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The Evidence for Jesus (Hodder Christian Essentials) [Paperback]

R.T. France
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

18 Nov 1999 Hodder Christian Essentials
A consideration of the non-Christian evidence for and against the existence of Jesus Christ in reality. The author also the evidence of Christian sources outside of the New Testament.


Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Religious; New edition edition (18 Nov 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340746173
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340746172
  • Product Dimensions: 17.4 x 10.6 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,267,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Readable Choice 7 Feb 2007
Format:Paperback
This is an excellent first port of call for anyone interested in the debates surrounding the existence and the identity of Jesus. France, unlike some, is prepared to deal with fringe scholarship, such as that represented by "Jesus Myth" people like GA Wells. He fluently and straightforwardly presents the issues in the debates on textual / historical criticism as well as well as handling matters like non-Christian testimony. A balanced, accessible,informative and scholarly defence of the Jesus of the gospels.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Evidence for Jesus - R T France 2 Feb 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A handy little introduction to have on the debate of Jesus' historicity. The book is short at 168 pages of text but France provides references and notes at the back, which are useful for anyone wishing to study the subject further and a guide to other primary, or secondary, sources.

Insightful and scholarly, France takes the reader on a brief look at the evidence, directly and indirectly, for the historical figure of Jesus. This evidence includes the gospels, Josephus' two brief accounts (although they do suffer from interpolation), and indirect references such as Tacitus and Suetonius. There are also possible references to Jesus in the Jewish Talmudic and Midrashic writings. France also looks at indirect evidence, best described as background evidence, such as archaeology, the Qumran Scrolls and some of the Gnostic gospels - which are not evidence for Jesus per se, but are handy in giving a feel for what sort of environment Jesus lived in, both geographically, socially, politically and religiously. France shows briefly that the non-historicity of Jesus, as espoused by some authors, is untenable.

The reader is left concluding that the best evidence for Jesus is to be found in the New Testament, principally the the gospels, whilst other possible references to Jesus give us a taste of the non-Christian view of Jesus and archaeology help us to appreciate Jesus in the context of the world in which he lived.

Recommended for anyone interested in the discussion of Jesus' historicity.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Gospels are prime 1 Jan 2013
By Cantab
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This highly readable account of a painstaking but unbiased study of the evidence available some 30 years ago concludes with the acceptance of the Gospels as responsible, historically-grounded presentations of the early Christian tradition – and a compelling portrait of a real man in the real world of first-century Palestine. Concurrent reading of Salibi’s ‘Who was Jesus?’, which postulates an Arabian origin for the Jesus of Nazareth, raises the question of whether or not that matters in the wider context. Perhaps we shall see some scholarly examination of that intriguing aspect in due course.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Accessible and Effective Response to the Jesus Myth 12 Aug 2004
By C. Price - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
One of the few full-length treatments of the Jesus Myth by a leading New Testament scholar, The Evidence for Jesus is an inexpensive and accessible refutation of that theory. Though The Evidence gives special focus to the arguments of G.A. Wells, it also responds to other radical theories about Jesus--not all of which are Jesus Myths.

France begins with a sober discussion of the non-Christian evidence related to Jesus. Most of it, such as Tacitus and Mara bar Serapion, he finds offer little direct evidence about Jesus. He then turns his attention to the Jewish evidence, providing a thorough discussion of the two references in Josephus--quite forcefully dismantling Well's rather dismissive approach to the subject. After one of the better treatments of the subject in a popular book (though relatively brief), France rightly concludes that "the skepticism which dismisses the Testimonium Flavianum wholesale as a Christian fabrication seems to owe more to prejudice than to a realistic historical appraisal of the passage."

After discussing references to the historical Jesus in the Epistles of Paul, France concludes that it is from the Gospels that we gain the bulk of the evidence for Jesus. With a scholar's familiarity with his subject, France moves through Gospel questions such as the genre of the gospels, the fluidity of oral tradition, the creativity of early Christians, theological motivation and historical credibility. His discussion of midrash is particularly relevant, showing that mythic attempts to cast the Gospels in such terms fail because evidence that midrash was ever used to invent recent historical episodes is lacking. France then provides an informed, yet common sense discussion, of the differences between the Gospels. Though by no means dismissive of these difficulties, he cautions that normal historical methods should be followed to address them. In short, France spends much of his discussion of the Gospels in effectively responding to the mores sensationalistic claims against their trustworthiness. Time and again France reveals the problems underlying the skepticism many cling to regarding the Gospels. Though the treatments are by necessity brief, they are concise and persuasive. Those looking to dig deeper into these issues will find that France's endnotes provide helpful resources.

Having shown that the Gospels were intended to be read as history as well as theology, France reveals a significant weakness of the Jesus Myth. Even if written later than the modern consensus, the Gospel authors' intent to write history combined with the confirmed accuracy of many of their references and characterizations show that they are better explained as ancient biographies of a real person who has left behind traditions of his deeds and teachings rather than an entirely mythical creation. All in all, France makes a concise and persuasive argument that the Gospels must be taken seriously as historical evidence for the life, deeds, and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Most Mythologists spend only a few pages explaining the Gospels away as being written late, claiming they contradict each other, or by classifying them as "midrash" or "fiction." Until they provide in depth scholarship on the nature of the Gospels' genre and sources, France's arguments show why Mythologists will remain in the margins of scholarly discourse.

