Who Was Jesus? by N.T. Wright
Taste the Galilean Dust
There seems to be a pattern: N.T. Wright sets to working on a massive piece of New Testament scholarship, that ends up taking years longer than anticipated. In the meantime, while in the thick of his research, certain events come about that dovetail directly into his current project, so he takes a week and writes on a popular level before getting back to his main work. (think What Saint Paul Really Said, etc. -> Paul and the Faithfulness of God). This little book came out after The New Testament and the People of God while Jesus and the Victory of God was still in the works, and unfortunately for them, Thiering, Wilson, and Spong walked right into the crosshairs.
Wright first spells out “The Quest” of the historical Jesus in its various stages and sets the stage for the various scholarly (and otherwise) takes on who Jesus really was. There is a really great, and concise, overview of The Quest, touching on all of the various authors and scholars. He then reviews, in turn, Thiering’s Jesus the Man, Wilson’s Jesus: A Life, and Spong’s Born of a Woman. Each book has its own peculiar method for sifting the evidence and constructing its “portrait,” and Wright evaluates each of them, before positing, in a 10 page summary, what an accurate picture might actually look like.
This book is an amazing combination of wit and razor sharp scholarship, humor and cold-blooded historical research. I laughed out loud at some of his critiques – he can be absolutely hilarious, while taking an opponent right out of the contest. None of these three books have any significance 20 years later (except whatever permutations of their theories found their way into The Da Vinci Code — which Wright has also reviewed). Nevertheless, reading their fantastical theories and Wright’s solid refutations is a faith-settling exercise nonetheless.
I had a great deal of confidence in the historicity of the Christian faith before I read any Wright. What Wright has done is made the Galilean dust from that solid historical ground come alive so that you can smell it, and feel it, and taste it. He makes history and apologetics delightful, and tells such a coherent, compelling version of the story, that when you hear one of these attempted “exposes” (and there will be more), you realize instantly, “Nope, that just won’t do. You haven’t even begun to deal with [x,y, or z] of the hard facts. And not only is your story less than historical, it’s not nearly as interesting as the truth.”
I recommend this as a delightful, historically rigorous, apologetic work.