The Founder of Christianity

One of the books that I have recently read is C.H. Dodd’s The Founder of Christianity.  Dodd was one of the most important New Testament scholars of a previous generation.  This was his last book and it came out in 1970.  Despite being an older book, it is still a good read.  If you are looking for a book on Jesus filled with footnotes and references for you to track down, this is not the book for you.  This book is based on some lectures that Dodd gave and the footnotes in the main are just the the biblical references.  But if you are looking for a good solid retelling of the life of Jesus from a historical perspective, this is worth looking at. 

That is not to say that I agree with everything in it.  C.H. Dodd was a proponent of “realized eschatology.”  Realized eschatology means that the eschatological passages of the Gospels refer not to an event at the end of history but rather to something that took place in Jesus’ earthly ministry.  I disagree with this, believing with most scholars, that Jesus expected some major events to transform the world in the future, including his second coming. 

At the same time, there were many good things in Dodd’s book that were of value in my current research.  Here are a couple of quotes from Dodd on the idea of the Gospels as religious rather than historical literature and on their value as historical documents with an oral beginning.

The gospels are indeed religious documents; they do bear witness to the faith of the church; but that is not to say that they are not also historical documents or that their authors had no interest in the facts. Unless Luke is grossly misleading his readers, he set out, like his predecessors in the field, “to draw up an account of the events that have happened,” in order to covey authentic knowledge about them. And since he treated Mark as a valuable, though by no means infallible, source of information, we may take it that he regarded Mark as an historical as well as a religious document; and it seems impossible to deny a similar character to the other two gospels as well.

When all allowance has been made for these limiting factors—the chances of oral transmission, the effect of translation, the interest of teachers in making the sayings “contemporary,” and simple human fallibility—it remains that the first three gospels offer a body of sayings on the whole so consistent, so coherent, and withal so distinctive in manner, style, content, that no reasonable critic should doubt, whatever reservations he may have about individual sayings, that we find reflected here the thought of a single, unique teacher.

You can find the text of The Founder of Christianity on-line here.  It is definitely a book worth reading.

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