It will not come as a surprise to those who were privileged to listen to Michael McCrum's sermons in Chapel at Tonbridge, Eton or Corpus Christi Cambridge to know that this little book, deceptively minimalist and matter of fact in its introduction to contemporary Biblical hermeneutics, is grounded on the author's wide classical scholarship and profound faith. The calm and reasonable exposition, the elegant prose style and the magisterial development lead the reader, whether "the man or woman in the pew", interested agnostics or atheists, through the life of Jesus of Nazareth, carefully separating historical fact from legend, myth, Judaic references and simple human mistakes in the Gospels and other early Christian sources.
His findings will be shocking for those who have been brought up to believe in the literal truth of the New Testament: for example, the historical evidence is that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem in year 0; there were no shepherds or three kings at the Nativity; Mary his mother did not have a virgin birth (or more properly conception, as McCrum points out); there was no flight to Egypt, or massacre of the innocents; and some of Jesus' best known sayings are later accretions. What remains from this strict sifting of the wheat from the chaff is a fascinating but necessarily sketchy historical portrait of the most famous man who ever lived, the son of a Galilean carpenter, a teacher, preacher and healer of the sick, a Jew who was crucified outside Jerusalem, probably on Friday 3 April 33 AD.
Michael McCrum, CBE, former Headmaster of Tonbridge School and Eton College, lifetime Fellow and Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, died on 16 February 2005, aged 80.