Monday, February 7, 2011

historical jesus for ordinary people

Most books about Jesus by scholars are long and detailed, with many footnotes. They are not always either succinct or readable.

Most books about Jesus aimed at the ordinary reader don't worry too much about what the expert historians have concluded.

Historian and author John Dickson has always been very readable yet also historically reliable. His latest book hits the mark again.

John Dickson is an Aussie historian who did his PhD on first century christian history, and lectures in christian origins and world religions at Macquarie University in Sydney. Over the past few years, Dickson has written five books about Jesus, each one with a slightly different focus:

  • A Spectators Guide to Jesus (2005) gives a factual explanation of the way historians and Bible scholars understand Jesus' life. It is easy, straightforward and comprehensive and it doesn't have any agenda apart from information.
  • The Christ Files (2006) addresses the question of the sources secular historians use to understand the life of Jesus. It is worth reading if you want a simple understanding of the historical evidence.
  • Jesus, a short life (2008) covers similar ground to Spectators Guide, but is a more glossy book, with photographs and colour. It is perhaps easier to read for the casual reader.
  • Investigating Jesus (2010) is the only one I haven't read, but it appears to focus on the historical evidence for Jesus (as does The Christ Files), but looks at how scholarly conclusions have changed over the years, and answers the sorts of questions some people want to know before they are willing to trust the Gospels.

And now comes Life of Jesus, in which Dickson explains the life of Jesus again, but this time not just as a neutral historian but also as a christian seeking to recommend the faith. Topics covered are the historical evidence for Jesus as God's revelation of himself; who Jesus was; Jesus' teachings on the Kingdom of God; Jesus as the friend of sinners and judge; the crucifixion; the resurrection. As always, Dickson is easy to read, fair-minded, has a sound historical basis and treats the reader with respect. The book includes a study guide, and a DVD is also available for those who want more visual input.

This is the most personal of these books, as Dickson moves from dispassionate history to the arguments often given for and against belief. This will make it more suitable for some people, but less so for others.

I am a great fan of these books, finding them among the most balanced and readable of anything I have come across. I think he is a fair-minded and trustworthy guide. If I was wanting to give someone a book about Jesus, I would almost certainly choose one of these.

Read more about historical Jesus at who was jesus? and jesus in history.

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