Jesus and the Remains of His Day

Studies in Jesus and the Evidence of Material Culture

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Craig A. Evans
  • Peabody, MA: 
    Hendrickson Publishers
    , December
     2015.
     302 pages.
     $44.95.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781619707054.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Jesus and the Remains of His Day, written by Craig E. Evans, offers a collection of informative essays that coalesce into an impressive picture of Jesus in his 1st-century world. These essays are informative, exciting to read, and grounded in the most recent research on the historical Jesus. 

In total, Evans’s book consists of ten essays. While each essay deserves recognition for its outstanding analysis of material remains, this review will provide readers with a general overview and evaluation of the content of the essays. 

The first essay in Evans’s book explores recent discoveries at the two cities of Bethsaida and Magdala. Although the archaeological excavations of these two cities is still in progress, Evans offers insight into the way recent discoveries, such as the fishing artifacts in Bethsaida and remains of a synagogue in Magdala, advance the field of New Testament studies. In his second essay, Evans investigates how the Capernaum Synagogue, the so-called House of Peter, the Kinneret Boat (Jesus Boat), an ossuary with an inscription that might possibly refer to Jesus, and two traditional houses in Nazareth provide us with insight into figures mentioned in the biblical narrative. Evans’s second essay also discusses how an archaeologist may more fully understand his or her discoveries by paying attention to the biblical narrative. The third essay focuses on Caiaphas, Pilate, and Simon of Cyrene in literature and archaeology. Evans’s analysis illustrates how texts and archaeological discoveries work together to expand our knowledge of the world of Judaism in late antiquity. Evans’s fourth essay examines how the archaeological evidence of literacy in the Roman empire sheds light on the literary evidence of the literacy of Jesus. This essay is particularly interesting to read, since it explores how inscriptions and graffiti suggest that the world in which Jesus grew up was not nearly as illiterate as some modern scholars believe. In his fifth essay, Evans explores why Jesus quoted Psalm 91 when he was tempted to fling himself from the pinnacle of the temple in the Gospel of Matthew. Evans demonstrates that, contrary to popular scholarly opinion, Palms 91 was understood as offering divine assurance against demonic affliction in the time of Jesus. 

Evans’s sixth essay explores the subject of hanging and crucifixion in Second Temple Israel. In particular, Evans’s research shows that the reference to “hanging” in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 was understood as a reference to crucifixion in the 1st century. Evans’s thoughtful analysis in his sixth essay also effectively demonstrates how archaeological discoveries and art converge to provide us with a coherent picture of crucifixion as something shameful in the 1st century. In chapter 7, Evans examines the archaeological and literary evidence concerning the burial of executed persons in 1st-century Israel. On the basis of evidence alone, Evans says, it is easy to conclude that Jesus was not buried like other Jewish victims of execution. However, Evans convincingly argues against this inference, and concludes that Jesus of Nazareth and other Jews executed in peacetime Israel were properly buried in accordance with Jewish laws and customs. Evans’s eighth essay also focuses on the execution and burial of Jesus. An analysis of the literary and archaeological evidence leads Evans to conclude that nothing is ahistorical regarding the trial, execution, and burial of Jesus as recounted in the New Testament. In his ninth essay, Evans explores the monumental and decorative tombs in the necropolis surrounding Jerusalem. Evans devotes special attention to the Talpiot tombs, which are sometimes popularly linked to Jesus and his movement. Although Evans admits that the Talpiot tombs are certainly interesting, he still believes that the supposed link of these tombs to Jesus and his movement are not supported by evidence. Finally, in chapter 10, Evans surveys postmortem beliefs and themes in Jewish, Greek and Roman, and Christian epitaphs. Evans’s analysis shows how these ancient epitaphs clarify aspects of Jesus’s teachings. 

This book is a valuable resource for students, theologians, and lay readers for several reasons. First, the essays provide the reader with an impressive picture of Jesus in his 1st-century world through the detailed analysis of material evidence. Second, the readers are introduced to the important artifacts and excavation sites in historical Jesus studies. Third, readers will find that the essays are written in clear language that is easy to follow. 

Evans’s book includes several special features that will appeal to the reader. In the back of the book, for instance, there are high quality pictures of artifacts and excavation sites discussed in each chapter. Also, each chapter includes quotations from primary texts such as inscriptions, graffiti, and epitaphs. Furthermore, at the end of each chapter, the curious reader will find that the extensive endnotes are useful for more in-depth research. 

This book could easily be incorporated into a college or seminary course that focuses on the New Testament gospels or historical Jesus studies. Indeed, religious studies students will greatly benefit from this book, since Evans’s essays are interesting to read, written in language that is accessible to the non-expert, and informative. In this reviewer’s opinion, the greatest strength of Evans’s book is its in-depth discussion of the way archaeological discoveries clarify and contextualize the written record. 

Overall, Evans’s essays encourage readers to reflect on the importance of material remains in historical Jesus studies. His essays provide readers with an impressive introduction to the most important archaeological discoveries related to the New Testament. Above all, Evans’s careful analysis of evidence, combined with his concern for exegetical and historical context, will greatly aid readers as they study the historical Jesus.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Steven Shisley is Adjunct Professor of Religion at California Lutheran University.

Date of Review: 
August 7, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Craig A. Evans, PhD, is Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. He is a frequent contributor to scholarly journals and the author or editor of numerous publications.

Keywords: 

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