Jesus Puzzle, The
Challenging assumptions about Jesus
The Jesus Puzzle: Challenging intellectual uncertainty about Jesus shares the question of knowledge of the historical Jesus, in order to refute sceptics who consider that we can know very little about Him - and to encourage Christians to have more confidence in relating to what is said about Jesus in the gospels.
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The author takes us on her journey to discover the purpose and teachings of the Historical Jesus. Her starting point is contemporary atheism and what she sees as the increasing invisibility of Christianity in public life. As a formal religion Christianity may, she suggests, deserve this fate. The problem is that having given Jesus a bad name, attributing to him all kinds of intentions which are hard to justify, he is discredited or is simply dismissed as another theological fairy tale. What is important, she argues, and the cause she pursues throughout this scholarly and very interesting book, is to discover evidence for his life and to understand the context and meaning of his teachings. Jesus did not intend to start a new religion or found the Church, on that she is clear. Nor can or should he be held responsible for the many ‘truths’ taught by the Church in his name or the persecution and misdeeds which sometimes have followed. We need to ask, she writes, who Jesus was, what he did and what he taught. The author has another audience in mind alongside the secular critics or those who dismiss the whole story as fantasy. This other audience is believing and practising Christians, many of whom she believes to have surrounded the story, intentions and teaching of the Historical Jesus with an untouchable ‘holiness’. This she sees at worst means, that any questioning or investigation into what really happened and what he really said and did, is in conflict with faith or church teaching. Ending the divide between faith and rational enquiry would be an excellent start. Not all Christians are where the author fears they are but nevertheless there is a journey to be walked. A really great read! ~ Christine King, Progressive Voices - Issue 45
Here, in Brenda Watson’s new book The Jesus Puzzle: Challenging Intellectual Uncertainty about Jesus (out March 1st, 2023), a book that was going to press at the very same time that The Queen of England sadly passed, she lovingly makes the point that it was relevant to note how important Jesus was for Queen Elizabeth, in strengthening her commitment to service, which won her universal accolades. Broken down into nine chapters, the first being Does it Matter that We Know, the latter being Overcoming the Reason/Faith Dichotomy; from start to finish of this 171-page book, everything Brenda touches upon is heartfelt, genuine and never once manipulative to her own cause. Brenda further dictates that she hopes her new book may help dispel any anti-intellectual approach to Christian commitment and allow widespread debate. I think, having now read the book twice through, that it will do just that, for our only job in this life is to reflect the love, goodness, grace and glory of Christ to a broken world. Everything else is in the firm and faithful hands of our loving God. ~ Exclusive Magazine, Review
When I started to study theology nearly 50 years ago I was greatly excited by the biblical criticism I encountered. It seemed to bring alive for me the faith in Jesus which energised the first Christian communities. It surprised me, however, that Christian friends who were perhaps not as enthusiastic as I for these newish approaches to Scripture, assumed that I would have little interest in or commitment to the Jesus who played with his friends in the streets of Nazareth and later walked the lanes of Galilee; in other words that I would be deeply sceptical about the ability to know very much at all about the historical Jesus. In this book Brenda Watson shows that indeed it is possible to embrace much of the excitement of more liberal twentieth century approaches to Scripture and still have a keen interest in and knowledge of the man who lived in Galilee. In the central part of her book, the author, in a wonderfully accessible way, shows how much of the scepticism about how much we can know of the historical Jesus is frankly misplaced and seems to be the result of not doing history very well. The author sets out to challenge the inherent scepticism of many who believe we can know little of the historical Jesus and does so very clearly leading us step by step along the way. For Christians who are concerned that Jesus is becoming a Santa Claus type figure to be dismissed as we come of age this book will be an immense help setting out clearly why the quest for the historical Jesus is far more possible than many would have them believe. In other words it simply lacks intellectual integrity to suggest that all we can know of the historical Jesus is simply fiction. In Chapter Three the book sets out very clearly why many of the suggestions as to why Jesus did not actually rise from the dead are open to very significant questioning - much in the way that Who moved the Stone? set this out for a previous generation. Many will find this worked out example very useful It is perhaps unusual to find a book that manages to combine both an acceptance of uncertainty with clear sense that we can indeed know something of the historical Jesus. In a world of instant reaction and comment the author helpfully challenges our desire for certainty; a certainty which is often too easily prevalent on both sides of the argument. She acknowledges that our knowledge will always be partial and thus provisional but points out clearly that that does not mean at all that it is just fiction. For the author, there is no reason whatsoever why faith and reason should not happily walk side by side.” ~ MARK WATTS BRYANT, , Anglican Bishop of Jarrow till his retirement in 2018
Our sceptical age has obscured the face of Jesus with major consequences. Many writers simply overlook his significance in Western history. Those who interpret the gospels discount crucial elements - not least, those seen to be supernatural. Committed Christians find themselves following whoever can present a fresh approach - from Bultmann to Crossan, trying to find 'the key' to understanding. Brenda Watson, in her study, “The Jesus Puzzzle”, challenges us to remember the guiding principles that inform all historical study and which should not be laid aside in assessing a figure of such importance. It is not enough to present the Galilean holy man, the revolutionary, the wandering healer, the Jewish rabbi, and more, unless we have treated the sources with respect, free, as far, as we are able, from secular assumptions. This book offers a valuable opportunity to re-examine the source material of Christianity, to reflect again on the roles of faith and reason, and to approach afresh the the miracles, not least the miracle of the Resurrection. Watson stresses the need for initial trust, when dealing with unique claims. Whatever conclusions we reach, the very existence of Christianity in history is seen as a miracle in itself. This demands an explanation and therein lies the challenge. ~ The Rev.,Graham Hellier, RE teacher (ret.) and author of “Free Range Christianity”.
