The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ

( 21 )

Overview

From college classrooms to bestselling books to the Internet, the historic picture of Jesus is under an intellectual onslaught. This fierce attack on the traditional portrait of Christ has confused spiritual seekers and created doubt among many Christians --- but can these radical new claims and revisionist theories stand up to sober scrutiny?

Has modern scholarship debunked the traditional Christ? Has the church suppressed the truth about Jesus to advance its own agenda? What ...

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The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God

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Overview

From college classrooms to bestselling books to the Internet, the historic picture of Jesus is under an intellectual onslaught. This fierce attack on the traditional portrait of Christ has confused spiritual seekers and created doubt among many Christians --- but can these radical new claims and revisionist theories stand up to sober scrutiny?

Has modern scholarship debunked the traditional Christ? Has the church suppressed the truth about Jesus to advance its own agenda? What if the real Jesus is far different from the atoning Savior worshipped through the centuries?

In The Case for the Real Jesus, former award-winning legal editor Lee Strobel explores such hot-button questions as: Did the church suppress ancient non-biblical documents that paint a more accurate picture of Jesus than the four Gospels? Did the church distort the truth about Jesus by tampering with early New Testament texts? Do new insights and explanations finally disprove the resurrection? Have fresh arguments disqualified Jesus from being the Messiah? Did Christianity steal its core ideas from earlier mythology?

Evaluate the arguments and evidence being advanced by prominent atheists, liberal theologians, Muslim scholars, and others. Sift through expert testimony. Then reach your own verdict in The Case for the Real Jesus.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Atheist-turned-Christian Strobel, with four Gold Medallions and other awards, focuses on rediscovering the "real" Jesus, whose identity and message have come under attack in recent years. He addresses six major challenges and claims: that a "different Jesus" is seen in ancient documents that seem as credible as the four canonical gospels; that tampering by the church has damaged the Bible's portrayal of Jesus; that new explanations refute Jesus' resurrection; that Christianity copied pagan religions regarding Jesus; that Jesus didn't fulfill messianic prophecies; and that contemporary people should be able to choose what to believe about Jesus. As with his previous books, Strobel attacks the issues as an investigative journalist, though one with a clear agenda. He searches out experts (including Craig A. Evans and Michael Licona) to refute each objection, offering readers top evangelical scholarship revealed in everyday language while challenging the claims of liberal writers like John Shelby Spong, Bart Ehrman and others. "In the end," he says, "none of these seemingly daunting challenges turned out to be close calls... they were systematically dismantled by scholars... with facts, logic and evidence." Evangelical readers will come away with deeper understanding of the various arguments about Jesus. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Youth Worker Journal
'...provides solid apologetics attempting to rebut current attacks on the character of Jesus and the 'rampant relativism' Strobel believes has enveloped our culture....[A]ddresses today's questions in a captivating style useful for those who are ready for 'solid food' rather than 'milk.'' — Youth Worker Journal
Rick Warren's Ministry Toolbox
'Lee Strobel treats the subject with his usual excellence.'
YouthWorker Journal
'...provides solid apologetics attempting to rebut current attacks on the character of Jesus and the 'rampant relativism' Strobel believes has enveloped our culture....[A]ddresses today's questions in a captivating style useful for those who are ready for 'solid food' rather than 'milk.''
Youthworker Journal
'A solidly researched book in the series that offers sound apologetics, refuting many of the current challenges regarding the character of Christ. Great for the teacher desiring intellectual reflection.'
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780310292012
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Publication date: 2/1/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 631,406
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Lee Strobel was the award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune and is the best-selling author of The Case for Faith, The Case for Christ, and The Case for a Creator, all of which have been made into documentaries by Lionsgate. With a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale, Lee wrote 3 Gold Medallion winners and the 2005 Book of the Year with Gary Poole. He and his wife live in Colorado. Visit Lee's website at: www.leestrobel.com.

