Baker Academic

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holly Carey Reviews My Book - Le Donne

I was recently sent a book review of my Historical Jesus written by Holly Carey. Holly is a very gracious colleague and I’ve found her work to be insightful. So I was not surprised that her review was both gracious and insightful. I would like to bring a couple paragraphs to the table for discussion. She writes:

In a book which aims at a readership that is not familiar with much academic discussion of these issues (this is demonstrated, for example, by the in-text definitions and introductory explanations of the historical Jesus criteria), there are areas where Le Donne should have anticipated some hesitation or resistance to his arguments. To be fair, he does do this in a number of places, as in his replacement of the term “memory distortion” with “memory refraction” and the corresponding explanation (108).

It is hard for me to imagine a lay person reading this and not wondering how, for instance, memory refraction can be reconciled with the inspiration of Scripture. I have no doubt that Le Donne has considered this, but the absence of an explicit discussion of such issues might be troubling to the average reader.

So here is my question, must (or should) a historical Jesus scholar write every book about Jesus in service to the church? I ask because, in the book in question, I did not have the “average” church person in mind; I decided to write much more broadly. Even so, did I miss an opportunity to say something about inspiration in this book? And should I have, as she suggests, have said something on this topic to assuage the fears of biblicists?



  1. Good Morning, Anthony.

    You asked two questions:

    1. Even so, did I miss an opportunity to say something about inspiration in this book?

    Not having read your book (I really should), yes. You also missed the opportunity to discuss myriads of other associated topics, but not all opportunities are expedient. It seems your book is on the historicity of Jesus, not the inspiration of Scripture. Don't historians use sacred and profane documents to support their hypotheses? That the doxuments exist and give credence to historical people and events is not dependent on inspiration. Someone wanting to evangelize might have to address Jesus of Nazareth being a real person in a real time making real claims as a prerequisite question, and after convincing the audience of that, then going to Scriptures as the Voice of God. (Wish I knew Latin; that phrase in Latin would have made me look smart.)

    2. And should I have, as she suggests, have said something on this topic to assuage the fears of biblicists?

    You cannot imagine all the concerns of all the members of your audience. Present the data, present the conclusions. Respond to the worthy queries and critics as they come. Trying to respond preemptively is fraught with the peril of misrepresenting them.

  2. I have recently discovered an earlier question, "...must (or should) a historical Jesus scholar write every book about Jesus in service to the church?" to which I offered no opinion, so here goes.


  3. Which church? What does it expect from a book in the way of service? Something more than confirmation of what it already believes? If not, why write a book in the first place?

  4. It's tragically ironic that, from what I understand, Eerdmans saw this book as an opportunity to cross-over into the Barnes and Noble demographic, a largely un- or anti-Christian reading audience . . . and used a Christian author in order to do so. Then said Christian author is disowned by some and lightly reprimanded by others for not addressing Christians enough. You would have missed an opportunity to say something about inspiration if you were writing to Christians and about inspiration; your weren't and you weren't. In my mind, this isn't an issue about whether Christian scholars are accountable to the Church. They are, but this is another issue. This is about the Church needing to recognize that Christian scholars do not always write to a single audience and on a single topic, and that this is a good thing.

  5. Well said Dr. Keith. Agreed wholeheartedly.

  6. I think Hector Avalos is right in saying that the academic biblical studies community puts way too much work into making the results of academic investigation of the Bible palatable to believers. "Memory refraction," by whatever name, is indeed a problem for those who think that the gospels are an accurate and trustworthy word-for-word account of things actually said and done by a man named Jesus. Leave that to the preachers and apologists.

  7. I do not believe that every Jesus book must be written with the average church attending person in mind. Especially if the book is academic and directed to an academic/scholarly audience. I think it just depends on the type of audience that the author is intending to reach. However, I do think that it would probably be helpful to include some background definitions for terms like memory distortion and refraction. Not all members of the audience may understand these terms, and providing an explanation would probably help with the audience's overall understanding of the point that is being made.

  8. I don't think that every Jesus book must be written in service of the church. This creates a sort of exclusion especially for those who don't attend church at all. Jesus as a historical figure and a religious figure should be shared among everyone and anyone who cares to learn about him and his teachings. Jesus has been deemed a man of the world by scholars like Jarsolav Pelikan, which says that he can be universal to all people.