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Jesus Before Christianity – Book Review

Jesus Before Christianity book cover art

Written by: Albert Nolan
Published by: Orbis Books

Jesus Before Christianity was originally published in 1976, and is here re-published with a new preface by the author. What warrants this re-publication will be apparent when you pick this text up and begin reading. What could easily turn into simply a historical exercise becomes something much more: a critique of current forms of Christianity and a call for a return to something more real and closer to what Jesus himself actually lived and taught. Based firmly on actual history rather than hearsay or spiritual embellishment, this should be required reading for anyone who claims to be a Christian or anyone who wants to know the truth about the religion.

The book is arranged into several sections, according to theme. Part One lays the groundwork for the coming of Jesus, including an overview of John the Baptist’s prophecies. Part Two covers what Jesus both practiced and preached. Part Three delves into some of the specifics of what Jesus talked about, such as the kingdom of God and how it relates to the idea of wealth. Finally, Part Four talks about Jesus’ death. Closing out the book are a notes section, a bibliography, and an index.

[ad#longpost]Overall, the messages contained within this book are timely and important. The author asks us to look at what Jesus really said and what he could have meant by these words. To also judge ourselves and our doctrine by how well it maps with what Jesus did himself, such as dining with “sinners” and foreigners, not just those people who could advance our careers or who we think are proper like ourselves. Being reminded of how very revolutionary and dangerous Jesus’ words were is equally important. He was onn par with modern heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, and Nelson Mandela.

If only all of us, Christian and non-Christian alike, could have some understanding of what the author calls the “Abba experience”–a oneness with all of Creation and the Creator. Perhaps then we would not only learn that we must act upon our beliefs, but then actually do it. If you’re at all interested in the history of the Holy Land or of Jesus, then this is the book for you. If you’ve been alienated from Christianity, then perhaps this book might help heal any lingering wounds; similarly, Christians should all read this book lest they be guilty of doing any alienating.

Warning: This book does not take much for granted and is a very candid look at the historicity of Jesus and the early Christian era. This means that Jesus’ criticisms of the Jews, the Romans, and others are included; if this seems inflammatory to you, then you definitely need to read this book. But you might not enjoy it.

Grade: A-

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