The question of whether or not any historical figure lies behind the early Christian literary
portrayals of Jesus of Nazareth has occupied a strange place in the history of New Testament scholarship.
On the one hand, those who argued that Jesus is a fictional creation of the evangelists were long
ostracized from both the academy and the church (two entities with multiple overlapping constituencies).
On the other hand, the question at the root of mythicist project is the same that underlies much of
mainstream New Testament scholarship, namely how much early Christian theological concerns have
influenced the content of the canonical Gospels.
This collection represents the best discussion of this issue now available. Both established and up
and coming scholars from around the world address the mythicist question from a variety of different
perspectives and methodologies. Most importantly, the individual contributions are not uniform in their
conclusions concerning the historicity of Jesus. Some scholars argue for the existence of Jesus of
Nazareth (e.g., Grabbe, Müller), others against (e.g., Noll, Price), and still others opt not to decide (e.g.,
Thompson, Verenna). Two important features to this collection are the group of essays focusing on the
role of the Pauline corpus in the debate over the historicity of Jesus and the critical interaction in several
of the essays with Richard Bauckham's recent large monograph arguing for an eyewitness tradition
behind the canonical Gospels.
Space prohibits a detailed discussion of each essay, and thus a few remarks on some of the more
particularly interesting and provocative contributions will have to suffice. Roland Boer's retrieval of the
role of history, religion and the state in Germany in the historical Jesus debate in 19th Century Germany
("The German Pestilence: Re-assessing Feuerbach, Strauss and Bauer") makes clear the long shadows
cast by the fierce intellectual conflicts surrounding the Tübingen School. It should be read in tandem with
Michael Legaspi's excellent study of the rise of historical critical scholarship in the Old Testament at
Göttingen in the late 18th Century (The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies [Oxford/New
York: Oxford University Press, 2010) for the proper historical causes of the present shape of critical
biblical studies. Thomas Verenna's analysis of whether Paul need have known anything about a historical
Jesus in order to construct his theology is an outstanding discussion of Pauline texts, relevant Greco-
Roman parallels, and careful historical methodology. Joshua Sabih, a Qur'anic scholar, offers a
fascinating discussion of the material about Jesus in the Qur'an, and makes a well-argued for this material
to be independent of anything in the Christian tradition. Sabih's essay should spur biblical exegetes to do
more in looking at Qur'anic texts alongside the Bible, part of the larger comparative project called for by
Jonathan Z. Smith some four years ago ("Religion and Bible," JBL 128  5-27). The final essay in
the volume, that of Kurt Noll ("Investigating Earliest Christianity without Jesus") is a fascinating exercise
in imagining how Christianity could have succeeded without there being a Jesus. Noll draws upon
Darwinian evolutionary thought, as filtered through Richard Dawkins' notion of memes to construct an
alternative history of the rise of Christianity, and regardless of where one stands on the issue of Jesus'
historicity, Noll's reconstruction will have to be reckoned with.
This well-edited and attractive volume marks an important milestone in the debate concerning
mythicism in New Testament scholarship, and it is to be hoped that others like it will follow.