I recently read Jesus
and First-Century Christianity in Jerusalem by Elizabeth
Mcnamer and Bargil Pixner that
was sent to me for review by Paulist Press. The book starts with an
overview of the Essenes and then the Nazoreans and then goes on to give
a historical overview that includes Jesus’ public years and then
concentrates mainly on the Church in Jerusalem up to the year 135.
The overview of Jesus and subsequent resurrection is mainly
straight-forward account as is the subsequent years of the Church in
Jerusalem. The book uses as source materials text such a
the Protoevangelium of James and historians of the era such
as Jophesus and later Eusebius along with others of that time
period along of course with the Gospels. So there is a lot of
good information about the early Church specifically in regards to the
Christians in Jerusalem.
I was glad to see the retelling of Jesus’
public years was surprisingly
free of sneering skepticism and it kept to the facts as told in the
Gospels, though there were some exceptions. Such as “Jesus
may have had a life changing experience as he went to the Jordan near
Jericho as he was baptized by John the Baptist.” This
sentence made me laugh and sounds like the kind of stuff taught by
those who say Jesus was ignorant they were God and many of the authors
of some of the references do hold to such a view. Later on we
get a sentence questioning whether if some of the early presiders were
women and then a confusion on the role of women deaconesses.
But this type of stuff was mostly the exception.
Also included was the standard fare about
the Q document the mythical lost document used by Matthew and Luke.
Along with some rather late datings of the Gospels with for
example Luke being dated at 85 A.D with the phase “scholars say.”
“Scholars say” is used quite a lot in this book with no
mention that this is by no means unanimous. It really means
“scholars who I am inclined to believe say.” In fact whenever I see
this phrase it is a cue for me to dig deeper. So much of
historical-criticism denies miracles and prophesies and so they are
forced to argue for a much later dating after the year 70 when
Jerusalem was destroyed. That the prophesy of this
destruction proves that it had to be after the event. Though
I think this “later Gospel” phase is receding and much better
scholarship is being done now that puts them at a much earlier period
of time. Michael Barber in his excellent book book Coming
Soon: Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying Its Lessons Today
argues, I believe, persuasively for a dating of the Book of Revelation
pre-70 A.D. While this book dates the Gospel of John as being done
between 90 and 110. A.D. Well scholars say!
The biggest weakness of this book is that
it sees Essenes everywhere. “I see dead Essenes” could have
been the tagline of the book. While some of the conjecture was quite
interesting and some of it might actually be true. There was
just a bias to always interpret something to mean that it was
influenced from the Essenes somehow. Often we get this with
John the Baptist, but in this case it extended to the family of Mary.
Even the date of the Last Supper was suppose to be Essene
influenced which this books happened on Wednesday or on Tuesday night.
That the man carrying a jug of water that Jesus sent his disciples to
find must have been a Essene priest since only women carried water.
Or Acts 6:7 about a great number of priests converting to
the faith must have been Essene priests since it was doubtful that
Saducees would do so. This totally leaves out the fact that
there were about 2000 ordinary Temple priests in Jerusalem.
Everything is seen through Essene colored glasses with no
caveats. No doubt this is because one of the authors who is
an ex Benedictine Monk has worked as an archaeologist in the Essene
quarter. There are certain some interesting correlations
between the Essenes writings and some of what happened, but because of
the bias it is hard to tell objectively what role they played which in
this book is to a large extent.
This is a larger sized book with plenty of
beautiful pictures included relating to Jerusalem. Often
though the pictures seemed to be included just to have pictures and
didn’t really relate to the text on the page they were on. The book
piqued my interest into the early Church in Jerusalem, unfortunately it
makes me have to look elsewhere to fulfill it.