In contrast to all of the fanciful fabrications that have appeared in print recently, Buchanan’s compelling portrait of Jesus as a master diplomat, organizer, chief executive, and statesman is refreshing. Other authors have been led astray by some of the following nineteenth century invalid assumptions, presuming:
- that the later church composed the gospel reports unreliably,
- that all of the political terms in the gospels must be understood non-politically,
- that any expression of “the end” always means the end of the world, regardless of its context,
- that Jesus and his followers were illiterate, so the gospels were not written down until much later than the time when Jesus lived,
- that Jesus did not speak to his own age but to ours,
- what Jesus said and meant in his own day is not the most important scholarly concern. What is important is how reading the gospels makes readers think and feel today.
With all of these potential eliminations of selected historical facts about Jesus, twentieth and twenty-first century authors have moved freely to invent a Jesus to fit their own time and location, treating the gospels as if they were inkblot tests to be used to reflect the readers’ own feelings and opinions. Authors have disagreed about the details, because they had different needs. Some scholars think Jesus was a peasant, a Cynic, or a magician. For others he was probably illiterate. Some thought the gospel reports were inaccurately preserved from only an oral tradition. There has been a strong tendency to use some or all of these hypotheses as if they were computer default settings, or NO TRESPASSING territorial signs. These prevalent, invalid, restrictive assumptions have affected the way that scholars have approached the gospels and at least partially account for the many strange misconceptions given as solutions by westerners during the past century.
The historian Buchanan, however, has examined and rejected the assumptions that have functioned as default settings. He realized that the nineteenth century scholars who put up the NO TRESPASSING signs and established the default settings do not own the land or control the computers, so, without the inhibitions of the consensus, Buchanan has evaluated the texts for himself and found them reliable. This allowed Buchanan to write about the real Jesus, as he existed in his own country and in his own time. After Buchanan had tested a large portion of Jesus’ teachings and had shown that they were valid, he then introduced the readers to the coded messages and Jewish thought forms necessary to understand the meaning of this large body of material.
The gospels are not fairy tales or comic strips, and Jesus was not a fairy godmother who could wave a wand and change pumpkins into chariots and then back into pumpkins again. He was not the superman of comic strips who could fly like a bird and then return to be like an ordinary businessman, as he chose. Jesus was a real human being who sacrificed for his people, wrestled with difficult decisions and then made them wisely. He was never an illiterate peasant who told interesting stories only to the poor. He was not an antitype of Mahatma Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, or St. Francis of Assisi. He was never married. He was not a labor leader or an advocate of women’s rights. He lived in the Near East 2,000 years ago during a very tense period in Jewish history. He was very wealthy, but gave up all of his wealth and took monastic vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. He recruited a cabinet of some of the best leaders in Palestine, who also gave up all of their wealth to follow his lead. Buchanan’s careful history skills have checked all of the sources and have revealed that Jesus was a very religious, talented, well-educated upper class leader. He authorized his cabinet members to be his legal agents, and he organized a church as a legal corporation that could continue without his immediate physical presence. He addressed his message to the upper class who had money to give and talents to share. The church has reliably preserved in the New Testament the most important data that we have about Jesus. The real, Near Eastern Jesus is better than any of the western fabrications about him. The church he created is at its best when it follows his judgments and decisions.
The result of Buchanan’s research is a fascinating introduction to a brilliant leader that most of us hardly know. Jesus was not a simple peasant. This book is written so that people who can read newspapers will be able to understand it. Everyone who is interested in history, archaeology, or civil law will love this book. Others will also find it refreshing and insightful.