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The Jesus Legend

A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition

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Christianity Today 2008 Book Award Winner

"The argumentation is compelling, and the authors marshal an impressive array of evidence, demonstrating a breadth of learning. . . . Eddy and Boyd build a cumulative case that makes a persuasive argument for the historical reliability of the Synoptic Gospels."--Kelly R. Iverson, Catholic Biblical Quarterly
Much New Testament scholarship of the last 200 years has seen fit, to one degree or another, to relegate the Jesus tradition as recorded in the Gospels to the realm of legend, i.e., to the realm of fiction. But is this really what the evidence points to? By drawing together recent scholarship from a variety of fields, including history, anthropology, ethnography, folklore, and New Testament studies, Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd show that the evidence actually supports--rather than refutes--the historical reliability of the Gospels and the existence of Jesus.

After first presenting the cumulative case argument for the 'legendary Jesus' thesis, the authors proceed to dismantle it and seriously bring into question its viability. In the process, they range through issues such as the historical-critical method, form criticism, oral tradition, the use of non-Christian sources, the writings of Paul, and the Hellenization of Judaism. They come to the conclusion that the view of Jesus embraced by the early church was 'substantially rooted in history.' Here is an important book in the field of Jesus studies, with potential textbook use in courses in New Testament studies and apologetics.


"Eddy and Boyd provide a clearly written, carefully researched, and powerfully argued defense of the historical reliability of the Synoptic Gospels. What makes this book noteworthy is the careful treatment of underlying issues in historical methodology and philosophy. A pleasure to read and a wonderful resource for those who have encountered troubling skeptical claims about the Gospels."--C. Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Baylor University

"I am gratified that my friends and colleagues Paul Eddy and Greg Boyd have taken my work as seriously as they have in this comprehensively researched book. Bravo for their repudiation of any bias of philosophical naturalism! Amen to their urging that the burden of proof is on whomever would reject any bit of gospel tradition as unhistorical. Other than this, I would dispute almost every one of their assertions--but that is why I recommend the book! What can you learn if you only reinforce your own viewpoint? I urge any reader of my books to read this one alongside them!"--
Robert M. Price, professor of biblical criticism, Center for Inquiry Institute, and fellow of the Jesus Seminar

"A most welcome survey and critique of modern-day imaginative reconstructions of the rise of Christianity that attempt to justify faith in the presupposition of a non-supernaturalistic Jesus. . . . Well-written and organized, containing a masterful command of the literature. Eddy and Boyd show the difference between an open historical investigation of the life of Jesus and much of today's fictional writing that claims to be historical research concerning the origin of Christianity. A very useful introduction for college and seminary students."--Robert H. Stein, senior professor of New Testament interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

"Eddy and Boyd have provided a thoroughly compelling cumulative argument--one of the very best available--for the reliability of the Synoptic Jesus tradition. Their book constitutes a superb treatment of the various issues, involving both fresh research and a brilliant synthesis of material from a variety of relevant disciplines (philosophy, anthropology, historiography, as well as New Testament, early Judaism, and Greco-Roman antiquity). It is far better argued and documented than the works of the vast majority of the skeptics it challenges."--Craig S. Keener, professor of New Testament, Palmer Seminary

"Misinformation about the historical Jesus and the reliability of the New Testament Gospels runs rampant in the twenty-first century. Some of this comes from eccentric or flawed scholarship; some from purely fictitious novels. Eddy and Boyd have surveyed technical and popular writing alike, in meticulous detail, and present what can be concluded responsibly about the trustworthiness of the Synoptic Gospels and the portraits of Jesus they contain. They compile a detailed and erudite case that supports Christian faith, but without the simplistic and unwarranted generalizations that one often hears in grassroots evangelical circles. Highly recommended!"--Craig L. Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary

"This is one of the most important books on methodological issues in the study of Jesus and the Gospels to have appeared for a long time. It deserves to be widely read."--Richard Bauckham, professor of New Testament studies and Bishop Wardlaw Professor, St. Mary's College, University of St. Andrews

"The Jesus Legend is the best book in its class. Authors Eddy and Boyd demonstrate mastery of the disciplines essential for critical assessment of the Gospels and competent investigation of the historical Jesus. Again and again they expose the dubious assumptions and underpinnings of the theories proffered by those who assume that Jesus either did not exist or that the New Testament Gospels give us little more than myth and legend. I recommend this book in the highest terms."--Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor, Acadia Divinity College, and author of Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels

The Authors

  1. Paul Rhodes Eddy

    Paul Rhodes Eddy

    Paul Rhodes Eddy (PhD, Marquette University) is professor of biblical and theological studies at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of a number of books, including Across the Spectrum. Eddy is the...

