GOSPEL TRUTH by Russell Shorto


The New Picture of Jesus Emerging from Science and History, and Why It Matters
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 An enthusiastic but overly sensationalized synthesis of ``historical Jesus'' scholarship. Shorto, by his own admission, is not a New Testament scholar, archaeologist, or scientist; he is a contributor to popular magazines like GQ, whose assignment to cover the controversial Jesus Seminar (engaged in an attempt to weed out the true from the apocryphal in the life of Jesus) turned into a book. What you see is what you get: This is one journalist's attempt to explore the ins and outs of the ``quest for the historical Jesus.'' Some of the chapters are illuminating, reporting on the way in which scientific advances have shed new light on ancient biblical ``mysteries'' surrounding Jesus' life and activities: Shorto is at his best when explaining how the DNA of sheepskin parchment can be used to piece together fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example. The book closes with a helpful examination of how the search for the historical Jesus has influenced spirituality in contemporary churches, though the enthusiastic Shorto overstates the impact it has made on ordinary folks. The greatest flaw of this book is its insistence that scholars' debunking of miracles (particularly the virgin birth and resurrection) is new. Even while quoting past skeptics, from Jefferson to Twain to Albert Schweitzer, Shorto leads the reader into a false sense of the ``radical'' novelty of such critiques. The quest for the historical Jesus has officially been underway for a century, and unofficially for much longer than that. Shorto's synthesis incorrectly assumes a fashionable trendiness to historical Jesus research. What is new is the merger of such research with science and the way in which the search, and the heated debates surrounding it, have filtered down into popular culture via books and magazine articles. Shorto's rather breathless approach offers a simplified, and thus inadequate, portrait of the nature and history of the movement he is trying to legitimize.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-57322-056-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997


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