I was not long into the project of writing a novel about James, the brother of Jesus, a few years back, when someone asked me if I’d read Robert Eisenman’s massive scholarly work on the subject, James, the Brother of Jesus (which is the same title the publishing house ended up giving my novel, though it was not my working title). I hadn’t read it at the time and didn’t read it while I was researching the book, because I was specifically interested in writing about James from within the framework of the little that the New Testament said about him, and not drawing in extra-Biblical source material.
However, I have always felt a little guilty about not having read this book, and fascinated as I am by James, I decided that this would be my “big book” for Lent this year, as during my six-week fiction fast I usually try to tackle at least one book that’s long, heavy and a bit more “scholarly” than my usual reading.
Often such books present views and perspectives that are well outside the conservative-Adventist-Christian framework of Biblical interpretation that I’m familiar with. Although I frequently disagree with some of their conclusions, I always enjoy tackling big, meaty works of Biblical scholarship that challenge my ideas. I inevitably learn something and broaden my thinking even if I don’t come away agreeing with the author. Notable books of this type that I’ve read in the past include John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus and Finkelstein and Silberman’sThe Bible Unearthed.
I include this background information both to show what kind of reading experience I was expecting/hoping to have with Eisenman, and also to defend myself against the charge that “You just didn’t like it because it doesn’t fit with your orthodox beliefs.” Yes, my beliefs are pretty small-o orthodox, but I’m more than willing to read, think about and engage with non-orthodox ideas and scholarship. So my dislike of Eisenman’s James was not based on it being “too heretical” for me; it was based on it being a terrible piece of writing, full of argumentative holes through which one could drive a camel train, were one so inclined.
Disclaimer one: I’m not a scholar, just a moderately well-read layperson. These are my unprofessional, lay-reader responses.
Disclaimer two: This gets long.