Is Jesus History? By John Dickson
This book belongs to the best material on the historical Jesus for church members and sceptics alike
Is Jesus History?
By John Dickson
The Good Book Company
Reviewed by Pieter J. Lalleman
The title of this book can be understood as ‘Was Jesus a historical person?’, ‘Did he really exist?’ As such it is a Christian apologetic book which comes with commendations from apologists such as Amy Orr-Ewing and the late Ravi Zacharias. Yet it is refreshingly different from many other apologetic books.
Historian John Dickson begins with three chapters on the question what we know about history anyway and how we know it. Dull stuff? Not really in the way Dickson presents it! He argues convincingly that we have reliable knowledge of Jesus and his time, and that no serious historian today denies the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet note his explanation that ‘Historians work more with probabilities and best explanations than proof’ (95).
Chapters 4 and 5 tell us about the research into the historical Jesus, while chapter 6 explains that the sources for our knowledge of Jesus are similar to those for our knowledge of Alexander the Great.
Chapter 7 looks at references to Jesus by the non-Christians Tacitus and Josephus. Chapter 8 is on Paul’s unlikely turn-around and on his letters as important sources for Jesus. Chapter 9 shows how archaeology shows the general trustworthiness of the New Testament and chapter 10 focuses on Jesus’ resurrection.
In the Epilogue Dickson argues that whether or not someone accepts the Christian faith depends on much more than on the historical evidence, but that the evidence is there. In my words: Jesus is a historical person and so much more.
Each chapter contains a summary and then some Readings: texts from the New Testament and from secular sources (such as ancient historians) which shed light on the topic of the chapter. Overall the book has few footnotes and is easy to read. It does not presuppose knowledge of the Bible. I would like to correct Dickson in his view on the historical value of John’s Gospel (76-77): increasingly scholars see John as a prime historical source. But for the book as a whole this issue is not overly important.
Together with Paul W. Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History (Leicester: IVP, 1997) this book belongs to the best material on the historical Jesus for church members and sceptics alike. You can give this book into anybody’s hand without any embarrassment.
The Revd Dr Pieter J. Lalleman teaches Bible at Spurgeon's College