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Read an Excerpt

The Case for the Real Jesus

A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ
By Lee Strobel

Zondervan

Copyright © 2007 Lee Strobel
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-24210-9

Contents

Introduction: Searching for the Real Jesus..........................................................................................9 Challenge #1........................................................................................................................23 "Scholars Are Uncovering a Radically Different Jesus in Ancient Documents Just as Credible as the Four Gospels" Challenge #2........................................................................................................................65 "The Bible's Portrait of Jesus Can't Be Trusted Because the Church Tampered with the Text" Challenge #3 Part 1: "New Explanations Have Refuted Jesus' Resurrection".........................................................................101 Part 2: The Cross-Examination.......................................................................................................127 Challenge #4........................................................................................................................157 "Christianity's Beliefs about Jesus Were Copied from Pagan Religions" Challenge#5........................................................................................................................189 "Jesus Was an Imposter Who Failed to Fulfill the Messianic Prophecies" Challenge #6........................................................................................................................227 "People Should Be Free to Pick and Choose What to Believe about Jesus" Conclusion: Discovering the Real Jesus..............................................................................................261 Appendix A..........................................................................................................................271 A Summary of Evidence from The Case for Christ Appendix B..........................................................................................................................279 Helpful Websites to Investigate the Real Jesus Notes...............................................................................................................................281 Acknowledgments.....................................................................................................................299 Index...............................................................................................................................301 Meet Lee Strobel....................................................................................................................311

Chapter One

CHALLENGE #1

"SCHOLARS ARE UNCOVERING A RADICALLY DIFFERENT JESUS IN ANCIENT DOCUMENTS JUST AS CREDIBLE AS THE FOUR GOSPELS"

For nineteen hundred years or so the canonical texts of the New Testament were the sole source of historically reliable knowledge concerning Jesus of Nazareth. In 1945, this circumstance changed. Religion professor Stevan L. Davies

There's a very important historical point here, which is that in the last thirty years we have discovered real Gospels-hundreds of them-that are not the official Gospels, [but] that were part of the discussions in the early church. Commentator Andrew Sullivan

The rumor mill was churning. A political operative called one of my reporters with a tip that a candidate for Illinois governor had recently been detained by police after allegations that he had abused his wife. If this was true, the irony would be devastating: one of his responsibilities as the state's chief executive would be to oversee a network of shelters for battered women.

Since other news media had been alerted as well, I knew we had only a short period of time to nail down the story. I immediately assigned five reporters to pursue various angles of the investigation. We needed indisputable confirmation-preferably, a written document-before we could publish the story.

The reporters milked their sources. One of them came up with a time frame for the incident. Another got the name of the Chicago suburb where it allegedly took place in a public parking lot. Still, we didn't have enough. The information was too vague and uncorroborated.

Finally, another reporter was able to obtain the key piece of evidence: a police report that described exactly what had happened. But there was a snag. Because no criminal charges had been filed, privacy laws dictated that all names on the report be blacked out. At first glance, it looked like there would be no way to link the candidate to the incident.

As the reporter studied the report more carefully, though, she discovered that the police had inadvertently failed to delete one reference to the person involved. Sure enough, it was the candidate's name. Still, his name was rather common. How could we be sure it was really him? Digging deeper in the report yielded the final clue: the suspect had bragged about being the mayor of a certain suburb-the same position held by the gubernatorial candidate. Bingo! A match.

In a dramatic confrontation in the newspaper's conference room, I peppered the candidate with questions about the incident. He steadfastly denied it ever occurred-until I handed him a copy of the police report. Faced with the indisputable evidence, he finally admitted the encounter with police. Within seventy-two hours he had withdrawn from the gubernatorial race.

For both journalists and historians, documents can be invaluable in helping confirm what has transpired. Even so, detective work needs to be done to establish the authenticity and credibility of any written record. Who wrote it? Was this person in a position to know what happened? Was he or she motivated by prejudice or bias? Has the document been kept safe from tampering? How legible is it? Is it corroborated by other external facts? And are there competing documents that might be even more reliable or which might shed a whole new light on the matter?

That last question has come to the forefront in the quest to understand the historical Jesus in recent years. For centuries, scholars investigating what happened in the life of Jesus largely relied on the New Testament, especially Mark, Matthew, and Luke-which are the oldest of the four Gospels and are called the "Synoptics" because of their interrelationship-as well as the Gospel of John.

In modern times, however, archaeological discoveries have yielded a fascinating crop of other documents from ancient Palestine. Some of them paint a very different portrait of Jesus than the traditional picture found in the Bible, and they throw key theological beliefs into question. But can they really be trusted?

A DIFFERENT JESUS

In the years since my own investigation into Jesus, the focus on these "alternative gospels," in both academic and popular books, has greatly intensified. In the 1990s, several Jesus Seminar participants and others, led by Robert J. Miller, published The Complete Gospels, which juxtaposed the New Testament gospels with sixteen other ancient texts.

"Each of these gospel records offers fresh glimpses into the world of Jesus and his followers," says the book. "All of the ... texts in this volume are witnesses to early Jesus traditions. All of them contain traditions independent of the New Testament gospels."

