Maier, Paul L. The Genuine Jesus: Fresh Evidence from History and Archaeology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2021. 418 pp. Hb. $33.99 Link to Kregel
The Genuine Jesus is new edition of Paul Maier’s In the Fullness of Time (Kregel, 1971, second edition 1991). That edition combined three shorter books and added the subtitle “a historian looks at Christmas, Easter, and the early Church. This new book is a third edition, updated with a section of color photographs and a new subtitle “fresh evidence from history and archelogy.” This is not simply a reprint of the earlier books; Maier occasionally mentions Bart Ehrman or other recent developments such as the gospel of Judas. The goal of this book to introduce laypeople to some of the basic historical and geographical background for the Gospels and Acts. Occasionally Maier answers critics who dismiss the historicity of the story of Jesus as told in the four canonical Gospels. Since this book is a basic guide for laypeople, there is no extended argument or documentation.
Maier is a historian and uses traditional historical tools to shed light on Jesus’s life and ministry. This includes history, archeology, literature and linguistics, geography, in a wide range of other sub disciplines. When these tools are used judiciously, history and its related fields offer a means of checking up on the Bible, to gauge its accuracy. In the introduction, Maier disagrees with the claim “nothing found by archaeologists has ever contradicted the Bible” because archaeologists find reports from Israel’s enemies who reported their campaigns much differently than the Old Testament. From these different perspectives, he believes that the biblical events come into sharper focus. Problems in the biblical texts it can often be solved by recourse to these other disciplines and gaps in the biblical records can be filled in with correlating outside evidence from antiquity.
There are two chapters cover introductory questions. First, in “Christ or Caricature?” he deals with several potential theories explaining who Jesus was, such as Morton Smith’s Jesus the Magician, John Allegro’s Mushroom Myth, and Joseph Atwell’s 2005 Caesar’s Messiah (which he describes as “one of the most absurd books on Jesus ever written”). Since Atwell argues Jesus was an invention of the Roman Empire to counterbalance the militaristic Jewish zealots defeated in AD 70, Maier may have a point. Except for the Jesus Seminar, these choices seem like dated strawmen to me. The second chapter deals with sources for the life of Jesus and early Christianity.
The first four sections of the book deal with the life of Jesus. As expected from the origins of this book, eleven chapters are devoted to the infancy and youth of Jesus, in another ten chapters to the passion week including the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. This means there are only two chapters devoted to the ministry of Jesus (one a general overview and a second on Galilean ministry up to the confession of Peter). These chapters deal with various historical and geographical and historical issues (Caesar’s census (Luke 2:1), the star of Bethlehem, or key people like King Herod and Pontius Pilate.
The fifth section treats early Christianity from the Great Commission to Roman Christianity under Nero. Nine of these eleven chapters tell the story of the Book of Acts with special attention to key people and places. Each chapter has a few endnotes, often with references to ancient sources. The final chapter goes beyond the book of Acts to deal with traditions about the deaths of Paul, Peter, and the other apostles.
The book is illustrated with over 100 black and white photographs and other illustrations. For example, on pages 105 is line-art illustration of three coins from King Herod Some of these are older, such as the southeastern corner of the Temple platform on page 177 or Capernaum before the church was built over Peter’s house in 1990 (p. 153). Some of the color photographs are old as well. For example, much work has been done at the theater at Ephesus since the included photograph was taken. A few photographs are from Todd Bolen’s collection.
Conclusion. Like the previous versions of this book, the third edition of The Genuine Jesus is written for the layperson interested in historical and geographical backgrounds for the Gospels and Acts. Aside from limit space for the ministry of Jesus, this book achieves those goals.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts