Vacation allows me a chance to catch up with my reading, and I thought I would break from my packed schedule of doing nothing to share with you a review of one of the books. It is Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence by Craig Evans.
Many of my readers know that I love archaeology and enjoy learning about how the material remains of the distant past enlighten my understanding of the Scriptural context. Someday I hope to actually work an active dig.
Evans’ book has three things going for it. First, it is written in simple terms that do not insult. Second, it is written from a faith perspective without preaching. Third, it does not try to do too much; the author simply outlines parts of Jesus’ life in connection with what has been discovered from archaeological spadework. The book is a quick read at 152 pages plus detailed endnotes and references.
Introduction:The introduction deploys the writer’s tone for his subject as he answers how archaeology helps us understand the life of Christ as a historical reality rather than a theologically constructed fable.
Chapter One—In the Shadow of Sepphoris: Growing up in Nazareth: Sepphoris was a major city near the village of Nazareth where Jesus grew up. Sepphoris has also been excavated and provides many detailed insights into life in the 1stcentury.
Of particular interest is Evan’s debunking of Jesus as “cynic philosopher” and his discussion of the discovery of the theater at Sepphoris and how some of Jesus’ recorded teachings might have been influenced by it.
Chapter Two—Among the Devout: Religious Formation in the Synagogue: This might have been my favorite chapter. Excavation of synagogues in Capernaum, Gamla, the Herodium, Jericho, Magdala, Masada, Modi’in, Qiryat Sefer and Shuafat put in context some of the history of Jesus’ life recorded in the gospels as well as the location of his teachings.
Chapter Three—In the Books: Reading, Writing, and Literacy: This chapter is consumed with one key thought—“Could Jesus Read?” The obvious answer to a Christ-follower is yes, as Christianity is a literary faith. Evans gives evidence from the archaeological and epigraphical record to support this assertion. A side fact in this chapter is Evan’s discussion about the long-term use of books. In antiquity books could be expected to last from 150-500 years. Evans puts forth the idea that manuscripts from the second and third century might well have been copied from autographs or from copies of autographs.
Chapter Four—Confronting the Establishment: Ruling Priests and the Temple: Jesus faced his enemies head on in the synagogue, Temple courts, and in everyday life. Much of the evidence we have about the ruling religious and political class of 1st century Judea comes from tombs.
Chapter Five—Life with the Dead: Jewish Burial Traditions: Evans covers a lot of different topics in this chapter, but his best work is perhaps the discussion of how the gospel record of Jesus death and burial is in complete accordance with the understood Jewish burial practices of the 1stcentury. There is nothing irregular or awkward about anything that was done with Jesus—even that a member of the council that condemned him, Joseph of Arimathea, would be concerned about his burial. This was my second favorite chapter.
Appendices—In addition to these chapters, the Evans includes two brief appendices. One is on the salacious report of finding Jesus family tomb and his ossuary (guess, what, it is a fraud) and the other is speculation about what Jesus might have looked like.
I loved this book and think it is a must have for anyone who is interested in the life of Christ.