To me, the implication was clear: these other gospels-with such names as the Gospel of Thomas, the Secret Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Peter, and the Gospel of Mary-were equal to the biblical accounts in terms of their historical significance and spiritual content. Indeed, said Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, "With so many hidden gospels now brought to light, it is now often claimed that the four gospels were simply four among many of roughly equal worth, and the alternative texts gave just as valid a picture of Jesus as the texts we have today."

The case for these other gospels has been bolstered by some scholars who date a few of them to as early as the first century, which is when Jesus' ministry flourished and the four Gospels of the New Testament were written. That would mean they would contain very early-and therefore perhaps historically reliable-material.

For example, Karen L. King, professor of ecclesiastical history at Harvard Divinity School, said the Gospel of Mary may arguably have been written in the late first century. Contrary to the biblical Gospels, in this text Jesus teaches that "salvation is achieved by seeking the true spiritual nature of humanity within oneself and overcoming the entrapping material nature of the body and the world." The disciples Peter and Andrew are depicted as "proud and ignorant men," while the gospel "identifies the true apostolic witness" of Mary Magdalene. In other words, she has the same stature as the other apostles of Jesus.

As for the Gospel of Peter, which includes a bizarre passage about a talking cross and the risen Jesus with his head extending beyond the clouds, scholars such as Arthur J. Dewey, associate professor of Theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati, date its early stage to the middle of the first century.

Then there's the incendiary Secret Gospel of Mark. Award-winning scholar Morton Smith of Columbia University, author of Jesus the Magician and other books, reported finding two and a half pages of this formerly unknown gospel in a monastery near Jerusalem in 1958. Scott G. Brown, who based his doctoral dissertation on the gospel, asserted in a 2005 book that it was penned by the same author who wrote the Gospel of Mark and was reserved only for those spiritually mature enough to handle it.

The most shocking claim in that gospel is that Jesus conducted a secret initiation rite with a young man that, according to Smith, may have included "physical union." Specifically, the text says that six days after Jesus raised a wealthy young man from the dead, "in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God."

Another explosive text-purportedly written by Jesus himself on papyrus in his own native language of Aramaic-was described by Michael Baigent in his 2006 New York Times bestseller The Jesus Papers. Directly contradicting what Christianity has taught for two millennia, Jesus explicitly denies that he's the Son of God, clarifying instead that he only embodied God's spirit. According to Baigent, Jesus added that "everyone who felt similarly filled with the 'spirit' was also a 'son of God.'"

THE MYSTERY OF THOMAS

The darling of liberal scholarship, however, is the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of 114 "hidden" sayings attributed to Jesus. In its 1993 book The Five Gospels, the Jesus Seminar granted this text equal status to the New Testament. Thomas's first edition, according to The Complete Gospels, was written about AD 50, earlier than any of the biblical Gospels. The Gnostic Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer, agrees with the early dating: "A version of this gospel may have been composed, most likely in Greek, as early as the middle of the first century, or somewhat later."

Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton University and author of Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, told me that she dates Thomas's composition to AD 80 or 90, which would be before many scholars date the Bible's Gospel of John. "The scholars that I know see John and Thomas sharing a common tradition," she said.

Yet the gospels of John and Thomas come to opposing conclusions concerning pivotal theological issues. "John says that we can experience God only through the divine light embodied in Jesus," Pagels said. "But certain passages in Thomas's gospel draw a quite different conclusion: that the divine light Jesus embodied is shared by humanity, since we are all made in the image of God."

The Thomas gospel describes Jesus not as the biblical redeemer, but as a wisdom figure who imparts secret teachings to the disciples who are mature enough to receive them. That's consistent with the Gnostic belief that salvation comes through knowledge, not through Christ's atonement for sin. "The salvation offered in the Gospel of Thomas is clearly at odds with the salvation (by grace through faith) offered in the New Testament," said Ben Witherington III of Asbury Theological Seminary. In the Gnostic view, he said, "a person has to be worthy to receive Jesus' secret wisdom."

Contrary to the Bible, Jesus is quoted in Saying 14 of Thomas as telling his disciples: "If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits." He is quoted in Saying 114 as teaching that "every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven." The gospel also quotes Jesus in Saying 7 as offering this inscrutable insight: "Blessings on the lion if a human eats it, making the lion human. Foul is the human if a lion eats it, making the lion human."

"The Gospel of Thomas contains teaching venerated by 'Thomas Christians,' apparently an early group that ... thrived during the first century," says Pagels. "We now begin to see that what we call Christianity ... actually represents only a small selection of specific sources, chosen from among dozens of others.... Why were these other writings excluded and banned as 'heresy'? What made them so dangerous?"

