Craig Evans’ New Book: “From Jesus to the Church”
I’m pleased to see in print Craig Evans’ new book, From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation (Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), and pleased to have a copy. It derives from Evans’ Deichmann lectures given in Ben Gurion University (Beersheva, Israel) in May 2010. (As the first Deichmann lecturer in March 2004, I’m pleased to see the lecture series continuing and featuring such fine scholars as Evans.)
The core “storyline” of Evans’ book is the proposal that there was a “clash between the family of high priest Annas and the family of Jesus of Nazareth” that began with the arrest and execution of Jesus and then extended across the ensuing forty years or so.
Evans proposes that Jesus did prophesy the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (inspired by precedents such as the oracle in Jeremiah 7). In part, this may have been motivated by “corruption in the Herodian Temple establishment.” This (as well as others of Jesus’ actions) led to Jesus being arrested and interrogated by Temple authorities, who then obtained Jesus’ execution by the Roman governor.
In chapter 1, Evans considers the question of whether Jesus intended to found a “church.” Evans’ judgement: “Jesus envisioned the creation of a community or society, but it is most unlikely that he envisioned something outside of or over against Israel itself” (15).
In chapter 2, Evans probes Jesus’ proclamation of “the kingdom of God.” In Evans’ view, Jesus viewed the coming reign of God as not simply a vindication of Israel against her national enemies, but “even Israel itself is subject to a critical review.” Moreover, he surmises that Jesus foresaw his death as a necessary event through which “a repentant remnant, his community or church” would be established. Indeed, in Jesus’ teaching and example Evans finds “hints” that this remnant might include Gentiles as well as Jews.
Evans describes chapter 4 as “more or less” an excursus in which he explores “the apparent tension between Paul and James on the matter of law and works.”
Chapter 5 is where Evans focuses in detail on “the conflict between the families and followers of Jesus and Annas the high priest.” Included in his discussion is his intriguing proposal that the “rude peasant” described by Josephus, Jesus ben Ananias, who also warned of God’s looming judgement against the Temple, “was a member of the Jesus movement and rose up in protest of the murder of James” (Jesus’ brother).
In a short appendix, Evans briefly considers various factors that may have contributed to the “parting of the ways” between the emergent Christianity and the reformulated Judaism of the post-70 CE period.
As I wrote after reading the proofs several months ago, the book reflects “an impressive familiarity with a wide range of primary sources and a combination of thoughtful proposals and cogent arguments for them.” Evans provides here much food for thought and offers a model of scholarly investigation and hypothesis-building. Recommended!