"It may seem strange that, in a country with a long tradition of Christian faith, there should be a need for a book about the historical Jesus, but Brenda Watson has identified just such a need. Christians today attach importance to personal faith, church practice, church community, the Christian life (personal, social and political morality) and the role of biblical teaching, but they can lose focus on the facts of Jesus’ life on earth. Meanwhile, non-believers, whether or not they are conscious of a spiritual dimension in their lives, are inclined to dismiss the whole Christian story as myth. Watson seeks to encourage Christians to take the gospels more seriously as historical material for the life of Jesus, and to challenge the assumed atheism of our times in its dismissal of the importance of Jesus. Watson sets out to encourage us to think more deeply about the historical evidence concerning the life of Jesus and how we should approach it. She reminds us that the earthly life of Jesus was real, taking place at a specific time in history, in a specific place, and therefore in a specific cultural context. He wrote no books (in common with Socrates and the Buddha). He had no advanced education, no wealth, no political or military power, and yet his life, death and resurrection and his words, as recorded by others, have had a huge impact on generations of people throughout the world, giving meaning and purpose to their lives. This surely makes his place in history worthy of study. How should we approach a study of historical evidence? Watson goes into considerable detail. I shall just take up two of her themes. First, we should be wary of preconceptions. We should look at the facts before we make up our minds. This applies specifically to the transcendent. There is a common assumption today that science explains everything, that any suggestion that there might be something beyond, something transcendent, can be dismissed. The science writer Colin Tudge is one who questions this. In Why Genes are not Selfish and People are Nice, he writes that in the 1960s ‘we tended to pursue the ludicrous idea that all life could be reduced to physics, and physics to maths, and that was the end of it. Yet I never quite felt that that was the end of it. I always had an ill-informed but nonetheless powerful feeling that there is a great deal more to life and the universe than meets the eye’. He goes on to make the case that we should take seriously the idea of the transcendent. The belief that everything can be explained without recourse to the transcendent runs into trouble when it comes up against the facts. Bertrand Russell expressed this well, when he contrasted the facts of his personal feelings (feelings that he shared with most of humanity) with his theoretical belief: ‘I cannot see how to refute arguments for the subjectivity of moral values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don’t like it’. His theoretical arguments for the subjectivity of moral values couldn’t accommodate the facts of widely held moral values that transcend personal likes and dislikes. When facts don’t fit the theory, we should be willing to question the theory. We learn throughout our lives, and our understanding increases. Thus, when studying the life of Jesus on earth, we should have an open mind about the possibility of events taking place that may not fit in with our beliefs about the transcendent. Second, the relevance of the scientific approach to that of the historian. Science and history are both evidence-based, concerned with gathering factual information. In both disciplines, this evidence is assembled and presented in such way as to help to deepen understanding. Both disciplines recognise that all knowledge is partial, that further information may lead us to revise our understanding. In science, however, we seek patterns, we seek evidence that a certain set of circumstances and conditions, if repeated, will yield the same result, whereas in history every event is unique. History is the study of human behaviour in the past, and human behaviour is complex and far from being universally predictable.. The Jesus Puzzle is a book for our time. It will encourage Christians to be confident that their faith is founded on real events in history. I hope that it will also encourage others to understand that the Christian faith is more than just an outdated myth, but derived from a real man who lived at a specific time. As Watson reminds us, the teaching of Jesus is supremely relevant today. In a world that is divided by ideologies, Jesus’ message of love and reconciliation is as much needed as ever.” ~ HENRY HASLAM. , Author, The Moral Mind and The Earth and Us
If, like me, you cannot tolerate proselytising Christians - commonly known as 'God Botherers' - you should consider reading Brenda Watson's admirable book about Jesus as a historical figure. Without attempting to provide definitive answers to questions that cannot be substantiated; there are valuable and illuminating insights into the recorded life and teachings of Jesus, for the open-minded reader. I'm reminded that against a background of severe state suppression, one of Boris Pasternak's principal aims in his novel, Doctor Zhivago, and the Zhivago poems, was to communicate an awareness of the organic warmth and colour of life which had been connected to the Gospels. Against all the odds, the example of Jesus Christ still stands as a model from which humankind should aim to create a dignified, higher ideal, and a kinder world. ~ Peter Smith, Director, Autumn in Malvern Festival
The early Christians were called followers of ‘the way’. The way was the teaching and example of Jesus. Brenda Watson’s very readable short book encourages us to unearth and articulate that way – quite frankly it is the most important task for this generation of followers. ~ Peter Francis, Warden and Director, the Gladstone Library until 2023
Are accounts of Jesus' life mere 'stories' or based on historical fact? Is that relevant for faith? This incisive and important book argues - against the lazy prejudices of the present age - that what really happened nearly two thousand years ago still does matter. It deserves to be widely read. ~ Professor Roger Trigg, Senior Research Fellow, Ian Ramsey Centre, University of Oxford, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick
The Jesus Puzzle’ rigorously examines principles underlying Quests for the historical Jesus, exposing preconceptions that impede understanding. It robustly challenges dogmatisms, both secular and religious, commending open-mindedness and a combination of reason and faith, as of cognition and emotional awareness... It argues in favour of the overall historicity of the gospels and against an a priori rejection of the supernatural, accepting that all our knowledge is provisional. The book emphasises the relevance of the human Jesus for today with his message of putting people first. I am happy to commend Brenda Watson’s book as a thought-provoking and balanced study of historical methods coupled with comprehensive awareness of the centrality of Jesus in Western thought and culture. Her discussion of the Resurrection is particularly illuminating. ~ The Revd Nicholas Menon, former University and School Chaplain