Home > Books, News & Views > Another Review of Thomas de Wesselow The Sign.

Another Review of Thomas de Wesselow The Sign.

May 1, 2012

imageAuthor and theologian, David B Marshall writes in Christ the Tao in a posting entitled, The "Shrouded" Sign: Can Thomas de Wesselow explain the Rez?

Skeptic theories about Jesus, C. S. Lewis noted more than half a century ago, tend to succeed one another with "the restless fertility of bewilderment."  Indeed, while the idea that Jesus was, say, a "copy-cat savior" like Osiris or Mithras were old hat already in his day, even Lewis might be surprised to hear some of the wilder recent theories, such as that Jesus was a "hippy in an age of Augustan yuppies," a rip-off from his beloved Iliad, or just a fictional excuse for people to inject hallucinogenic mushrooms. 

No, we have not quite reached the end of this road, yet.  The ingenious, we still have with us.  A Cambridge-trained art historian has just come out with a new one, tracing the rise of Christianity back to the Shroud of Turin.   Jesus’ followers took him down from the cross, his wounds were printed (don’t know how, yet) on his burial cloth, and the resulting image launched the whole Christian myth!  Judging by the introduction, this is not the most poorly-written or weakly-imagined "Christ of Doubt" yet to have been conceived. Certainly, this Thomas De Wesselow fellow has wit and smarts, has read a bunch of books (but already, it seems, not nearly enough), and has that impregnably cool Enlightenment "Tude" down double kosher.

Who knows?  Maybe De Wesselow will be the one who finally strikes paydirt, and the Christian church will have to pack up its tent and use its spare crosses as stakes to hang laundry lines from by mid-summer! 

Or maybe, yet again, the evangelists and the facts they report will find a way to outwit their oh-so-scientific, Ivy-League, Oxbridge-educated critics, once again. 
Let’s see how be does, section by section, sometimes chapter by chapter. 

Chapter One: The Resurrection
A. The first chapter of the book gives promise both of an interesting read, from a man who has read widely and writes punchy prose, but also suggestions that the boxer may be fighting out of his weight class.  Let’s begin our review with five of the former. 

[ . . . ]

In the "Acts of the Apostles," the legendary history of the early Church contained in the New Testament . . . the book of Acts is not a particularly reliable source. (4)
In fact, historians have found that Acts is brimming over with 1st Century names, titles, places, and events that have been confirmed from other sources.  Witherington and Blomberg are among those who have documented this fact. 

[ . . . ]

Paul nowhere shows the slightest interest in the life and career of Jesus.
An exagerration. Quite a few details about Jesus’ life and teachings can, in fact, be found in the writings of Paul.  Anyway, as Richard Burridge shows, ancient biography often concentrated on the climactic events in a person’s life, as the Gospels do.  Paul seems familiar with some of that earlier material, and his moral teaching follows it fairly closely.  But of course the death and resurrection of one’s teacher do rather concentrate the mind.  

[ . . . ]

Tertullian, a contemporary Christian apologist, disarmed such rational objections  (as Celsus calling the Resurrection ‘nauseating and impossible’) by simply asserting, ‘the fact is certain, because it is impossible.
This misquote of Tertullian ought to be retired into the Skeptical Hall of Fame by now.  In Dawkins’ Delusion, McGrath shows how Dawkins abuses the very same quote.  My readers will have likely come across other instances of this miscitation.  

[ . . . ]

The sea of faith gradually swamped the empire, and the spirit of rational inquiry was washed away.

Oh, baloney.  A discredited version of Western intellectual history, another cheap shot that suggests DW is going to rely on a lot of stale old cliches in lieu of real historical research, at critical junctures. 

As even Richard Carrier admits, science had been ebbing for several centuries by the time Christianity was first tolerated.  In many ways, Augustine represented the last and perhaps greatest flowering of the intellectual power of Antiquity.  What put an end to Ancient Rome, though, was not this alleged "swamp" of Christian faith, but an intellectual decline that began even before the time of Christ, gradual demographic implosion of the sort that Italy and Japan face today (combined with immigration), but which  Christianity partly reversed, too little and too late, and then waves of armed invaders from the north. 

Blaming it all on Christianity is a taudry and hackneyed old ploy, that does not work anymore. 

The weightiest recent work on the founding event of Christianity is a spirited defense of the traditional doctrine by an Anglican bishop, Tom Wright, who makes hay out of the ongoing failure of the secularists to come up with a convincing story of their own. (10)

I agree that Wright’s book is good.  But why identify him merely as an "Anglican bishop?"  Philosopher Raymond Martin says his historical methodology is far and away the best among NT scholars.  Marcus Borg also rates him as the best British scholar of the NT.  Wouldn’t it be more relevant to mention his scholarly credentials? 

So already, one notes troubling signs that DW may be over his head when it comes to ancient Christianity.  One admires him for his boldness in stepping into this ring, even if he comes to the heavy-weight championship looking for a welter-weight opponent.
As an art historian, though, his discussion of the Shroud of Turin might be especially enlightening.  He was speaking mostly on this subject this afternoon, on the Michael Medved show, and made some interesting points.  That is the subject of chapter two.

Read the whole review. It picks Thomas de Wesselow’s book apart. And there is more to come from Marshall, apparently.

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