Author: Michael LaFond
Title: Jesus Christ Divided: Solving the Mystery of the New Testament
Genre: History / Religion
This thoughtful, scholarly work takes Biblical criticism in a unique direction as the author examines the letters of St. Paul and then uses them to create an itinerary and framework for his life and times, reading all the rest of the New Testament back through that lens.
What the author claims to find is a divided church, each side having a very different interpretation of who Jesus was and how salvation is achieved. One path ultimately formed much of the basis for Orthodox Christianity while the other shares resemblances with the Muslim community, a fascinating and unexpected development for early Christian faith, and the author takes the time to explore this facet while systematically guiding one through his logic and reasoning.
The book is far from exhaustive, and while those who have studied Biblical criticism before will likely appreciate this addition to the on-going discussion, more casual readers can equally gain a new perspective on the Bible and the early church thanks to this easy-to-approach volume. Instead of quoting from other scholars and engaging in a rigorous debate, the author presents his argument and conclusions as completely as he can, leaving it up to the reader to come up with counter-arguments or alternate theories.
The book is nicely laid out to where each chapter starts with a brief description of what one will find inside, and an index provides even more guidance for those looking to track down specific passages or topics later. While there are portions of the book that can feel repetitive, as the individual letters of Paul are visited over and over again, they are being mined for different kinds of information each time, letting each chapter’s examination stand by itself while forming another facet of the author’s detailed argument as a whole.
The author provides a different way to approach Jesus without necessarily making that the core of his argument. For the most part, he seems concerned with exploring the church’s conflict over who Jesus was and what Jesus taught rather than persuading readers to ascribe to a particular view regarding Jesus and the resurrection.
The author makes it clear this is the work of many years, and his dedication and thorough attention to the subject are obvious in how exact and precise he is. It might be nice if the chapter where he explains the different meanings of Jews and Gentiles had more attribution and examples, though, as that is one of the major aspects of his theory. While the section on various definitions for “Jew” is replete with footnotes, the later passage that covers definitions for “Gentile” can feel abbreviated or lacking the usual scholarly weight he supplies.
The author’s theory is effectively and impressively argued, and the text is thoroughly examined. The inclusion of personally translated versions of the Didache and other apocryphal works nicely allows readers to examine the same evidence he is looking at and come to their own conclusions. Powerfully argued and philosophically transparent, Jesus Christ Divided is perfect for those looking for a systematic, critical examination of the early Church and Christian faith.
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