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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lawyer defends gospel historicity, October 3, 2000
This review is from: Faith on Trial: An Attorney Analyzes the Evidence for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (Paperback)
Faith on Trial focusses on questions associated with the authenticity and integrity of the New Testament gospels, especially those concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The author, Pamela Ewen, is a practising lawyer in the field of commercial law and is a committed Christian. Her approach to these questions involves juridical methods of assessing documentary evidence, the testimony of witnesses, and collateral legal proofs as accepted in the American common law system.
The text fits into a genre of Christian apologetics known as juridical apologetics. Other apologists in this genre include Simon Greenleaf, Francis Lamb, Joseph Sagebeer Evans, Irwin Linton, Clarence Bartlett, John Warwick Montgomery and Ross Clifford.
The book is crisply written. There is a tight argument based on legal criteria of proof, which is employed to argue in favour of the gospel records. The author's presentation is pitched at a level that non-lawyers will find easy to follow.
The author relies not just on juridical canons, but also buttresses her case with reference to other apologetic writers. Although I concur with the author's position on the gospels, I am not convinced she has set forth "the best possible case". Ewen relies on some writings whose arguments are not mainstream in either New Testament scholarship or apologetics. I refer to her use of Ian Wilson's books supporting the Turin Shroud, and Carsten Thiede's Eyewitness to Jesus. The Shroud is an area where apologists are on shaky ground. Thiede argues very strongly, but not conclusively, that some gospel papyri fragments were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This argument has not received much acceptance in New Testament scholarship ever since O'Callahan made the claims in the early 1970s. Also absent from her bibliographical citations are the works of some of the legal apologists listed above. She would have benefitted from reading more widely in this genre.
I wonder whether Ewen would have done better to cast her work in the form of a "legal brief" that advises a barrister or requires a judge's ruling in chamber, or opted for the genre of a moot trial (as did Thomas Sherlock in the 18th century). One difficulty for juridical apologists like Ewen is the tendency to overstate the conclusions reached when employing the canons of proof from the criminal code and the civil code. This problem does have a bearing for example on the conclusions drawn about the "ancient documents rule". Many apologists since Greenleaf first argued the point, have overstated their case with this rule. Ewen would have profitted from reading the appendix in Ross Clifford's Leading Lawyers Case for the Resurrection (1996) on this very matter.
Perhaps Ewen should have interacted with the critiques of atheists and sceptics, particularly since her apologia is directed to a "tough-minded" audience.
The book is worthwhile reading and reflecting on. Christian apologists however would be advised to read more widely in the genre of juridical apologetics. The untrained layperson may be too impressed with the cogency of Ewen's arguments simply because of her credentials as a lawyer. We have yet to see a careful and comprehensive evaluation of legal apologetic literature (a long neglected area of study where more than 70 apologists have contributed since Hugo Grotius' day). A layperson, unaware of the limitations of legal argument could end up in deep waters when dialoguing with a specialist. Those who are sceptical of Ewen's position should be willing to read more widely in apologetic literature. Partisanship on both sides can lead to the phenomenon of two ships passing each other without either side understanding the other's position.
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