As a bit of a history nut and a pastor, I tend to read anything that deals with the historicity of Jesus. There are some great books out there, and there is some real garbage. Unfortunately, the garbage is usually published by the big names, so it is usually packaged better than the quality stuff. Most of the literature once subject is high on delivery and impact, but low on scholarship and objectivity.
Craig Evans’s little book Jesus and His World strikes a solid balance between being academic and popular. It is a well-written presentation of both well known and obscure evidence for the veracity of the Gospels. Evans combines modern archaeology with biblical, rabbinical and secular readings. The result is a satisfying of not necessarily exhaustive study of the subject.
Particularly, he responds to three main ideas:
1. Jesus’ hometown was an uncultured backwater
2. Jesus was illiterate, living in a largely illiterate world
3. The religious practices of the Jews of Jesus’ day do not match the gospels.
In each question, Evans presented substantial evidence, leaving room where evidence is unclear.
It is clear from the beginning that Evans is writing this book to respond to some of the current trends in Jesus scholarship, and he takes a reactive stance throughout the book. I felt that Evans does a good job of offering an overview of evidence that may discredit the pop theories from books like Bart Ehrmann’s Misquoting Jesus and John Dominic Crossan’s Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. While certainly not a definitive work on the subject and not really presenting any truly original ideas, the book does a good job of covering the basics.