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Good, but contradictory.
on December 26, 2013
First and foremost, I generally enjoyed reading this book and it is worth the money I spent on it. It is well written and I learned a lot about the wider Holy Land at the time of Christ. I couldn't, however, get over the problems that I kept encountering.
The biggest of said problems is time and time again, Reza dismisses vast swathes of the Gospels as unhistorical, theological, fabricated etc. Yet he turns around and uses the very same Gospels to prove his points about the "historical" Jesus! One thing that I took particular amusement in was how literal and historical the author treated the brutal passages in the Old Testament...which are arguably the most mythological and widely exaggerated parts of the Bible! It was just too much at times.
For those who think he may be out to attack or completely discredit the Christian faith, you won't find that here. He is respectful (as any honest historian should be) about the Resurrection. It truly is a mystery of history which boggles the mind when you look at the historical evidence surrounding that event (some of which Reza touches upon). What Reza does more is expose the infighting and controversies surrounding early Christianity as opposed to discrediting the religion altogether. Obviously Evangelical Christians or other fundamentalists will have mountains of issues with the book's treatment of Christianity, but for more moderate readers it is quite compelling material. Vehement Atheists will also be disappointed, as miracles are not disproved and left open to the realm of possibility, as, for example, even Jesus Christ's enemies did not question his powers. Basically, the book is agnostic in regards to the supernatural, as any reasonable person should be when it comes down to it.
Chronologically, the book jumps around a bit: before Jesus, after Jesus, during Jesus, after Jesus, etc. It's a little weird in that regard. Another point of annoyance while reading the book is Reza's broad assumptions and complete lack of consideration for viewpoints outside his own. This can be best seen when he described the historical Pontius Pilate as a tyrannical, Jew-hating soldier, and that it is laughable to suggest that Jesus would have had a conversation with him consisting of anything beyond a single sentence. Why couldn't Jesus, known for stunning those he spoke to, have touched the hard Pilate with his words and eloquence? S(P)aul, after all, was a Pharisee who participated in the persecution of the first Christians before he became one, and was eventually martyred. Jesus transformed people, that much is certain. Yet Pilate was immune? Why? Paul's conversion (for reasons mentioned above) was also astounding and defies rational explanation, yet it happened: a Jewish Pharisee and persecutor of Christians martyred for the Christian faith. But somehow the hard Pilate couldn't be softened?
I guess a large part of the problem with this book is that it tries to have its cake and eat it too. All the passages that counter Reza's theories are dismissed as fabricated, exaggerated or even preposterous. Yet similar examples or passages from the very same pages as those just dismissed, are in turn called upon to support his arguments.
Despite being incredibly well written, very readable (a rarity in history) largely enjoyable and very educational in the non-Jesus parts, this book should not be taken as...gospel.