are painfully honest about his triumphs and his failures as an agent of Christ. The material in 1 Peter and in 2 Peter 1:12-2:3 where Peter reflects on what he has learned as one who knew the Lord rings true. Peter very clearly sees Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

There are a few surprises along the way. Ben makes a powerful and convincing case that the beloved disciple who penned the fourth gospel is none other than Lazarus.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Richard M. West on January 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I am not a seminary student. Most theological books I have read tend to be lofty and rife with jargon. This one is not. Whenever Witherington introduces a term or concept, he explains it for the novice.

Whether you are liberal or conservative in your theology, you can easily understand Witherington's thinking process and exegesis. He is thorough, researched, full of references, and well organized.

This book was hard to put down and left me wanting more which is unique for me when reading nonfiction. I would not be surprised if this book becomes a sort of primer for the historicity of Jesus.

I recommend this book because of its content, exegetic process, and presentation. I received it for Christmas and am proud to display it in my library.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Bill Muehlenberg VINE VOICE on July 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Common to the Christological revisionists are claims that there are lost or suppressed Christianities, and that there is a radical discontinuity between who Jesus really was and how he was represented by his early - and later - followers. What much of this amounts to is an attempt to rewrite history, to undermine the reliability of the New Testament, and to recreate Jesus in the image of liberal scholarship.

Thus we need once again to determine just who Jesus really was, and what in fact was his message. And the best way to do that, argues New Testament scholar Ben Witherington, it to get back to the inner circle of Jesus. Those who were closest to him or knew him best are our most reliable guides to what he believed and what the early faith was all about. This book provides a close look at this so-called inner circle. It carefully examines those from Jesus' own physical family: Mary, James and Jude; as well as Peter, the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Paul.

Taken together, their testimonies help us understand who Jesus was, and what his core message was. A close examination of these individuals reveals that they all agree to a common understanding of the man and his mission.

Witherington argues that no wide wedge can be driven between these close associates and their take on Jesus, and that of Jesus himself. Consider James, the brother of Jesus, and the first leader of the post-Easter Jesus movement. The contents of the epistle that bears his name are remarkably similar to that of the most basic teachings of Jesus.

For example, one can find over two dozen close similarities between what is found in his epistle and what is recorded in the Sermon on the Mount.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on February 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There are many strange theories about Jesus, but they don't come from Ben Witherington II, a professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary and the author of over thirty books on the subject. His title probes what is known and what cannot be known about the Jesus presented in the Bible, dispelling myths, using a 'personality profile' to illustrate basic Christian claims, and drawing important connections between key historical figures and the Jesus image. It's a fine addition to both general-interest Christian libraries and the holdings of more advanced, college-level seminary readers alike.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By E. Johnson on August 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Regardless of where you stand, Ben Witherington III is considered by biblical scholars to be a heavyweight contender. The title to this book sounded interesting to me, so I decided to check it out. In this book Witherington overviews the people in Jesus' live, including the disciples, the women, and Paul. I found the overview refreshing, as most of the information is not new, but it helped remind me of keeping things in historical perspective. Witherington believes that we ought to consider the earliest documents first and foremost while taking the gnostic gospels and later additions with a grain of salt. So many scholars who we see on the Easter television shows don't have that same perspective, and so we end up getting some fascinating theories that just don't have any basis in fact. Yet how many viewers walk away from the DaVinci Code-type information and doubt the historicity of the Christian church? It has to be confusing for the typical lay audience.

I found several things most fascinating. First, I had never heard Lazarus as a possibility for the disciple whom Jesus loved. This theory hit me for a loop. I'm not sure he fully convinced me, but I'm going to have to consider it more than I did before I knew it was even a valid theory. I also had never thought much about Joanna being Junia. That was interesting to me as well. In addition, I appreciate the fact that Witherington changed his mind about phileo/agape Peter/Jesus dialogue in John 21. Sometimes we get so hung up on our beliefs that it's hard to change, so I guess it was refreshing to hear that this scholar was willing to say, "Hey, I changed my mind." May I be as open-minded.

The book is profitable and so I recommend it for those searching for the historical Jesus.
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