On the Lookout by N. Micklem
A quest for the historical Jesus which focuses on what is certain, seeking not to undermine the faith of the faithful but to draw attention to something we had missed
On the Lookout - A fresh key to the gospels
By N. Micklem
Matador, Kibworth Beauchamp
Reviewed by Alec Gilmore
After telling us on page one that ‘hundreds of New Testament scholars over several generations have shown that . . . it is no longer possible to be sure that any . . . statements . . . routinely attributed to Jesus actually passed his lips‘, Micklem turns his attention to The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (the Didache, Faith, Hope and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 CE), in oral form predating the gospels and the Pauline letters. Here he identifies a Jesus Movement from a very early time, finally coming to the conclusion that the heart of his ministry was not so much what he said, or even what did, but the remarkable impact he had on those who actually met him. So although what we can know for certain today may be in short supply, the evidence that Jesus caught the imagination of those who experienced eye-contact is abundant.
To explore this concept Nicklem unearths and unpacks what he describes as ‘the primary fact’ (the one thing we know for certain) which is the day Jesus died (Nisan 14), followed by eight other quasi-certainties, the surest perhaps being his gift for healing and the emphasis on an individual's response to the all-embracing love of God who 'loved all nations indiscriminately' (p 25).
Some readers will be disturbed by his assertions that ‘the documents collected in the New Testament are ‘partisan documents produced in the course of an ongoing struggle’(p 11), that Paul, who never met Jesus, ‘misunderstood what he was told about Jesus and misinterpreted what he read about God’s Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures’ (p 7), and that there is no evidence that anyone who met Jesus ever subscribed to any of the doctrines contained in the Pauline letters (p 15).
They will however be reassured to be told that it is Paul’s contemporary evidence that gives certainty ‘to the chronology of events after the death of Jesus’ (p 14).
Micklem’s motivation is not to rock the boat but to clear the ground in a search for truth so as to focus not on what is questionable but on what is certain, seeking not to undermine the faith of the faithful but to draw attention to something we had missed. His case is tight, in some cases tortuous, and will doubtless be worked over by the pundits, but you don’t have to buy the whole package. An enquiring mind and a fresh key to unlock some of the familiar stories is always more likely to lead to truth than a locked door.
Alec Gilmore is a Baptist minister