That's a good question. Were these alternative depictions of Jesus censored-even burned-because they dared to deviate from what was becoming the "orthodox" view of him? Was the first century a maelstrom of clashing doctrines and practices-all equally valid-with one dominant viewpoint eventually elbowing its way to prominence and brutally squelching the others?

This is the opinion of some scholars who talk in terms of early "Christianities" rather than Christianity. "With the council of Nicea in 325, the orthodox party solidified its hold on the Christian tradition," says the Jesus Seminar, "and other wings of the Christian movement were choked off."

All of this has profound implications for my personal quest to discover the real Jesus. Is it possible that my earlier conclusions about him have been unduly colored by New Testament accounts that in reality were only one perspective among many? Is the Bible's theology merely the result of one politically connected group repressing other legitimate beliefs?

"We can probably say with some certainty that if some other side had won ... there would have been no doctrine of Christ as both fully divine and human," says agnostic professor Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Clearly, a lot is at stake. I need to have confidence that the right people used the right reasoning to choose the right documents in the ancient world. I need to know if there was any historical support for these alternative texts seeing Jesus in a different light. Surely the Jesus that emerges from many of these documents looks radically different from the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Says Jenkins:

The hidden gospels have been used to provide scriptural warrant for sweeping new interpretations of Jesus, for interpreting theological statements in a purely symbolic and psychological sense, and for challenging dogmatic or legal rules on the basis of the believer's subjective moral sense. Generally, the hidden gospels offer wonderful news for liberals, feminists, and radicals within the churches, who challenge what they view as outdated institutions and prejudices.

I needed to go wherever the evidence would take me. Knowing there are almost as many opinions as there are experts, I wanted to track down someone who has sterling credentials, who would be respected by both conservatives and liberals, and who, most importantly, could back up his insights with solid facts and reasoning.

That meant flying to Nova Scotia and driving to a quaint village to interview a highly regarded historian whose professional endorsers range from the orthodox N. T. Wright to such leftwing scholars as Marcus Borg and even Jesus Seminar cofounder John Dominic Crossan, the now-retired DePaul University professor who claims to have discovered a different Jesus among the once-lost texts of antiquity.

After driving more than an hour from my hotel in Halifax, I rang the doorbell at the colonial-style house of Craig A. Evans in a heavily wooded community near Acadia University, where he serves as a professor of New Testament.

INTERVIEW #1: CRAIG A. EVANS, PH.D.

Evans came to Acadia University in 2002 after spending more than twenty years as a professor at Trinity Western University, where he directed the graduate programs in biblical studies and founded the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute. He received his bachelor's degree in history and philosophy from Claremont McKenna College, his master of divinity degree from Western Baptist Seminary, and a master's degree and doctorate in biblical studies from Claremont Graduate University, which also has produced numerous members of the Jesus Seminar. In addition, he also has served as a visiting fellow at Princeton Theological Seminary.

He is a prolific writer known for his scholarly precision as well as his ability to pierce the fog of academia with uncharacteristic clarity. He is the author or editor of more than fifty books, including Non-canonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation; Studying the Historical Jesus; Jesus and His Contemporaries; Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls; Early Christian Interpretation of the Scriptures of Israel; Authenticating the Words of Jesus; The Missing Jesus: Rabbinic Judaism and the New Testament; and Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies. He has lectured at Cambridge, Durham, Oxford, Yale, and other universities, as well as the Field Museum in Chicago and the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

For a decade, Evans served as editor-in-chief of the Bulletin for Biblical Research, and he is a member of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (SNTS), the Institute for Biblical Research, and the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies. He has been selected chairman of the Society of Biblical Literature's Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity Section and the SNTS's Gospels and Rabbinic Literature Seminar.

More recently Evans has been expanding his work into the popular arena. He has appeared as an expert on numerous television programs, including Dateline NBC, the History Channel, and the BBC, and his excellent book Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels, was published for a general audience in 2006.

