Professor Tony Chartrand-Burke from York University has posted a stunning review of Craig Evans' book, Fabricating Jesus. He is right on target with the review, highlighting that Christian apologetics and canonicity has come into play in Evans' evaluations, reflected in certain truth claims that are not the "facts" he presents them as.
I have had Evans' book sitting on my desk for a couple of months and had intended to post soon some eyebrow-raising quotes from it, as well as some from other recent authors. So I will do so now.
Craig Evans, Fabricating Jesus, page 7
"FACT: The Gospel of Thomas - in comparison with the New Testament Gospels - is late, not early; secondary, not authentic...The evidence is compelling that the New Testament Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - are our best sources for understanding the historical Jesus. The New Testament Gospels are based on eyewitness testimony and truthfully and accurately relate the teaching, life, death and resurrection of Jesus."
This is NOT a FACT, it is an opinion based partly on old scholarly work on the Gospel of Thomas, and partly on a Christian apologetic about the reliability and accuracy of the canonical gospels. Research over the last thirty years on the Gospel of Thomas has demonstrated that it is an "authentic" early Christian Gospel. The best scholarly consensus is that it was written (in its final form) around 120, and is contemporary with the composition of the New Testament Pastorals. My own contribution to the study of the Gospel of Thomas (Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas, 2005/2006) has recovered within this text an early version of the Gospel - I call it the Kernel - which predates Quelle. So the best critical analysis is that it contains some old sayings alongside some newer ones. I will have more to say in a future post about "eyewitness testimony." So stay tuned.
Darrell Bock, The Missing Gospels, page 204
"The Gospels we have in the fourfold collection have a line of connection to the earliest days and figures of the Christian faith that the alternative texts do not possess."
This statement is a modern version of the argument created by Irenaeus to bolster his traditions while denying credibility to those he did not like - that apostolic succession determines authenticity and legitimacy.
Darrell Bock, The Missing Gospels, page 207
Referring to the ideas that formed the "core" of early Christianity, Professor Bock writes: "The core can be viewed as this: There was one Creator God. Jesus was both human and divine; He truly suffered and was raised bodily. He also is worthy to receive worship. Salvation was about the liberation from hostile forces, but it also was about sin and forgiveness - the need to fix a flaw in humanity that made each person culpable before the Creator. This salvation was the realization of promises that God made to the world and to Israel through Israel's Law and Prophets. The one person, Jesus Christ, brought this salvation not only by revealing the way to God and making reconciliation but also by providing for that way through His death for sin. Resurrection into a new exalted life involves salvation of the entire person - spirit, soul, and body. Faith in this work of God through Jesus saves and brings on a spiritual life that will never end."
At worst, an apologetic Protestant retrojection of the Nicene Creed passed off as historical. At best, an apologetic Protestant rewording of the early patristic creeds or "canon" created to destroy alternative forms of early Christianity. The creeds don't represent the way it was, they represented the way some of the bishops wanted Christianity to be.
Bart Erhman, Lost Christianities, chapter 3
Chapter Title: "The Discovery of an Ancient Forgery: The Coptic Gospel of Thomas"
Professor Erhman's use of the word "forgery" is very troubling in my opinion, since it evokes historically false attributions like fake, counterfeit, illegal, sham, and phony. As scholars writing for general audiences, our choice of words matters.
All this brings me back to my original post on this blog - that whether we consider ourselves conservative scholars or liberal scholars, the field we work in is framed by theology and apology. It is so insidious, often we don't even notice it. But if we are ever to build a true historical picture of the early Christian period, we need to become conscious of it.