Biblical Archaeology Review 23:1, January/February 1997

Editorial: The Battle Against Junk “Scholarship”

By Hershel Shanks

Biblical Archaeology Review

I recently received an announcement for a new book called The Word of Jesus, according to which “Jesus was not Jewish but Egyptian.” Jesus, we are told, was “a pagan.” Apparently aware that we may not be persuaded by the book’s argument, the blurb assures us that, “Whether convinced or skeptical, one is never bored!” The book is available in French, Spanish and English.

How is it that far-out books like this make their way into the marketplace? Mostly it is their sensational claims, aided, of course, by the media, ever willing to give exposure to the wildest contentions. Plus some clever, sophisticated marketing.

Last Easter, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report all put Jesus on the cover. Each discussed mainline scholars grappling to understand better the historical Jesus. But then Time devoted an entire page to a book claiming that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses to the events they describe. According to Time, the author of the book “startled the rarefied world of biblical scholarship by arguing that” certain long-known fragments of Matthew at Oxford University date to about 70 A.D., a century earlier than other scholars date it. Far from having “startled” the world of biblical scholarship with this claim, the author’s contention regarding the Oxford fragments had already been convincingly demolished by leading scholars. The Time write-up was not able to come up with a single scholar other than the author who had a good thing to say about the book’s argument, let alone who agreed with it.

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