Book Review


JESUS: LIFE OR LEGEND? by Carsten Peter Thiede has been updated since its first appearance in 1990 and reprinted by Lion Publishing. The question asked by the title is as timely now as it was eight years ago. Virtually all of what we know about Jesus comes from the Bible and the Bible is the best attested ancient writing yet since the Enlightenment a mountain of doubt has been built up against it. If you want to know more about the origins of the Biblical text and the circumstances in which it was written, this book is a good introduction.

Carsten Peter Thiede lays out the setting for the New Testament documents and the life of Jesus. The level of literacy, writing materials, methods of education and languages in regular use in 1st century Palestine are described in a lively and informative way. Relevant details of geography, such as the facilities at Sepphoris just 4 miles from Jesus' home town are pointed out. Many classical writers and contemporaries of the early Christians are cited. There are references to more recent scholarship too. Throughout the book insights born of considerable knowledge of the ancient languages add depth to the points being made. Some readers may take exception to the way Thiede applies his imagination to fill in the gaps as to how and where and when the New Testament was written but his reconstructions are at least as plausible as any other speculative accounts.

This is a book to refer back to again and again. For this reason it is highly unfortunate that there is no index. The bibliography is helpful, but an index would have been very useful. A few sketch maps and diagrams would have added to the attractiveness of the book. I would like to have had a map of Qumran caves and their finds to accompany chapters 4 and following, a sketch of a capsa, a sillybos and a few examples of membranai. Also helpful would have been a map of first century Palestine to show towns mentioned in the text, but not always in the Bible, first century Jerusalem, to show the Essene connection, and first century Rome marking sites with traditional associations. traditions. Perhaps in the third edition ...

In a time when so much reading is carried out on trains, planes and in travel lounges, in conditions that are less than ideal, the book's compact size and clear typeface make it an easy travelling companion. The book has an attractive cover; all the more reason to show it off in public.

Second Edition 1997, 224 pages, paperback, ISBN 0 7459 3895 7

Deborah Pollard

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