Evans and his wife of thirty-two years, Ginny, opened their front door and invited me in. He was casually dressed in a short-sleeve striped shirt and dark slacks. His graying hair, parted neatly at the side, and his wire-rim glasses gave him a professorial air, while the tone and cadence of his voice sounded vaguely like commentator George Will. As we settled into chairs at his dining room table, I decided to ask him a series of background questions before we plunged into analyzing the legitimacy of the "alternative" gospels.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel Copyright © 2007 by Lee Strobel. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2007

    Standing Up to Cross Examination

    I was a high school debater and a coach of debate in college. One purpose of debate is so the listener can see both sides of an issue, similar to a witness giving testimony in a trial and then being subject to cross examination by the opposing lawyer. In ¿The Case for the Real Jesus,¿ Strobel deals with six modern challenges to Jesus Christ as He is known to the churches: (1)Documents give a different picture from the four gospels (2)The church tampered with the text of the Bible (3)Refutations to Jesus¿ resurrection (4)Influence of pagan religions on Christianity (5)Was Jesus really the Messiah? and (6)The relativity of choosing how one views Jesus. Strobel picks an outstanding specialist scholar for each of the issues and listens as the scholar gives the historical data defending the traditional views then, as in a debate, or a trial cross examination, Strobel (who was trained in law and was the legal editor for the Chicago Tribune), cross examines the scholar, picking at the soft spots of the data as written by many liberal scholars and non-Christians. The cross examination is well prepared with citations from many sources in published books as well as material on the internet. And it is relentless and thorough. One dramatic example is when Strobel interviews Dr. Michael L. Brown. Strobel listens as Brown presents a persuasive case for Jesus as Messiah, using a thorough knowledge of both the Old and New Testaments. In his summary, Brown sounds like an debater summing up the affirmative case and knowing that the judge will give him the verdict. But Strobel begins to pick at the soft spots, many of which can be devastating. However, Brown is able to successfully answer the questions, and in the end, after all the examination, Strobel must admit (and gladly) that all the evidence really points to and substantiates that Jesus is truly the Messiah. This is not a quick read, but it well worth the price and time expended. Teman Johnson, retired professor of Speech and English, Merced College, Merced, California

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2007

    The Case for Strobel

    By far, I believe this to be Mr. Strobel's most effective and strongest work to-date. While every bit as scholarly and thorough as The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ, The Case for the Real Jesus is imminently readable and arguably compelling. The book also takes on an air of urgency when viewed in the context of a modern apologetic soon to be placed alongside the likes of such celebrated anti-theists as Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris. Mr. Strobel has provided an unflinching examination of the most often heralded, increasingly repeated, and far too easily taken for granted points of contention of those with differing or antagonistic worldviews. As such, it is an indispensable tool for all Christians and an undeniable invitation to non-Christians: a book that serves to not only bridge the gaps of ignorance, naiveté, and hostility but to buttress our sometimes lagging personal pillars of faith.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Lee doesn't consult any "real Jewish prospective" sources...

    Lee makes two fatal mistakes... one... He doesn't ask one authentic Jewish Rabbi (Dr. Michael Brown is presented as Jewish but he is actually from a Christian view) to tell why the Jews don't believe in Jesus. Two... He doesn't consider God's opinion. God used specific Hebrew Words to convey his thoughts about the messiah. Christians like Lee must redefine the thoughts of God to prove Jesus is the messiah. Read the other side of the coin. The book I recommend below (Leaving Jesus) is written by a former Christian that has seen both sides of the argument. This book below presents God's opinion concerning the matter. Who will you believe?

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    Good Preparation for Discussions with Non-Believers

    Like other Lee Strobel books, this is another good one, giving additional information regarding opposing beliefs in the world and how to articulate the TRUTH.

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  • Posted May 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Okay But Not Great

    This book is very well written therefore the 3 star rating. However, as a firm believer and critical thinker, this book was a disappointment. As 75 reviews have already been submitted I certainly will not go into detail except to say that the author needs to remember the phase "confirmation bias".

    Unlike his journalism background, he did a very poor job of gathering information and reporting on the six questions or problems he started with. First off, he chooses very agenda-laden and biased scholars and (surprisingly) stopped there for all of his answers. Additionally, he did dig nearly deep enough with his questioning. If Larry King was the interviewer, these would be the types of softballs he would toss. I expect much better for $14.95.

    I also was a little put off by having to read how many books each author had in his personal library as if an active Amazon account equates to brilliance.

    Still, it was fun to read and well written. Buyer beware that there is no meat served at this meal.

    Michael L. Gooch

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  • Posted May 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Lee Strobel investigates fact and fiction surrounding the life of Jesus.

    If you are confused by all of the tales surrounding Jesus and want to sort out fact from fiction, this book is for you. This highly readable book written to describe what is known about the life of Jesus will maintain your interest, as well as, answer your questions. Lee Strobel's investigative news reporter style of writing provides the reader with a concise, solid foundation for discussing Christianity from a historical perspective.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2007

    A reviewer

    It is obvious that the author does not know Jesus.

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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