Famed scholar of Early Christian history reveals how the gospel stories of Jesus were never meant to be straightforward historical accounts, but rather were scripted and honed as performance pieces for four different audiences with four different theological agendas.
Few people know that the classic version of Hamlet's famous "To be, or not to be..." soliloquy is not the first and wasn't published until 1623--seven years after Shakespeare's death. There is clear evidence that, like a Broadway play that previews elsewhere, the kinks in Hamlet took years to work out, and the script went through several rewrites. In Scripting Jesus, New Testament expert L. Michael White argues that the same thing happened with the gospel stories about Jesus.
The gospel writers were storytellers, and the stories they told about Jesus and his followers have shaped the beliefs of almost two-and-a-half billion people. Scripting Jesus explains how the gospel writers "honed their pitch" about the life of Jesus and the birth of Christianity for the greatest dramatic effect.
For centuries, in their attempt to discover the real, historical Jesus, people have wrestled with the contradictory stories in the Gospels. For instance, in Jesus' birth narrative, there is no mention of a stable in Matthew and Luke, there are no wise men in Luke, and no shepherds in Matthew. In several gospels and Pauline letters, Jesus has brothers (and sometimes sisters), but to preserve the virginity of Mary, the Catholic Church insists James was only the "half-brother" of Jesus--and the Protestants snicker.
These sorts of questions and confusions are addressed in Scripting Jesus, arguing that not only do we moderns read into Jesus's story what we want to see, but even the ancient gospel writers, like any circuit preacher or stand-up comedian, saved the material that got the best response, and cut whatever fell flat--essentially retelling Jesus's story to serve their own theological agenda and for greatest effect.
With his usual engaging style which he perfected on several PBS series, Early Christianity scholar L. Michael White uses all the tools of criticism for better understanding all four gospels. In his previous, successful book From Jesus to Christianity, the author offered an introduction to the New Testament and the historical and cultural background of a burgeoning religious movement. In Scripting Jesus, White focuses on the gospels, revealing the agendas of the "handlers" who made a man into a messiah.
- A TOPIC OF PERENNIAL INTEREST: There is always an avid book-buying market for those interested in Christian origins, historical Jesus, and biblical studies. White is a popularizer of early Christian history who writes in the tradition of Elaine Pagels and Bart Erhman, examining the work of the early Gospel writers and the image they and we have distilled about Jesus from those early stories.
- THE "SPIN" ABOUT JESUS: From Script to Scripture, White explains the development of the stories of Jesus--including how the gospel writers differed from one another on facts, points of view, and goals.
- PUTTING WORDS IN JESUS'S MOUTH: Bart Ehrman took the first step in telling readers how Jesus was "misquoted." White takes the next step to tell readers why.
- ENGAGING, POPULAR PRESENTER: The millions of viewers of the PBS 4-part special "From Jesus to Christ" found White an engaging presenter--much of that comes out in his writing style in this book.
- Readers interested in the Bible and church history
- Armchair historians and fans of books on Jesus
- Readers of Elaine Pagels, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, & Bart Ehrman
- Scholars of religion and lay leaders interested in the "historical Jesus." The market for this book includes the large John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Bart Ehrman, N.T. Wright large fan base.
- Strong student market, course adoptions.