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  2. Gregory A. Boyd
    © Marcia Erickson

    Gregory A. Boyd

    Gregory A. Boyd (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary), formerly professor of theology at Bethel University, is senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, where average attendance has grown to 5,000 since he helped plant the church in 1992....

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Christianity Today 2008 Book Award Winner

"Skeptical answers to the question of what can be historically known about Jesus of Nazareth have elicited from evangelical authors a plethora of responses. This one, by biblical scholar Eddy . . . and megachurch pastor Boyd . . . is certainly among the best. It is accurate, up-to-date, grounded in a critical but fair understanding of its opponents' positions, and thoroughly situated within the academic literature. . . . Eddy and Boyd understand and accept the value of critical biblical studies, and they avoid much of the defensiveness that characterizes the genre. . . . [The authors offer] compelling, nuanced critiques of tradition-critical readings of the Gospels and helpful surveys of relevant external and archaeological data. Highly recommended for all academic libraries."--Steve Young, Library Journal

"The authors leave no doubt that the gospels are completely reliable in communicating the fundamentals of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, and that the gospel writers were neither attempting to deceive or were themselves deceived. Moreover, Eddy and Boyd marry accessible language with exhaustive, serious research, making The Jesus Legend the best one-volume debunking of the debunkers you could possibly give a college student, seminarian, or curious layperson."--Anthony Sacramone, First Things

"The most complete book now available on the historical reliability of the Gospels. . . . This book does something no other book does: it focuses on those who are most skeptical of the Jesus of the Gospels and the Church. . . . If you need a complete study, this is it."--Scot McKnight,

"The authors examine the claims of Jesus myth theorists in detail, but also launch an all-out assault on the assumptions of Gospel literary critics who teach that the oral tradition leading up to the formation of the Gospels was fundamentally unreliable. . . . Using recent intercultural, interdisciplinary studies on the nature of ancient oral tradition, the authors demonstrate convincingly that, although the period of oral tradition for the Gospels was relatively short, lengthy stories were often handed down very accurately over long periods of time. These new studies in oral tradition call into question the way scholars have assessed the formation of the Gospels throughout the last century. This book is very well written with extensive footnotes and indexes. It will be hard to take seriously any future book on the reliability of the Gospels that has not interacted with it. . . . Essential. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers."--D. Ingolfsland, Choice

"Answers a timeless question: Can we trust the Gospels to report to us an historical portrait of Jesus? This is simply an amazing book: exhaustive in its coverage, elegant in its style. Will see heavy use for many years to come."--Christianity Today Book Awards

"A rather meaty, though tasty, morsel. . . . The authors bring together an impressive range of bibliography to deal with such branches of knowledge as philosophy, historical method, psychology, anthropology, and theology. . . . This book, then, is for serious readers, but deals with questions that are of relevance to all Christians. . . . One of the most useful parts of this book is a clear depiction of the thought system the authors are challenging. . . . Christians have much to learn from the way these authors have analysed their opponents' position. . . . [This book] make[s] significant and original contributions presenting a range of sophisticated arguments for the reliability of the gospels."--P. J. Williams, Evangelicals Now

"In focused detail and in broad scope, with grand themes and precise formulation, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition sets a high standard for thoughtful consideration of the titled question. Eddy and Boyd work step by step through the disciplines and perspectives that seek to discern whether the synoptic gospels are accurate in their account of Jesus of Nazareth. . . . Challenges are explained with copious footnote references to the most compelling primary sources for each argument. Then the arguments are carefully evaluated. The authors continue this clear and fair process. . . . Eddy and Boyd build a methodical and documented case that warrants the best attention of the interested scholar or serious student."--James C. Peterson, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

