What do I think of Craig Evans’s book on archaeology and the life of Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Craig Evans is a favorite writer of mine and I quite appreciate the style he has with taking to task the opponents of Christianity. (For a clear example of this in this book, just look at him going after Tom Harpur. It gives the impression of using a tank to kill a spider.) Evans is also fluent with the world of archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls and uses that knowledge in this book to explain further the life of Jesus and show some misconceptions.
To start off with, he looks at the hometown of Jesus. Nazareth was a small little town, but it was also near the city of Sepphoris. Some have thought being near such a major city which had Greek influence would mean Jesus was strongly influence by Hellenistic culture and would then be a cynic sage.
Sorry. Doesn’t work. Sepphoris might have been more Hellenistic than some, but the evidence is still that they were devout in their Judaism. Consider for instance as one example that pig bones don’t show up in their garbage dumps until after 70 A.D. You might think that’s one item by itself, which it is, but it’s an example of many more that Evans shows to his audience to indicate that Sepphoris was devout in its Judaism.
How devout? Well that’s the next chapter. The next chapter looks at the building of synagogues for instance and places of worship and how seriously the Jews took this, including the notion that Gentiles who entered the grounds of the temple where they were not allowed would be responsible for their subsequent deaths.
Okay. Well these people were devout, but how about the Law? How did they value their Scripture? That’s next on the list. Evans takes a look at literacy from various archaeological findings and writings and shows that if anything, the Jews would most likely have the most literacy since they were people of the book and were trained to teach their children the Torah and why it is that they do what they do. This then gets into the question of if Jesus was literate, which Evans thinks it is extremely unlikely that he was not.
So what about the ruling establishment that Jesus dealt with? As Evans continues his progression, he looks at the way the priests and leaders in the area of Judea ruled. What were the people like who Jesus was butting heads against?
Finally, in the main sections, he looks at the life among the dead. What were the burial customs? He explains that it’s quite unreasonable to think that Jesus’s body would be thrown to dogs or that Jesus would not have been given a proper burial. This is another answer to someone like Crossan.
Finally, there are a couple of appendices in the book dealing with the claim of the supposed family tomb of Jesus and then answering the question of what did Jesus look like.
This book is small and easy to read and will be an immense help to students wanting to understand archaeology and the NT. It also has the benefit in this case of several pictures that show the archaeological discoveries so there can be shown clearly what these findings look like and help the student better visualize the subject matter. I highly recommend it.