An exhaustively meticulous work of biblical exegesis has all the drama and conspiracy of a journalistic exposé.
First-time author Goudge doesn’t waste any time announcing his controversial intention to uncover a “2000-year conspiracy of silence” designed to “keep the history of Jesus’ Jewish heirs plunged in darkness.” At the personal level, the conspiracy expresses itself as an “epic struggle” between James, brother of Jesus, and Paul, author of a systematic Christian theology. At a more doctrinal level, according to the author, the ancient tug of war is between Jesus’ fundamentally Judaic mission and Paul’s tortured gentile interpretation. Paul, more apostate than apostle, is the villain of this tale, disfiguring Jesus’ pedagogic intention in such a way that permanently drives a schism between Judaism and so-called Christianity. Along the way, the author unpacks several contentious issues with scholarly curiosity and lively prose. For example, is Jesus really a pacifist? Was he genuinely born in Bethlehem? What is the true account of Jesus’ little-known childhood and questionable parentage? What are the real origins of Christmas and Halloween? Is it correct to consider Paul a true apostle? It’s impossible not to be impressed with the sheer breadth of the author’s erudition and his unrelenting interrogation of often scant evidence. However, his thesis is so wide-ranging, he sometimes makes inferences and extrapolations that go well beyond what the text provides. For example, the explanation for Paul’s perfidy is that he was a “profoundly conflicted individual, given to violence and obsessed with ambition.” Also, since the author’s objectives make it necessary for him to accept some biblical sources as canonical and others as spurious, it would have been helpful for him to articulate a set of general interpretive principles. In fairness to the author, he acknowledges these difficulties, admitting that “we have to be careful of all texts,” that “all authors have a slant” and that the texts as we find them could be corrupt or amended.
A fascinating study for anyone interested in the history of the Christian church and willing to roll up their sleeves for some fastidious scholarly analysis.