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The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition



Much New Testament scholarship from the last 200 years has seen fit, to one degree or another, to relegate the Jesus tradition as recorded in the Gospels to the realm of legend. But is this really what the evidence points to? By drawing together recent scholarship from a variety of fields, including history, anthropology, ethnography, folklore, and New Testament studies, Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd show that the evidence actually supports—rather than refutes—the historical reliability of the Gospels and the existence of Jesus.

Eddy and Boyd present the cumulative case argument for the “legendary Jesus” thesis and proceed to put it under the microscope—and seriously bring into question its viability. In the process, they range through issues such as the historical-critical method, form criticism, oral tradition, the use of non-Christian sources, the writings of Paul, and the Hellenization of Judaism. They come to the conclusion that the view of Jesus embraced by the early church was “substantially rooted in history.” Here is an important book in the field of Jesus studies, with potential use in New Testament and apologetics courses.

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  • Investigates the extent to which Jesus in the canonical Gospels is to be judged as reliable history or fictional legend
  • Explains the “legendary Jesus” thesis
  • Provides evidence supporting the historical reliability of the Gospels
  • Part 1: Historical Method and the Jesus Tradition: Miracles, Parallels, and First-Century Palestine
    • Miracles and Method: The Historical-Critical Method and the Supernatural
    • A Jewish Legend of “Yahweh Embodied”? How Open to “Pagan” Influence Was First-Century Judaism?
    • One among Many Legends? Do “Parallels” Relativize the Jesus of History?
  • Part 2: Other Witnesses: Ancient Historians and the Apostle Paul
    • A Conspiracy of Silence? What Ancient Non-Christian Sources Say, and Do Not Say, about Jesus
    • The “Silence” of Paul? What, If Anything, Did Paul Know about the Jesus of History?
  • Part 3: Between Jesus and the Gospels: The Early Oral Jesus Tradition
    • Ancient Literacy and Oral Tradition: Assessing the Early Oral Jesus Tradition
    • Historical Remembrance or Prophetic Imagination? Memory, History, and Eyewitness Testimony in the Early Oral Jesus Tradition
  • Part 4: The Synoptic Gospels as Historical Sources for Jesus: Assessing the Evidence
    • The Genre and Nature of the Canonical Gospels: Did the Gospel Authors Intend to Write Historically Reliable Accounts?
    • Evaluating the Synoptic Gospels as Historical Sources: Methodological Issues and Preliminary Considerations
    • The Synoptic Tradition and the Jesus of History: Completing a Cumulative Case for the Reliability of the Synoptic Portrait(s) of Jesus
Eddy and Boyd provide a clearly written, carefully researched, and powerfully argued defense of the historical reliability of the Synoptic Gospels. What makes this book noteworthy is the careful treatment of underlying issues in historical methodology and philosophy. A pleasure to read and a wonderful resource for those who have encountered troubling skeptical claims about the Gospels.

C. Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Baylor University

I am gratified that my friends and colleagues Paul Eddy and Greg Boyd have taken my work as seriously as they have in this comprehensively researched book. Bravo for their repudiation of any bias of philosophical naturalism! Amen to their urging that the burden of proof is on whomever would reject any bit of gospel tradition as unhistorical. Other than this, I would dispute almost every one of their assertions—but that is why I recommend the book! What can you learn if you only reinforce your own viewpoint? I urge any reader of my books to read this one alongside them!

—Robert M. Price, professor of theology and scriptural studies, Colemon Theological Seminary

A most welcome survey and critique of modern-day imaginative reconstructions of the rise of Christianity that attempt to justify faith in the presupposition of a non-supernaturalistic Jesus. . . . Well-written and organized, containing a masterful command of the literature. Eddy and Boyd show the difference between an open historical investigation of the life of Jesus and much of today’s fictional writing that claims to be historical research concerning the origin of Christianity. A very useful introduction for college and seminary students.

Robert H. Stein, senior professor of New Testament interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Eddy and Boyd have provided a thoroughly compelling cumulative argument—one of the very best available—for the reliability of the Synoptic Jesus tradition. Their book constitutes a superb treatment of the various issues, involving both fresh research and a brilliant synthesis of material from a variety of relevant disciplines (philosophy, anthropology, historiography, as well as New Testament, early Judaism, and Greco-Roman antiquity). It is far better argued and documented than the works of the vast majority of the skeptics it challenges.

Craig S. Keener, professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary

Misinformation about the historical Jesus and the reliability of the New Testament Gospels runs rampant in the twenty-first century. Some of this comes from eccentric or flawed scholarship; some from purely fictitious novels. Eddy and Boyd have surveyed technical and popular writing alike, in meticulous detail, and present what can be concluded responsibly about the trustworthiness of the Synoptic Gospels and the portraits of Jesus they contain. They compile a detailed and erudite case that supports Christian faith, but without the simplistic and unwarranted generalizations that one often hears in grassroots evangelical circles. Highly recommended!

Craig L. Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary

This is one of the most important books on methodological issues in the study of Jesus and the Gospels to have appeared for a long time. It deserves to be widely read.

Richard Bauckham, emeritus professor of New Testament studies, University of St. Andrews

  • Title: The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition
  • Authors: Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd
  • Publisher: Baker Academic
  • Publication Date: 2007
  • Pages: 480

Paul R. Eddy is a professor of biblical and theological studies at Bethel University. He has coedited four successful volumes and is the author or editor of numerous books.

Gregory A. Boyd is the senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was formerly a professor of theology at Bethel University. Boyd is the author of many books, including the critically acclaimed Seeing Is Believing and the best-selling Gold Medallion Award–winner Letters from a Skeptic.


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