From Jesus to Christianity

I’ve been meaning to write this up for weeks, but I have been extremely busy.  I wanted to take some time to recommend the book From Jesus to Christianity by L. Michael White.  It’s a great book for other religion nerds like me or anyone wanting to get a more accurate picture of the development of Christianity and the Scriptures in the first few centuries.

It took me quite a while to get through this interesting book due to the volume of information to mentally process.  The author begins by discussing the ins and outs of Judaism in the 100 years leading up to the birth of Jesus.  For the first time I truly understood the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadduccees.  White also describes the state of the Roman Empire, because to really understand early Christianity and the development of the Scriptures it is important to put both into their Jewish and Roman contexts.

I really liked the way Mr. White breaks down each piece of Christian scripture, including some apocryphal books, into concise tables which he elaborates on in the text.  He also discusses the different academic theories regarding certain issues before noting the one that he prefers.   As we all know, it is not uncommon for some authors/professors to just to pretend that other theories don’t exist and their unaware audience does not realize they  have even done this.   (I am having a few flashbacks to college.)

Having come across several fundamentalist Protestant anti-Catholic blogs over the past few months with rather skewed versions of history, I’ve become very sensitive to ideological bias.  I was happy (and frustrated at times) not to detect any in this book.  In other words, just by reading the book I was not able to discern to which Christian denomination if any the author adheres.

There were a few times that I felt he was kind of skipping over a few things to avoid getting sucked into theological debates.  For instance, he constantly refers to James as the “brother of Jesus”.  For some denominations this would reaffirm their belief that Mary did not remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus.  The author just completely avoids arguments made by those that believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary that the translation “brother of Jesus” could refer either to Joseph’s son from a previous marriage (as passed as possible through some tradition) or that the term “brother” was mistranslated, because in Aramaic the same word means “brother” or “cousin”.  It’s like the elephant in the room.

There were a few instances, though, where he seemed to coincide more with the Catholic understanding of history and the Scriptures.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember the exact issues because my book was due back to the library a few weeks ago and got returned late as it was.  Overall, I thought he did a pretty fair job of trying not to filter his academic understanding through his own religious tradition, at least as far as I know.  I was unable to find any information on L. Michael White’s religious background.

Of course it must be understood that he is attempting to look at things academically and not theologically.  There are many who would probably be shocked and upset by the discussions about the true authorships of various books of the New Testament, as most Christians accept the traditional authorships of each book.  So there are few instances where one must discern how the facts fit in with their theological understanding.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this book and it would definitely be on my buy list if I had infinite amounts of money.  It is definitely worth a read for anyone who enjoys putting Christianity it’s historical and sociological context.

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One Comment on “From Jesus to Christianity”

  1. Laura Witten Says:

    Of course Mary and Joseph had other children. There is more than one reference in the Bible to his brothers, and at least one referring to his brothers AND sister.

    The guy who wrote this book (which I am interested in reading as well) is probably atheist or agnostic. They tend to write the most objective texts, sticking to facts and explaining theories as just that.

    I have enjoyed reading The Jesus Papers, which I was lead to from the Da Vinci Code via another text whose name escapes me at the moment. The books really shook my beliefs, but the questions were good ones and didn’t conflict directly with the foundation/core of these beliefs.


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