Book Plunge: Rabbi Jesus

What do I think of Bruce Chilton’s biography of the life of Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I picked this one up at the bookstore since I liked the Jewish title to the book. I’m highly interested in learning more about how Jesus fits into the Jewish culture and the thinking of Second Temple Judaism so I figured this could be an interesting read.

Unfortunately, I was mistaken.

Chilton has a few insights in the book that can help one’s understanding and as an account meant to be more historical fiction, it is certainly more entertaining than reading something like “Killing Jesus”, which sadly isn’t saying much, but the speculation that runs rampant throughout leaves a damper on the whole work.

The account involves a great deal of personal psychology. Jesus is seen as a mamzer at the start, a child born from a forbidden relationship, which is accurate enough, but this is seen as affecting him psychologically throughout his whole life.

When we have the account of Jesus going to the temple as a young boy found in Luke 2:41-52, Chilton takes a diversion from Luke and says that rather than return with his parents, Jesus instead stayed in Jerusalem and lived on the streets as it were for a time until the day came that he united with John the Baptist and became his disciple.

Throughout the work, it is claimed that the chariot in Ezekiel 1 was the driving force behind what Jesus did. Now it could be that the Son of Man title Jesus used to refer to Himself could be a reference to Ezekiel, but I think it is far more likely considering the high status of this figure that Jesus was referring to Daniel 7.

The problem is this kind of thinking is central to Chilton’s thesis and if the opening premise is wrong then all information that is based on that premise becomes problematic as well. What methodology does Chilton use to determine what happened in Jesus’s life and what didn’t? He doesn’t tell us. Why should I think the chariot was what was on Jesus’s mind? Why should I even think he never returned with His parents after the event in Luke? If the reason is that this comports with Chilton’s thesis, well I need a better reason than that.

Of course, when it comes to the resurrection, Chilton does not accept that as a bodily resurrection but instead places his hopes in hallucinations and the hopes of the disciples. There is again, no interaction with the data that opposes this theory. Instead, it is just again more speculation that has been built on speculation that has been built on speculation.

There was a man long ago who gave us a warning about a house that is built on sand vs. one that is built on a rock. I can only conclude that when looking at that man, that Chilton has built his historical foundation on sand rather than doing the work of history and seeking what the best data is and explaining it. While the work has some mild entertainment value, I was certainly happy to be done with it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters