Title: Salt and Light: The Complete Jesus
Author: Jonathan Geoffrey Dean
Genre: Religious Studies / History of Christianity / Western Civilization
Salt and Light: The Complete Jesus by Jonathan Geoffrey Dean is an ambitious and comprehensive look at what can be known about the historical person now known as Jesus of Nazareth. Through an exhaustive analysis of hundreds of sources, the author seeks to form an outline of Jesus’s life and teachings. Who was the real Jesus? And what did he teach?
One of the major stumbling blocks in any historical reconstruction of Jesus are the contradictions found within the New Testament, contemporaneous writings, subsequent religious tradition and historical literature. Given this, much of Salt and Light is spent trying to determine which of the sources are reliable from a historical, rather than religious, perspective. Dean has a knack for approaching this systematically and with simple concepts, which he applies to each and every available source. By doing so, he identifies a small number of documents that he believes offer the most dependable information.
This analysis of a vast body of work is one of the greatest feats of Salt and Light, and is what makes the conclusions reached all the more convincing. Moreover, Dean does a commendable job presenting multiple sides to a given argument. Even the most discerning readers may not be able to guess which side the author favors until his conclusions are revealed. The immense amount of time, effort, and critical thinking needed to create this work and reach these conclusions is undeniable, impressive, and evidenced by the pages and pages of appendices at the back of the book. A second volume of additional insights is apparently to be expected as well.
Though written for both secular and religious audiences, previous knowledge of the New Testament would be very helpful for the reader, as is Dean’s suggestion to have a copy of the New Testament nearby for quick reference. Readers who find discussions of Jesus a sensitive topic, or those with differing beliefs, may find Dean overstates himself at times. He refers to the volume as the “definitive and complete inquiry into the authentic Jesus,” instead of couching it in softer language such as “intended to be,” and in so doing may put off readers who reach differing conclusions.
Nevertheless, Salt and Light would be an excellent fit for readers interested in this pivotal time period in Western civilization, in Jesus as a historical figure, and in the complex origins of Christianity. The book is friendly to the lay reader and those with little background on the subject, as long as they are prepared for the amount of detail and number of sources cited.
In all, Salt and Light is a rich resource in its own right. It offers an independent, reasoned, and well-explained take on a complex and controversial subject. All evidence is approached systematically and consistently, with arguments that flow easily to convincing conclusions. Salt and Light is therefore recommended reading for anyone interested in the pivotal person who was Jesus, who he actually was, and what he actually taught.
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