What’s with the recent rush of whacky books about conspiracies and cover-ups within Christianity? Jesus was really gay, there were a whole lot of books that the early Christians accepted that present a very different Jesus, but the evil church (TM) burned them all. Jesus was married. And so on. What’s driving this sensational material?
In recent years – the last decade in particular, there’s been a significant increase in the prevalence of – and publicity given to – new skeptical biblical scholarship that seeks to overturn and undermine traditional pictures of Jesus and early Christianity. The Jesus Seminar and Bart Ehrman are just a couple of examples – and like other examples, they have been met with scholarly critique. According to the majority of New Testament scholars, the Jesus Seminar (for example) is simply not credible. But in addition to critique, they are also meet with enthusiastic embraces from some circles.
But why the recent push for this type of thing? Why the attraction of writing a new critique that seeks to undo established understandings of the New Testament and the Christian faith? Well, one reason is suggested by New Testament scholar Craig Evans, when interviewed by Lee Strobel:
The problem… is there are so many people pursuing doctorates, writing dissertations, pursuing tenure, and trying to get published that there’s a tendency to push the facts beyond where they should go. If you’re hoping to get on the network news – well, news has got to be new. Nobody is going to get excited if you say that the traditional view of the Gospels seems correct.
But if you come up with something outrageous – that Jesus’ body was eaten by dogs, for example – then that warrants a headline. Or if you say that there’s a Gospel just as valid as Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but it was suppressed in an early Christian power play, well that’s news.
He’s right of course. No critique of the Jesus Seminar or Bart Ehrman, no matter how absolutely rigorous, will ever get the publicity that the scandalous stories of the tabloid skeptics get.