Setting the record straight on Jesus

Behold this three-part series that merrily suggests recent books to give this Christmas … or to add to your own reading list. The Charm Marm doesn’t approve of these ideas, but I do.

Digging for truth (and finding it).

In The Jesus Sayings: The Quest for His Authentic Message, journalist and Pulitzer-Prize nominee Rex Weyler analyzes, synthesizes and all-around deputizes recent scholarship about the historic figure of Jesus and what the man actually said. Now that archeologists have uncovered so many early manuscripts and historians have unveiled the context that led to today’s Bible (such as “Constantine’s legacy of official doctrine and intimidation,” as Weyler points out), we can get closer to which teachings are authentic.

And why not? “We don’t do justice to Jesus or ourselves any service by accepting shoddy fourth-century scholarship, mistaken translations or politically biased rewrites as the real message of Jesus,” Weyler writes. As part of my Christian Charm School heritage, I grew up hearing about the Jesus Seminar – and, of course, being told that it was a heresy, an outrage, to challenge the inerrancy of the Bible. Weyler beautifully illustrates why there’s no reason to shy away from scholarship; even those who still take a literal view of scripture should be heartened to find such a compelling look at these issues.

The Charm Marm and many of her fellow fundamentalists seem to fear that this kind of analysis seeks to discredit Jesus somehow, but Weyler’s aim is to honor the tradition of Jesus’ followers by filtering out the bias and focusing on the essence of his teachings.

“Now, in the twenty-first century, we have the opportunity to give Jesus – the humble sage and healer – the cultural and historical respect he deserves,” continues Weyler. He details the way Jesus “absorbed the culture around him, distilled it and revitalized it,” tapping into the heart of his work. He “woke up from the cultural trance of his age and broke with the conventions and inertia of society,” Weyler explains.

One thing I love about this book is that Weyler brings together the work of so many historians and scholars. He references Rosemary Radford Ruther’s progress in feminist theology, for example, as well as Bart Ehrman, whose books describe both simple errors and intentional changes made with manuscripts in the decades during which men shaped the Bible.

Weyler’s book is highly readable and contains lists, a chronology and plenty of resources for those who want to dig deeper into the archeological and scholarly treasures we can so easily access now. Let’s hear it for the 21st century.

Read an excerpt
Visit Weyler’s site
The Jesus Sayings, $11.96


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