April 25, 2008

New Jesus Book

There's a new "Historical" Jesus book coming out next year (probably just in time for Easter '09) written by Paul Verhoeven -- they guy who directed "Basic Instinct" and "RoboCop." Don't let those stellar credentials fool you, though -- Verhoeven is also a member in good standing of that cabal of uber-scholars known as The Jesus Seminar.

As you can probably figure out, Verhoeven's book is far from orthodox.

Marianna Sterk of the publishing house J.M. Meulenhoff said the book includes several ideas that run contrary to Christian faith, including the suggestion that Jesus could be the son of a Roman soldier who raped Mary during a Jewish uprising against Roman rule in 4 B.C.

The book also claims that Judas Iscariot was not responsible for Jesus' betrayal, she said.

The movie director's claims were greeted with some skepticism among those who have dedicated their careers to studying the life of Jesus. One issue is that there is very little information about the life of Jesus outside of the Gospels. The Gospels as understood by Christians for nearly 2,000 years do not support Verhoeven's ideas.

Critics aren't impressed.
William Portier, a professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton, in Ohio, said the Jesus Seminar is known for making provocative claims, but "they are real scholars — you have to deal with them."

However, he said Verhoeven's ideas sounded "pretty out there."

And fellow Jesus Seminar members aren't impressed, either.
John Dominic Crossan, a Jesus Seminar founder, agreed. He said that while Verhoeven was a member in good standing, there is little evidence for the view that Jesus was illegitimate.

Crossan said the claim is first reported in a polemic written in the second century against the Book of Matthew, intended for a Jewish audience.

"It's an obvious first retort to claims that Mary was a virgin," Crossan said. "If you wanted to do a hatchet job on Jesus' reputation, this would be the way."

The most likely scenario for people who don't accept that Jesus was literally the son of God and had no human father is simply that he was the son of Joseph, Crossan said.

Academic study is important. I've always enjoyed the academic aspects of my seminary work - my dream job would be to teach historical theology and church history. But this story shows the problem with focusing on academic study without letting what you're studying actually impact your life. The really sad part in this case is that Verhoeven has taken some old theories that have been shown to have no basis in fact, and is writing a "new book" advocating them. He'll get a lot of attention with this, and sell a ton of books -- and none of the people reading this stuff will ever realize how old his ideas are, and how often they've been shown lacking.

The entire modern fascination with gnostic sources of Christianity and historic Jesus studies isn't even new -- more than a hundred years ago, people went through the same fascination with apocryphal texts and "hidden" Christianities. When people realized how much of it was without merit they started ignoring it, and soon it was all but forgotten. The Dead Sea discoveries in 1948 have triggered a new round - the modern fascination with it all dates that far back. And people have forgotten what we learned the last time. Any attempts to correct what's being said is considered "anti-intellectual philosophizing" by Christians who are feeling "threatened" by "new discoveries."

We've got some warning before this one hits American bookstores. I'm hoping that someone is already planning a book refuting Verhoeven's claims. If not, maybe we can just re-publish a few 100 year old books -- they seem to have done the job the last time.

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