Separating Historical Wheat from Religious Chaff


Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, by Bart D. Ehrman – I have read several of Ehrman’s books on biblical scholarship, and I quite enjoy his writing style. It’s informative, easily accessible, and sometimes humorous. This book on Jesus as a historical figure is no exception. Its main thesis is that Jesus taught that the world would end very soon, which Ehrman presents as controversial. As a skeptic who’s read some other books on the subject, I don’t find the idea controversial at all. What else would Jesus have meant when he said, “And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1)? To the more literal believers, however, I can see how it would be difficult. The world obviously didn’t end, which means Jesus must have been wrong. In order to avoid this conclusion, Christians have decided that the passage from Mark and other similar ones aren’t literal, but instead refer to some future time. Strangely enough, this future time often seems to be within the lifetime of the person predicting it. There was also the Gnostic belief that the Kingdom of God was inside the followers of Jesus, but that was rejected in orthodox doctrine. In determining that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, Ehrman cites the rules that historians use to separate fact from fiction in the story of Jesus. Good measures of what is likely true in a historical sense are whether an idea is independently attested by multiple sources, and whether it’s something later Christians would have been likely to invent. As believers living a century or two later likely wouldn’t have invented Jesus’ predictions about the end coming within the lifetime of his disciples, it’s quite likely he actually said these things. The analysis is gradual and easy to follow, making the book a good read for anyone who might be interested in separating the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth from the mythology that developed about him.


The Brentford Triangle, by Robert Rankin – The follow-up to The Antipope, featuring most of the same characters, came across to me as faster-paced than its predecessor. In this story, Professor Slocombe once again recruits local layabouts Jim Pooley and John Omally to fight evil forces that are invading the London suburb, this time in the form of aliens from the destroyed planet Ceres. Not my favorite of Rankin’s writings, but pretty funny nonetheless, with the sort of weirdness that pervades the author’s work. In addition to the alien attack, we also find a shopkeeper trying to transport the Great Pyramid to Brentford, and a postman summoning the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe. Pretty much anything goes in Rankin’s books, yet there’s still a kind of odd logic to them.

This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Brentford Trilogy, Christianity, History, Religion, Robert Rankin and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Separating Historical Wheat from Religious Chaff

  1. Tim Tucker says:

    The interpretation of Mark 9:1 that I always heard was that the kingdom of God was the Church.

    • Nathan says:

      Then the Church would show up before the disciples had all died? I suppose that’s probably true, but it makes for a rather unimpressive prophecy.

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