I am just finishing Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth, by Burton Mack. For the uninitiated (that’s me) in the early history of Christianity, this book is pretty revealing/apple-cart-spilling. Mack’s whole proposal is that the books and letters of the Christian Bible were written by specific “Jesus” and “Christ” communities who had specific goals in mind when they wrote them (like to justify Jesus as a Hellenistic type teacher aimed at dismantling the exclusivity of Judaism, or to craft a mythical figure destined to inherit the crown of the Israel epic, or to tie later ‘bishops’ back to Jesus via mythical apostles ). He calls out a lot of the disconnected myths embedded in early Christian theology and destroys the idea that the current Bible is anything more than attempt to pull together disparate Jesus/Christ communities into a unified whole. Not easy to read, but a tour de force none-the-less. If you are a staunch believer that the Bible is the word of God, you’re going to pretty challenged by this one. I rather like his take on things.
The one major criticism I have is that in general he is very sparse on citations and strong evidence, instead relying almost wholly on his knowledge. Although the argument is very well done, I am left wanting for more proof; it’s not enough to simply say that it is – you have to demonstrate it.
That said, most interesting is that the creation of the Bible as he describes it is the polar opposite of how we currently understand it. When we think of the Bible today, it’s as though it magically came into being and was written end-to-end and published. However, that’s far far from the case – it was “developed” over a couple centuries and was aggregatedto unify a socio-religious movement that was becoming much too fragmented.
Recasting the Bible in a new light with a well thought out premise may be enough on it’s own to warrant merit. At the minimum, worthwhile lesson in the creation of any grouping of people.