The main deficiency of The Evidence is that it gives inadequate attention to the Pauline evidence. Nevertheless, given the scope of the book and the focus on the canonical Gospels, there is much to be gained by reading it. Considering the price and range of ground covered in a highly proficient manner, I recommend this book.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended, but in some ways dated 10 Dec 2007
By David Kilpatrick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I read this shortly after it came out in the mid 1980s. I only wish that France updated it. France's book, and another book by the exact same title, written by James D.G. Dunn, were responses to a British documentary that aired on the BBC a year before these books appeared. It was called Jesus: The Evidence. There was such an unfair treatment of the historical evidence, that two NT scholars, France and Dunn, independently set about to correct the record and lay out the evidence more fairly. France's book is the more conservative of the two.

Given that these books are a reaction to a specific documentary, it is in some ways dated. However, the evidence itself it not dated, but timeless. I think he could have made a somewhat stronger case, but he did a fine job. It's 1) a good first treatment for a Christian who wants more direct information about the historical evidence regarding the trustworthiness of the gospels or 2) another resource for someone reading similar type books, because he makes points that others don't and they make points he doesn't, so to get a more complete picture of the evidence, you'll want to include France's book.

I've read about a dozen books of this type. Still, F. F. Bruce's "The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable" never ceases to amaze me in how soberly, accurately, and yet briefly he treats the topic. Dunn's is recommended too, but not if you're very conservative, you'll get unnerved. Paul Barnett also has a great book this topic "Is the NT Reliable?" Leslie Mitton's out-of-print book "Jesus, the Facts Behind the Faith," is less conservative, but still makes a good case for the reliability of the main elements of the Gospels. Josh McDowell's books tend to gloss over difficult points which these other books face more squarely, and he uses the argument from authority too much (i.e., "this expert says . . ."). But I give him much credit for amassing a lot of information. Lee Stobel writes in a popular journalistic style that would appeal to a wide audience, but like McDowell, he's prone to painting a rosier picture than is necessary or completely accurate, and he uses the argument from authority, too.

Among all these books, France's fares quite well, and I recommend it despite the fact that it's 20+ years old. I think, based on 1 Peter 3:15 "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you" all Christians should read a handful of this type book so that they can set the record straight as we interact with those who know nothing of the Bible or the historical basis for it. I'd suggest France's book be part of that handful.

(On the Old Testament side, Kenneth Kitchen's "On the Reliability of the OT" is incredible, but long, and Walter Kaiser's "The Old Testament Documents: Are the Reliable and Relevant?" is more digestible in length, but not as substantial or detailed as Kitchen's. Read both!)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good overall review of the subject 8 Oct 2007
By Jeri Nevermind - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
France asks the question: What do we really know about Jesus? He sifts through the scanty Roman sources, and the much larger evidence from other sources. This is not a long book, but it covers the topic thoroughly and is directed to the general reader, not the scholar.

He reviews the fragments of gospels we have, the earliest dating to 125 AD. The first Christian literature from the period would be Paul's epistles. Paul does not give a biography of Jesus--since he was writing to people already Christian, that would have been pointless--but he does, in many instances, underline Christian dogma.

He also covers many of the major arguments between scholars regarding this evidence. I was especially pleased by his mention of "Redating the Gospels" by Robinson. Also interesting is the discussion what languages Jesus and his followers spoke. There is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that they were trilingual--Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Other books that are recently published that deal well with this subject would be "Fabricating Jesus" by Evans and "Reinventing Jesus" by Komoszewski.
4.0 out of 5 stars good book 10 May 2013
By Kevin from Texas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I thought this was a good book. I goes over some evidence and historical writings that I had never heard of before.
4.0 out of 5 stars Goes Through the Historical Evidence Concerning Jesus 25 Jun 2009
By Ronald C. Payne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This was a mildly interesting book that could have been better if France's discussion of the New Testament itself was more illuminating. This is a popular level book written in the mid-eighties so it is kind of dated. He emphasizes the important point that a lot of the writing from the 1st century have not survived. He then goes on to discuss the non-Christian evidence for Jesus. This analysis, like his analysis of the New Testament, is critical and evenhanded. After reading so much blatant Christian apologetics, this approach is both more honest and credible.

Tacitus is the main Gentile writer who mentions Jesus. There are others but to France, Tacitus is the most important. Tacitus states that Jesus was a Jew from the Roman province of Judea who was crucified under the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius. Interestingly, France does not take this as `independent testimony' since Tacitus could just be getting his information from what the Christians thought about their own origins. He gets this opinion from G.A. Wells who argues that Jesus was a mythic creation and not a historical figure. I tend to think that while Wells might be correct on Tacitus, I find it hard to believe that this information is not from some credible source since Tacitus was no friend of the Christians and would probably not accept whatever they claimed uncritically. However, Wells could be right.

The Jewish historian Josephus also mentions Jesus. France notes that the martyrdom of James, the brother of Jesus, as a Christian leader in 62 A.D. is generally agreed upon as historical. It is true that this mentioning of Jesus was embellished by Christian scribes, but most scholars believe that Josephus really did mention Jesus, but without the obvious Christian sympathies. Thus, the debate is about how Josephus mentioned Jesus rather than if he really did. The later Rabbis also referred to Jesus in a very veiled manner in the Talmud. Basically, the claim that he was a heretic that led Israel astray.

France spends far too much time on the non-Christian evidence. His discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic second to third centuries writings are thorough but pretty much irrelevant since they were written much later than the NT documents and don't really contain any apparent real historical evidence about Jesus.

Finally, when we get to the NT, France does a decent job of defending the fact that the claim that Jesus rose from the dead dates to very early from the crucifixion. The creed of 1st Corinthians 15 is key here. When the discussion turns to the gospels, he notes the bias inherent in the form-criticism of Bultmann who a priori discounts miracles. The rest of the discussion of the NT is pretty conservative and predictable. Since I've heard it all before I didn't think it was that interesting. Overall, the book was informative but quite dry.
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