The Jesus Legend: A Case Study for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Gospel Tradition
by Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd
Reviewed by Dennis Gordon
The Jesus Legend is the most up-to-date and thorough critique of the notion that the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) was not who the Gospels claim him to be, and that only a few of the words and thoughts attributed to him were actually his. The book also critiques the anti-supernatural bias of liberal scholars who reject any supernatural event in the Gospels, including Jesus’ resurrection.
Although scholarly, this very readable and logical account patiently, even graciously, considers the various arguments that some scholars use to deny the Gospels’ portrait of Jesus and his miraculous works. The authors ask readers “to remain sincerely open to the possibility that the portrait(s) of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels” are “historically reliable.” If that can be done, say the authors, the “appropriate historical method and the evidence at hand” they use will make it possible for a person to conclude that “the Synoptic portrait(s) is ... the most historically probable representation of the actual Jesus of history.” It is the reviewer’s opinion that the authors truly succeed in their quest.
Eddy and Boyd first address the historical-critical method that some scholars use to study the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels. This method rejects at the outset Jesus’ resurrection and other miracles mentioned in these writings. The authors tackle this anti-supernatural bias head-on, pointing out that this view assumes “the perspective of our modern times,” which claims it should be “the standard by which all times and cultures are to be judged.” They explain why these assumptions are in error when applied to the Synoptic Gospels.
Some critics allege that pagan ideas of a miracle-working “divine man” and ancient tales of “dying and rising gods” were really behind what they call the Jesus “legend” of the Gospels. Others allege that both secular history and Paul were “silent” concerning a historical Jesus, and on this basis reject the Gospels’ portrait of who Jesus was.
Eddy and Boyd critically evaluate all these claims and find them wanting. They discuss the critics’ contentions that the literary competence of the disciples was lacking, that the eyewitness accounts were unreliable, and the contention that the Gospel writers had little care for historical accuracy. They not only point out the flaws in the critics’ arguments, but, in support of the historicity of the Gospels, they point to the testimony of secular sources as external corroboration.
They also consider the unique nature and literary genre of the Gospels. In this regard, one of the novel strengths of this book is the authors’ application of what are called “orality studies,” that is, studies that show how traditions of communicating narratives orally can convey these quite accurately.
They apply these studies to an understanding of the Jesus narratives in the Gospels. “The Gospels were primarily intended to be performed orally and heard aurally in a communal setting, not read privately and silently by isolated individuals,” the authors point out. They conclude their study by showing how this perspective helps resolve alleged discrepancies and disharmonies in the Gospel accounts. This book is a powerful apologetic and I found it informative, interesting and helpful in understanding the Gospels. I was cheered by it.