Welcome to the first day of our blog tour for Craig A. Evans’ From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation. Over the next two weeks this will be the main hub by which you’ll be directed to the other bloggers and their blogs. At the bottom of this post is the complete schedule.
I have the honor of being the first person to post my thoughts. I should begin with full disclosure for those who don’t know: Evans is one of the supervisors for my doctoral program. I won’t deny that I read his book with a sense of respect and a hermeneutic of trust because I know the type of scholar that Evans is and the breadth of his knowledge always leads me to be very hesitant when disagreeing with him, not because I am falling trap to the “appeal to authority” fallacy, but because I know that everything I notice Evans has seen already, and if he chose to maintain a view that I am not inclined to hold he does so with good reason. Enough with the caveats though, let me get to the book we’re discussing!
In the Introduction (pp. 1-17) Evans informs the reader that, “The present study is not a history of the early church; it is not even a history of its first generation. It is, rather, a study narrowly focused on the clash between the family of high priest Annas and the family of Jesus of Nazareth, a class inaugurated by a Jeremiah-related prophecy of the temple’s doom, uttered by Jesus, and ended by another Jeremiah-related prophecy uttered by another man named Jesus (p. 2).” This second Jesus is Jesus ben Ananias, who prophesied against the Temple and who Evans believes may have been part of the Jesus movement (p. 11). As we’ll see below, the first generation of the church begins with one Jesus’ prophecy against the Temple and it may have ended with another’s.
Evans begins with a discussion of “an ambiguous prophecy” about a ruler who would arise in the east, one known by Josephus (he interpreted it to be about Vespasian), Tacitus, Suetonius, and many others who expected a messianic ruler to emerge. This prophecy likely spread across the Mediterranean world as tension arose between Jerusalem and Rome (pp. 2-5). Other prophecies began to become common knowledge, especially those related to the destruction of Jerusalem and/or her Temple or more ambiguous prophecies related to a New Jerusalem and/or New Temple. Evans discusses a wide-array of Jewish literature where these sorts of expectations appear (pp. 5-12). In the midst of a period where prophecies swirled around about ascending ruler and collapsing cities and holy places we find Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is remembered to have spoken against the Herodian Temple, echoing language from Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and this is likely the central motivation for Jesus’ arrest and execution (pp. 12-13).
The followers of Jesus believed that he was resurrected from the dead by God, vindicating his message, and that when Jerusalem and her Temple fell to the Romans in 70 CE this was further vindication of Jesus’ prophetic office, as regrettable an event as it was. This period was one wherein we find a feud between the followers of Jesus—who Evans presents as Jesus’ family—and the family of the high priests. He writes:
“With the death of Jesus ben Ananias, the capture of the city of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the temple, the first generation of the church came to a sudden and violent conclusion. It was a generation that began and ended amid conflict with the ruling priests. It was a conflict that began and ended amid prophecies inspired by Jeremiah 7 (p. 15).”
With this in mind Evans notes, “My goal is to explore more fully the dynamics of the conflict between Jesus and his followers on the one hand, and Annas and his followers on the other hand (p. 15).” So while the book title may make it seem as if the reader is in store for a comprehensive history of the Christianity of the first century CE, this is not so. This book has a far more specific focus: the rivalry between Jesus’ followers and the Jerusalem priesthood from Jesus’ death to the destruction of Jerusalem.
Evans ends his introduction with a brief summary of the forthcoming chapters, but you don’t need me to speak to that because over the next several days each one of those chapters will be engaged by one of our participant bloggers beginning with John Walker this Wednesday. He will be discussing “Chapter 1: Did Jesus Intend to Found a Church?”
This book was received from Westminster John Knox Press in exchange for a bias free review.
This is the schedule: