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Jesus and the Remains of His Day: Studies in Jesus and the Evidence of Material Culture Hardcover – December 1, 2015
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This is a book that could take you about a week to finish, but it will be time well spent. The material is thoroughly researched with a plethora of footnotes. It’s also highly readable. You don’t need to be too familiar with archaeology or the Greek language to understand what’s going on. Right now, if there was one book I would recommend someone read on the topic of Jesus and archaeology, it would be this one.
Evans also starts off saying that archaeology does not prove or disprove. You cannot go to an archaeological finding and say “Therefore, Jesus rose from the dead”, but you can certainly use it as information in your case. It’s simply amazing how much out there exists in the field of Biblical archaeology and how much we can learn about the life of Jesus based on what is being dug up in the Middle East. This is something that really separates the Old and the New Testaments from so many of the other holy books out there. So what all is covered?
The first chapter is about Bethsaida and Magdala and what we can learn from these cities. Helpful in this chapter also will be the critique of the idea that synagogues did not exist in the time of Jesus, which is a growing idea on the internet, but not so much a growing idea among actual scholars in the field. Knowing about Bethsaida will also give us more information about Peter, Andrew, and Philip, which Magdala naturally gives us a little bit of information about Mary Magdalene.
Chapter 2 deals with the Jesus boat and the supposed house of Peter. These provide us information about the base of operations that Jesus likely worked from in His ministry as well as the kind of boat that Jesus would have been on with His disciples in the storm. While it’s doubtful that this is the exact same boat, there’s no reason to think that Jesus was not on a boat much like this one. Finally, there’s an interesting piece in this chapter on the James ossuary which has been debated back and forth and Evans presents the latest evidence on it for the interested reader.
Chapter three looks at the evidence for Caiaphas, Pilate, and Simon. We have in fact found the ossuary for Caiaphas. Meanwhile, Bruno Bauer, the first one to largely present the idea that Jesus never existed was also skeptical that Pilate existed. Now we have found evidence for Pilate in the form of a stone slab. It’s worth noting also (though I don’t think Evans mentions this) that those who are skeptical of Jesus when going to Tacitus might be surprised to learn that the only place Tacitus mentions Pilate is also the only place where he mentions Jesus. Evans also in this chapter looks at what we can find out about Simon, the man who carried the cross of Christ.
In Chapter four, Evans looks at literacy in the ancient world and gives his case that Jesus was someone who was capable of reading. Jesus being a good rabbi and able to interact with scribes and producing a movement that had people who could read and write well would quite likely himself have been one such individual. He also points out how while literacy might have been lower in the rest of the world, that we could expect matters to be different in the area of Israel since these were people that did bind their religious identity, which was central to them, around written words.
I found chapter five particularly interesting where Evans talks about Psalm 91 and how it was seen by the Jews at the time of Jesus. Many of us are familiar with the idea of the Psalms as a spiritual medicine cabinet and if you’re in some sort of danger, well go to Psalm 91. Apparently, we’re not the only ones. Psalm 91 was seen at the time of Jesus as an exorcism song and it was meant to keep away demonic powers. Jesus Himself is also said to be an exorcist and have exceptional skill at casting out demons and this without using any magic, drugs, or artifacts that existed in His day.
Chapter six concerns the idea of hanging and crucifixion in Second Temple Israel. What did it mean to have someone be crucified? How did that relate to the notion of hanging on a tree? Evans looks at symbols found in catacombs as well as the writings of the DSS to show what the view was on crucifixion at the time. He looks at skeletal remains that we have of crucifixion as well as looking at writings and artwork outside of the Jewish culture to show that this was seen as a curse.
In Chapter seven, Evans looks at burial in the ancient world. This will be an incredibly important chapter nowadays with Bart Ehrman recently taking his strange position on the burial of Jesus. The whole point of this chapter is asking how families handled death together in burial. Could we expect that even those who were buried would be buried in family tombs? Those who are interested in the recent case of Ehrman should read this chapter.
Chapter eight begins with a line that should be written in gold for all the people online who think mythicism is just the latest thing and that scholars aren’t even sure if Jesus existed. On page 147, we read:
“No serious historian, of any religious or nonreligious stripe, doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea and Samaria."
From there we go to various claims in the Gospels themselves about the burial of Jesus. Would Jesus have been buried? Why should we think that? What about the idea that Pilate would release a prisoner on Passover? Isn’t that just a fiction? He also looks at the question of if Jesus anticipated his own death. The interested reader will also find information on the relationship of Annas and Caiaphas to the high priesthood and how this all played out in history.
Chapter nine looks at the old idea of the Talpoit tomb as the supposed burial place of Jesus. Of course, having someone like Craig Evans going after this is kind of like using a bazooka to kill a fly in your house, but he does of course effectively get the job done.
Chapter ten wraps it up by looking at views in the world at the time of Jesus on the question of the afterlife. Many of us today have the idea that the message of the resurrection would have been welcomed by so many because, hey, who wouldn’t want to live again? Well maybe it’s not that simple. Evans takes us across the spectrum and he looks at how Christians looked at the topic of death seriously.
This book is a tour de force. It is simple to read and I found it one that I did not want to put down. If you want to say anything about archaeology and the life of Jesus, you must get your hands on this book. Pick up a copy today.
Jesus and the Remains of His Day begins with an excellent discussion surrounding some of the most recent archaeological work at Bethsaida and Magdala. The reader will find the discussion both engaging and enlightening, and it sets the stage well for how the book will function throughout. For example, speaking of Peter’s hometown of Bethsaida, Evans writes, “The heights of Bethsaida rests on a rocky ridge of volcanic basalt . . . Indeed, the original name of Bethsaida may have been Zer (“rocks”) . . . Simon the disciple of Jesus was named the “Rock,” for Jesus planned to build his new community on rock” (p. 13-14). It is here that Evans guides the reader through the archaeological discoveries, detailing and engaging with various sources and opinions, only to eventually land within a sphere of immediate application—something the reader is able to recognize and remember from the ministry of Jesus.
As the book unfolds and each essay independently testifies to the world of the New Testament, the reader is continually confronted with a host of relevant material insight and application as mentioned above. While it would be beyond the scope of the present review to detail everything that I found to be helpful in the book, there are a few essays that I found especially interesting, and thus, will be worth mentioning here. First, in chapter 3, Evans provides a compelling and up-to-date engagement with the ossuary that has been attributed to Caiaphas, the High Priest during the time of Jesus. The evidence points to the authenticity of such claims, and the implications of such prove to be colossal. It is also here that Evans discusses the historicity of Pontius Pilate and Simon of Cyrene, both verifiable through recent archaeological discoveries. Second, in chapters 6-8, Evans provides fascinating insight into the practice of crucifixion, burial, and specifically the execution of Jesus. All three chapters, accompanied by chapter 9, are well-worth the price of the book alone.
It is hard to put into words the usefulness of this volume. As one familiar with the work of Craig A. Evans I thought that this volume would be worth the read. But, admittedly, and I assume like many readers, the world of archaeology is unfortunately a bit foreign and characterized as somewhat dry and unhelpful. I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading this volume, and it was difficult to set down. In fact, the above review doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, but I trust the usefulness of this volume is transparent. If you are in the market for an up-to-date engagement with the archaeological work being done in the Middle East, specifically in relation to the world of the New Testament and the person of Jesus of Nazareth, then Jesus and the Remains of His Day: Studies in Jesus and the Evidence of Material Culture by Craig A. Evans is a must read. It comes highly recommended!
I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.