"The historical reliability of the Synoptic Gospels remains a perennial and contentious issue among NT scholars. Eddy and Boyd, in this thoroughly researched and well-written book, provide a sustained and provocative defense for this reliability. . . . The strength of this work lies in its broad and penetrating critique of many aspects of the 'legendary-Jesus theory.'. . . In contrast, Eddy and Boyd propose what they term an 'open historical-critical method'--a rigorous approach to the Gospels that is sensitive to demands of critical historiography but is not predisposed to exclude, without justification, anything suggesting a reality beyond a closed system of natural cause and effect. The argumentation is compelling, and the authors marshal an impressive array of evidence, demonstrating a breadth of learning and mastery of the secondary literature that incorporate interdisciplinary studies from various fields. Such careful and insightful commentary is reflected throughout the book. . . . Eddy and Boyd build a cumulative case that makes a persuasive argument for the historical reliability of the Synoptic Gospels. Along with the wealth of secondary literature contained in the footnotes, the text pulls together a wide variety of studies that are pertinent to historical Jesus research. Though not all will agree with the authors' conclusions, this book will serve as stimulating reading for years to come."--Kelly R. Iverson, Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"Debates about the historical reliability of the gospels are not new. However, Eddy and Boyd here look at the issue from a new perspective. . . . Though the authors write in common syntax and vernacular, this book is intended for an academic audience, as it is laden with technical arguments and bountiful footnotes. Thus, I would not direct the potential reader to approach this text half-heartedly. Rather, for those potential readers who come to this text with intention and focus, they will be richly rewarded."--Bradford McCall, Pneuma Review

"The Jesus Legend is a truly outstanding book. It is well argued, well written, and well documented. The authors not only succeed in thoroughly debunking the theories viewing Jesus in terms of legend, but they also issue such serious blows to the form-critical and redaction-critical theories that it will be hard to take seriously the work of modern critics who do not interact with the material in this book."--Dennis Ingolfsland, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"The discussion of oral tradition stands out as the most original contribution of this work. The authors have combed through numerous studies on oral tradition from many different disciplines . . . to make their argument that Jesus traditions were likely transmitted accurately during the period . . . when they were passed on primarily by word of mouth. The large number of references they provide indicates that their conclusions about the nature of oral tradition are based on a more extensive examination of the relevant scholarly literature than probably any other NT scholar who has considered the question. . . . The Jesus Legend presents a powerful case for the essential accuracy of the Synoptics' portrayal of Jesus."--Jake O'Connell, Restoration Quarterly

"With the goal of establishing the plausibility of the Synoptic portrait of Jesus, the book contains dozens of discussions of a massive range of subjects. . . . There are over a thousand footnotes and a massive range of books cited. Overall, this book is a considerable achievement. . . . [It] synthesizes an enormous amount of material in a way that makes it accessible to students and pastors. . . . This is a highly informative useful book for a non-scholarly audience."--Simon J. Gathercole, Journal for the Study of the New Testament

"An excellent apologetic tool. . . . Eddy and Boyd take their opponents head-on, not shrinking back from the difficult questions . . . but demonstrating convincingly that, contrary to the Jesus Myth advocates, Jesus was not only an actual historical person but that the Synoptic Gospels are a reliable witness to His life, His miracles, and His resurrection. . . . Although this text is produced by two scholars who are masters of the historical literature and contemporary scholarship, they write in a style that is accessible to most readers. . . . This book would make an excellent text for an apologetics course or supplementary reading in a study of the Gospels. . . . Although [the authors] are always academically dispassionate and never disrespectful or bombastic, they do not hesitate to give hard-hitting analyses. . . . The amount of information they discuss, and the excellent analyses they provide, is too much to retain in a single reading. This is a text that one will often revisit and reread."--Thomas A. Howe, Christian Apologetics Journal

"The stated goal of Eddy and Boyd's book is 'to investigate the extent to which the portrait(s) of Jesus in the canonical Gospels--particularly the Synoptic Gospels--are generally judged as reliable history, on one hand, or as fictional legend, on the other.'. . . It is thoroughly researched, up-to-date, well structured and convincingly argued--virtues far too often lacking in works on Christian apologetics. As a textbook on Jesus studies and as a work defending the historical reliability of the Jesus tradition in the Synoptic accounts, I highly recommend it. The authors have effectively executed their goal."--Andrew W. Pitts, Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism