Part 1 of 2 (Part 2 here)
Alain de Benoist
L’Homme qui n’avait pas de Père: Le Dossier Jésus
Paris: Krisis, 2021
All translations of quotations from the book in this review are the author’s. Passages from the Bible are from the King James Version.
After two thousand years since the death and alleged resurrection of the man the Christian Churches call the Redeemer of mankind, and in whose honor the very years of human history are still counted, Alain de Benoist has closely examined the evidence relating to the life and death of the man retrospectively named Jesus Christ and published the results of his research in a book bearing the title L’Homme qui n’avait pas de père, Le Dosier Jésus (The Man Who Had No Father: The Jesus Dossier).
The aim of de Benoist’s book, as stated in his Preface, is to separate the historical Yeshoua (Jesus is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew name Yeshoua) from the Jesus of Christian faith. It is a fundamental tenet of Christian dogma that such an undertaking is wrongheaded from the beginning on the grounds that the accounts given in the four canon gospels which are incorporated into the New Testament are equally the revelation of religious truth, and also wholly accurate accounts of the life of the man called Jesus Christ.
Millions believe in Christ’s divinity, on the basis of which belief they are known as Christians. But what can they — or indeed anyone — claim for certain with historical evidence about the life of the man who gives his name to their religion, called only after his death Jesus Christ? According to de Benoist, almost nothing at all:
Literally everything has been written about Jesus. Every historical epoch, every people, each family of thought, every writer has offered a portrait which rightly or wrongly he or she considered the most credible or the most convincing. He has been represented in every conceivable manner: as God, as the Messiah, as a holy prophet, as a hero, as a revolutionary, even as a madman. From Norman Mailer to Nikos Kazantzakis, he has even been made the hero of novels. Dominic Crossan poses the question: Why is Jesus the most difficult to know and less easily reconstructed than any other person of ancient history of whom we have extant records? Crossan provides no answer; we can ask the same question. The truth of the matter is that on the one hand we know next to nothing for certain about Jesus; on the other, his life has been embellished to excess by thousands of beliefs, legendary traditions, and dogmas which have ended up obscuring the reality of his life. (p. 2)
From the outset, de Benoist stresses the difficult for any historian examining Christianity’s claims about the historical truth of the gospels:
What do we know today for certain about the life of Jesus? The answer is simple: Very little. That does not mean that we are in a complete fog, but it does mean that we have no alternative but to evaluate the information we have according to a system of greater or less likelihood. That information is in fact plentiful, even abundant, but confused and even contradictory, making it difficult to have a coherent picture in which we can fit one piece of information in relation to another. It is like having thousands of pieces of a jigsaw puzzle without enjoying the advantage of knowing what the completed puzzle is going to look like once completed. (pp. 1-2)
The comparison with a jigsaw puzzle seems to me misleading, because it implies that if we read our way through de Benoist’s tome, we shall obtain a clear picture of Jesus the man — a completed puzzle, so to speak. It is not so. If we wish to keep the jigsaw puzzle analogy, it would be more apt to say that de Benoist is adroit at highlighting multiple cases where the Christian story involves forcing pieces of the puzzle violently together when it is clear that they do not fit. His book abounds with cases of pieces of a puzzle being manipulated or forced into place; but de Benoist himself offers no completed puzzle and no satisfactory picture of Jesus Christ. Any reader who undertakes the long perusal of de Benoist’s nearly thousand-page monograph should not therefore do so in the hope of arriving at a true and evidence-based account of Jesus’ life, an objective assessment of Jesus’ historical achievements, or of being offered a picture of a historically authentic Jesus Christ. Without a conscious act of religious faith, the puzzle remains incomplete, and the life of Jesus one of the great mysteries of history. For the non-believer it will remain a mystery after reading de Benoist’s entire work as much as before reading it. Furthermore, de Benoist’s study is so immersed in comparing different accounts and sources in detail that it never approaches anything resembling a comprehensive biography.
De Benoist’s work offers no original ideas, but it does not aspire to do so. His work is offered to the reader as a huge accumulation of bibliographical data and assessments of veracity by well-informed comparisons, creating in toto a monumental work of scholarship, rich in researched sources and abounding in cross-referencing. It is not unfair to say that this work is both exhaustive and exhausting. For anyone whose familiarity with the gospels is more or less limited to what they gleaned from Sunday school or church readings (that is to say, most people who are now middle-aged and grew up in a Western culture), it may come as a shock from reading de Benoist’s work to learn how much controversy surrounded the authentication of some accounts and the rejection of others in the Christian Church’s early history. Many Bible events are hard to explain in terms of Christian doctrine; surely this is one reason that, for centuries, the Church penalized the translation of the Bible into the vernacular, even making such translations a capital offense.
Who was Jesus Christ, really? Did he even exist? Apart from the biographical highlights recounted in one or more of the four Biblical gospels and the parables attributed to Christ and quoted down the centuries by preachers and evangelists, the historical account of Jesus’ life is not a lucid story at all. It consists instead of a series of dramatic events, miracles, and confrontations recounted by early proselytizers acting for the religion which bears his name. Nothing exists that was written by the man himself; indeed, we cannot be sure that he was even able to write. Apart from a story related only in John 8:1-11 (The Woman Caught in Adultery), in which Jesus wrote letters in the sand (we are not told in what language), there is no record that Jesus wrote anything whatsoever. If Jesus were illiterate, he would have been like the great majority (some 90%) of his contemporaries. The oldest copies of New Testament writing excluding the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Greek, and date from the third century. Of course, there is no evidence that the earliest extant copies of the New Testament are in fact the earliest to have been written.
Biographical accounts of Jesus are therefore exclusively accounts written about him. No biographical account written by him exists or has ever been said to exist. The subject of unending admiration, worship, and speculation is never the narrator of events in his own dramatic life.
De Benoist ably demonstrates by multiple comparisons that the four gospels of the Biblical canon are not in harmony with one another. The account of Jesus’ life as given “according to Saint John” is particularly different in tone, and de Benoist believes also in intention, from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. There are other gospels not accepted by the Church as the word of God and therefore excluded from the Bible, including the lost Gospel of Thomas that was rediscovered among the Gnostic records in 1945 near the Egyptian town of Nag Hammâdi, along with the Gospel of Philip and others. a year before the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, which included ancient texts from the Old Testament.
The extant four gospels from the New Testament, as well as Acts, are dated between 367 and 397. The Gospel of Thomas quotes Jesus addressing his brother Didymus. Confusingly, Didymus is Greek for twin, while Thomas in Aramaic also means twin. It is not clear if this is the “doubting Thomas” of the Gospel of John. The Gospel of Peter, discovered in 1885-1886, describes the resurrection in more detail than the canon gospels and is remarkable for being written in the first person. There are also the Philip and Judas gospels, both written in Coptic.
The orthodox biographical narrative of Christ’s life, which means the accounts given in the four gospels that are accepted by the Church as “canon” and which constitute the major part of the New Testament, continues to this day to be pronounced by Christians as literally God-given “gospel truth.” In the history of the Church, the Biblical account could not be challenged in any way. It was jealously guarded by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Said “gospel truth” was maintained as incontestable truth against skeptics and sundry “heretics” by use of the persuasive power of violence, terror, torture, and murder, and not least in effectiveness, social and cultural consensus and conformity.
L’Homme qui n’avait pas de père is neither a statement of faith nor a repudiation of it; it is intended to be neither hagiographic nor iconoclastic, nor is it a plea for skepticism. De Benoist makes it clear in his Preface that he is leaving questions of faith (e.g., was Jesus God become man or was he simply a great man? Did he perform miracles or are these fables? Did he himself rise from the dead?) entirely to one side, such questions being matters, de Benoist argues, which are not the business of the disinterested historian either to deny or to affirm. Such an approach is unacceptable in Christian dogma. The Bible’s two testaments, according to Christianity, are the definitive word of God, such that the gospel stories are simultaneously history and revealed religion, each aspect inseparable from the other. In that sense de Benoist’s book, by distinguishing between historical veracity and statements of faith, is necessarily at odds with Christian doctrine, however much de Benoist insists he is not challenging Christian faith in any way.
Among the multiple sources and references cited by de Benoist there is no mention of Frederic Ferrar’s Life of Christ (although there are references to and citations from the leading skeptical biographers: David Friedrich Strauss’s Leben Jesu and Ernest Renan’s Vie de Jésus), but Ferrar’s is as it were the standard Christian biography of Jesus and is the way many Christians would picture the life of the man/God whose life is depicted through anecdote in the gospels. It is regrettable that de Benoist ignores Ferrar’s biography entirely.
There is also no mention of Douglas Reed’s The Controversy of Zion, a work which represents an influential current in Christianity of those who believe that Christ was a challenger to the order of Judaic priests and racial exclusivists who had dominated the tribe of Israel from the days of the Babylonian captivity (an interpretation which favors the Gospel of John over the synoptic gospels); also, no time is given to the many sensationalist writers. There is no mention of Tony Busby, for example, even to dismiss him. De Benoist would probably argue that such emotional and sensationalist writers are not his concern, but they are writers who have attracted large readerships, especially those concerned with the very subject of L’Homme qui n’avait pas de Père.
This raises the question: To whom is de Benoist’s book intended to appeal? It has neither the inspiration of faith, nor the excitement of scandalous or shocking revelation, nor the passion of the committed atheist — nothing to make it emotionally very appealing. It also offers, so far as I am aware, no original scholarship. It is a vast collation of accounts of sources and evidence.
In de Benoist’s own words:
This book is addressed not to specialists, nor to the general public, but to cultivated readers desirous of learning more (about the gospels). . . . The purpose of this book is to seek to answer a recurring question: Historically speaking, what is known of Jesus and what can be known? Nothing more . . . The fourth and fifth parts deal in a detailed fashion with a delicate question concerning the charges of illegitimacy brought against Jesus in his lifetime . . . Were those accusations well-founded? In our opinion there are good reasons for believing they were, but again, no definite conclusion is possible. (pp. 5-6)
This work will find its place in Bible scholarship, but that place is likely to be visited only by those very few who have time and desire enough to approach the question of the historical Jesus in every possible detail. The readership of L’Homme qui n’avait pas de Père is never going to be a large one.
Like fellow rationalist (by which I mean a man without religious faith) scholar Bart Ehrman, de Benoist believes that Jesus did exist. It is certainly true that there is very little mention of Jesus in the first three centuries other than that written by his followers, a fact sometimes proffered as evidence that Jesus Christ himself was an invention and his life story some kind of conspiracy. As de Benoist justly points out, however, it is irrational to assume that the absence of proof is proof of absence. Furthermore, given the determination of Christians, as a result of the very nature of their relation to Jesus, to destroy any records which did not accord with their account of Christ and Christianity, it is perfectly plausible that non-Christian — and even more, anti-Christian — accounts of Christ’s life would have been eliminated by the Church. Under the Christian Emperor Valens, thousands of books were destroyed. In 391 the great library at Alexandria was pillaged. In 398, the possession of “heretical” books was made a capital offence. In 447, Leo I demanded the burning of all gospels other than the four canon ones.
According to the scholar Robert Joly, the Dead Sea scrolls confirmed the Jewish origins of the Christ story. They certainly showed that the Old Testament was not a Medieval forgery, as some skeptics had maintained, since the Old Testament scrolls — most notably the Book of Isaiah, which was found nearly complete — have been dated to at least several centuries before the birth of Christ.
It is interesting to note that it is only in modern times that the historical existence of Jesus has been challenged. At the time of early Christianity, nobody questioned the existence of Jesus himself, which surely Roman authorities would have done had Jesus been a mere invention. De Benoist does not claim, as Christian writers of course necessarily do, that Jesus existed beyond all reasonable doubt, but he argues (pp. 83-95) that the case for a historical Jesus is considerably stronger than the case for Jesus as a fictional creation of some kind of conspiracy.
De Benoist, who devotes many pages to highlighting friction between one gospel and another (the Church on the contrary strives to stress the canon gospels’ similarity) argues that those very contradictions point to the historical existence of Jesus rather than the reverse. Were Jesus the invention of a conspiracy, one would expect the gospel accounts to be coherent and not running counter to each other: two Bible gospel accounts mention a virgin birth, while two do not; miracles are described differently in different gospels, or are described in one gospel and not in another, and so on.
It is ironic that among those who believe that Jesus is a fictional character are people who have been misled by the Church into believing that the gospels themselves are coherent, whereas de Benoist demonstrates at great length and very convincingly that they are not. The contradictions in the gospel narratives in de Benoist’s eyes are strong evidence in favor of the case for Jesus’ historical existence. If the biography of Jesus is invented, then it is an invention with many inventors.
The letters of Paul, de Benoist notes, although placed in the Bible after the Gospel stories, were almost certainly composed before them, and relate to meetings with and letters to groups of people who acknowledge allegiance to a man who had recently been executed. Paul met both James, Jesus’ brother, and Képhas (called Petrus in the Latin translations of the gospels and Simon Peter in English). It is highly unlikely that so many people and several non-Christian writers could have all joined in some kind of conspiracy to create a man who in fact never existed — unlikely, but not quite impossible. Likely but possible, unlikely but possible — these are inevitable leitmotifs of the story of Christ’s saga. De Benoist quotes Michel Tarideu as writing,
whether an event recorded in one of the gospels really happened is not so important. What matters is the faith which created the account and which formulates it differently according to place and situation. . . . The gospels are a text which inform us about a faith of which it is feasible to write a history, but history cannot in any way be written on the basis of the gospels. (p. 165)
Nevertheless, de Benoist himself tends to distinguish between “authentic” and “inauthentic” Gospel accounts, citing Bart Ehrman, who estimates that only seven or eight of the books of the gospels were written by the writer who bears the name of the gospel in question. De Benoist also seems to think that most people do not believe that the gospels are literal historical fact, but that is surely what Christians do believe. Nevertheless, surely all talk of historical facts in the gospels is for the most part speculation. When we start assessing coherence and authenticity, we are entering a labyrinth.
De Benoist also rejects the notion, propagated by Ernest Haeckel and later by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, of an Aryan, non-Jewish Jesus. The case is argued that Jesus came from Galilee, which had a diverse population that included large numbers of non-Semitic settlers. The people of Galilee were of the Jewish religion, as per Chamberlain, but not of Jewish blood. Jesus was certainly portrayed as Jewish in the gospel accounts. The accounts we have of Jesus’ life are of someone rooted in Jewish tradition: quoting from it, diverging from it, disputing within it. The name Jesus is a Greek transcription of the Hebrew Yeshoua. Similarly, the name Mary is the European form of Miriam, the etymology of the name being unclear but certainly not Aryan, unless we consider it to be Egyptian and Egyptian to be Aryan. The name could indeed be Egyptian in origin, from Mneri Amon — beloved of Amon. Maram in Arabic means desire. De Benoist notes that Miriam is an uncommon name in the Old Testament, but frequent in the New Testament.
The gospels, de Benoist points out, say extremely little about Mary, which is remarkable given her role. She is only once mentioned in the Gospel of Mark, and not mentioned by name in John at all. Nothing is known of her parents or even where she was born. The only indication of a family tree is in Luke 1:36, when she is described as “cousin” to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Jesus never once refers to Mary as his mother, which the French scholar André Fenillet claims would have been an extremely unnatural comportment in Jewish culture then as much as it is today. The usual way Jesus would address his mother in Jewish culture would be “imma,” meaning mother. The gospels clearly indicate that Jesus’ family were observers of the laws of Moses. The belief that Jesus was Aryan (an Aryan who according to Luke 2:21 was circumcised eight days after his birth according to Jewish religious law, was introduced to the temple as the first born according to Jewish tradition, etc.) is after all an act of faith as much as the belief that Jesus was God is an act of faith.
The gospels nowhere describe Jesus’ appearance. It would certainly be remarkable, but presumably not impossible (here the reviewer acknowledges his lack of scholarly information on the subject, and de Benoist does not illuminate the reader on this point), depending on whether it was usual or even possible for the descendants of, say, Greeks or Syrians in Galilee to convert to Judaism and become practicing Jews. De Benoist is content with pointing out that Jesus’ upbringing, education, and social and religious milieu were entirely Jewish, and quotes the writer Edouard Dujardin from La Source du Fleuve Chrétien:
For about three centuries, and certainly since the first Maccabees, which is to say for a century and a half, Galilee had been Judaized. The Galileans practiced the Jewish faith, lived a Jewish life . . . they were Jews. (p. 78)
This necessarily begs the question as to what one understands by the term “Jewish”; insofar as it means being accommodated and growing up in the Jewish faith, certainly everything points to Jesus’ Jewishness. Jesus’ biological race, on the other hand, which does not seem to interest de Benoist at all, must remain a matter of conjecture, but all accounts of him position him in a Jewish milieu and as referring to Jewish scripture, Jewish mores, and Jewish prophesy. Aramaic, a Semitic language, was most probably the mother tongue of Jesus and his family.
Nevertheless, it is a fact that there is an astonishing absence of accounts concerning Jesus and his ancestry when one considers the importance of the man and the impression which he made on the masses as narrated in the gospels, and later, of course, on human history.
De Benoist notes,
in the first century he is not mentioned in any pagan source, history book, legal or administrative document, nor in any letter which has come down to us. The first time that his name appears other than in a Christian text is in a letter by Pliny the Younger (Plinius Caecilius) written in about the year 112 to the Emperor Trajan, asking him what is to be done about the so-called Christians who meet together before the rising of the Sun and who recite hymns directed towards Christus as though they are addressing a God. (p. 129)
De Benoist considers the letter to be authentic, thereby incidentally reminding the reader that we are always fishing in obscure waters when it comes to stories about the man called Jesus. What is retrieved, retained, changed, lost, falsified, amended, and forged, and what is outright invention? Nobody, other than those who claim to be enlightened by faith, can be sure.
Tacitus mentions Jesus as well. In a letter to the Emperor Nero, he describes the Christians as a “detestable sect.” The authenticity of this letter has been contested many times, however. Suetonius writes that the Emperor Claudius had Jews expelled from Rome because they were agitating in the name of someone they called Christ. Better known are two references to Jesus by Flavius Josephus. Flavius Josephus’ original name was Joseph ben Mattathias. His was born into a family of Hasidic Jews around the year 37 and would therefore have nearly been a contemporary of Jesus. He led an army in the first Jewish revolt against the Romans (66-70), but was captured.
Josephus somehow so impressed the Emperor Vespasian that he was released from captivity and even promoted, hence his new name in honor of his benefactor. He received an annual pension and wrote two historical accounts, called together The Wars of the Jews. He mentions Jesus twice in them. The fact that he mentions Jesus as “the Christ,” however, which was a Greek designation meaning the anointed one, means that either Josephus had secretly abandoned his Jewish faith while officially maintaining it all his life, or that the mention of Jesus is a Christian interpolation. Believing Jews never refer to Jesus as “Christ,” because the Greek word implicitly affirms that Jesus is the Messiah — the very Christian claim which Judaism explicitly rejects. De Benoist states that Flavius’ referring to Jesus as “Christ” is therefore likely to be another case of tampering with historical records. We do not know what records about Jesus may have been lost or destroyed, and of the records which have come down to us, we do not know what might have been changed or what might be an interpolation.
De Benoist’s study goes into Jesus’ parenthood in considerable depth, as we should expect from the title (“the man who had no father”), but it does much more than that. Taking the remarkable account of Jesus’ parenthood (how likely is it that Jesus was the son of Joseph in a biological sense?) as a starting point, it considers how Jesus was regarded by his contemporaries. It examines the claim in two of the gospels that Jesus was born of a virgin. Did Jesus have brothers and sisters, or were they, as some suggest, in fact cousins, or half-brothers and -sisters? Alain de Benoist acknowledges that these and many other questions cannot be answered with certainty. With this acknowledgement at the start of his long journey, he forewarns the reader that his work will conclude with no sensationalistic discoveries, reach no novel conclusions, and offer no new and exciting conspiracy theories. Mystery remains mystery.
Did Jesus marry? There is no mention of a wife in any gospel, although celibacy was frowned upon in Jewish culture. Jesus was officially declared single by Clement of Alexandria in 215, and since then Church teaching has assumed that he never married. Alain de Benoist believes that Jesus is likely to have been considered mamzer — illegitimate — if Joseph and Mary were not married when Jesus was born. In that case, it would not be permissible for him to marry. It would also explain Jesus’ open hostility to the family as recorded in the gospels. De Benoist writes about Jesus’ words on divorce in the Mark 10:11-12: “And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.” Since divorce was not possible under Jewish law, notes de Benoist, this is evidence that whoever was writing the Gospel of Mark was doing so in the context of Roman or Greek law, and must necessarily have put the words about divorce into Jesus’ mouth (p. 473.)
What can we make of all this? What we can do, de Benoist argues, is methodically compare accounts, assess how likely one account is compared to another, and take into consideration the prevailing historical, social, and cultural circumstances. Not least, we should not lose sight of the intentions which may lie behind the account of Christ’s life in one way rather than another. We can speculate as to the likelihood of one series of events; one fact, compared to another, based on what we do know of the time and accounts given. Every historian of the New Testament is hampered by the fact, and must always bear in mind, that the gospel accounts in their entirety were provided by ardent adherents of a sect which believed that Jesus was literally God. It is exactly the inevitable uncertainty of non-Christians which true believers like to exploit to reinforce their certitude. The historians and agnostics cannot be certain of anything, they say, because they “have not let Jesus into their hearts.” A Christian can be sure of the Biblical account of Jesus’ historical truth because belief in Jesus is a God-given act of faith.
It is one of the achievements of de Benoist’s book that the reader finishes the thousand pages of study in absolutely clarity and being in no doubt that, from a historical perspective, the gospel accounts are unproven and cannot be proved. Believing in the truth of the gospel stories is therefore an act of faith, and cannot possibly be a matter of historical science. De Benoist stands there as a doubting Thomas, but unlike St. Thomas, is offered no stigma by a resurrected Christ as material proof of the second Adam’s conquest of Death. Where the willingness to believe is strong, when the “soul opens to receive Jesus,” faith will follow. Good for faith, but faith is not science; it is not even reason. It is what it says it is: faith.
For anyone who grew up in the Christian faith, it is easy to forget — or perhaps it was never realized — that much of Christ’s life, notably his childhood and the years before his ministry, receives very little attention in the New Testament. De Benoist stresses this fact and also highlights the differences within the four Biblical gospels themselves. Churches seldom stress the fact, for example, that the dramatic and supernatural account of Christ’s birth is only given in Matthew and Luke. An interesting discrepancy noted by de Benoist of which this reviewer was unaware is that the names of the 12 apostles are not the same in the four gospels. The gospels are not interested in and say nothing, or very little, about most of the 12 apostles in any case. This is one example of a list of inconsistencies and discrepancies noted by de Benoist; and his list is a very long one.
With respect to the comparison of gospel accounts, de Benoist is following in the footsteps of the renowned Bible scholar and Bible skeptic Bart Ehrman, but the focus in his book is slightly different: not to lay bare supposed contradictions in gospel stories in order to undermine the credibility of their complete veracity, which is what Ehrman does, so much as to see what is the most likely biographical trajectory and the extent to which we can believe it, and what parts of it we are justified in believing or that we can at least accept as likely, and if so, to what extent and which accounts and anecdotes in the gospels are unlikely or scarcely credible. De Benoist, following his intention of avoiding theological dispute, does not challenge the likelihood of any of the miracles directly, but he does sometimes question the circumstances leading up to them. For example, he does not discuss the actual miracle of the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2:1-11, the changing of water into wine), but does query the circumstances relating to the invitation to Jesus and his mother, and the unquestioned but highly implausible authority of Jesus and his mother as guests at the wedding feast, as well as the issues of why they were invited in the first place and why Joseph, as head of the family, was not present. Was he already dead?
The examples of things that are included in one gospel and omitted or recounted quite differently in another are legion. A few examples given by de Benoist include the Resurrection of Lazarus from the dead appearing only in John, the omission of the Last Supper story from John, the recounting of the Massacre of the Innocents only in Matthew, the Ascension only in Luke and Mark, the virgin birth only in Matthew and Luke, and Matthew being the only one to claim that Jesus didn’t preach in Galilee until after the arrest of John the Baptist, whereas John states the very opposite. In Matthew Jesus is taken by his “parents” into Egypt after his birth. In Luke, the family immediately travels to Jerusalem for their son’s mandatory circumcision. In Luke 9:51-54, the Samaritans reject Jesus. In John 40-42, they welcome him as the “savior of the world”. In Luke 24:50, Jesus ascends into heaven from a place near Bethany on the very day of his resurrection from the dead. In the Acts of the Apostles the ascension takes place in Jerusalem 40 days after the resurrection. These are a handful of the very many discrepancies and omissions cited by de Benoist. Not a single miracle is reported in the same way in any two gospels.
A work like this needs some guideposts to make it manageable, but the guideposts, such as they are, struck this reviewer as indistinct, obscured by the overwhelming scholarship of the work as a whole. In other words, a major shortcoming of L’Homme qui n’avait pas de Père is that it fails to provide an easy overview of the many aspects of the life of Jesus which it examines. It is very strong on detail, but unclear on generality. Particularly regrettable is the lack of an index of names for the thousands of authors cited. This is probably owing to the vast compilation and thousands of sources considered, making an index of authors lengthy and tiresome to construct, but it remains a significant failing of the book. This failing reduces the usefulness of L’Homme qui n’avait pas de Père as a reference work in its own right.
De Benoist’s dossier is divided into six major chapters: The Quest, The Documentation, Jesus, The Man without a Father, the Mamzer, and After Jesus. These chapters are in turn subdivided into many smaller chapters. References are provided at the end of each of the six major chapters as numbered notes in order of reference. Thus, if a reader wishes to see whether de Benoist refers to David Conner’s All That’s Wrong with the Bible or Dale Allison’s work, Constructing Jesus, it is necessary to refer to the endnotes in each chapter, skimming through the pages to see if Conner or Allison’s name appears, and then to refer back to the page number. There is in fact a note reference for Dale Allison, but de Benoist’s text does not mention him by name in the main text.
This does not mean that de Benoist does not provide the reader with bibliographical references; quite the contrary. Although there is no index, the bibliographical notes are extensive, with about 20 pages provided for each chapter. This makes the lack of a general index of authors all the more puzzling. The lack of such an index in a work of this kind, where it would be especially useful, is an example of what strikes this reviewer as poor organization throughout the work; a lack of a clear outline which makes L’Homme qui n’avait pas de Père harder to digest than it needed to have been. The study is closely focused on detail and comparison, but it offers no useful summary, no useful overview, and no series of markers of the main points examined: Jesus’ parenthood, comparative accounts of his life, the historical veracity of the accounts, the gospel interpreters, the language in which the gospels were written, and who translated them and where. All these issues are certainly addressed, and addressed in detail, but a reader will struggle to find an overview or even a tentative conclusion regarding any of them. The work reads more like a guided tour of gospel scholars than a guided tour of the gospels themselves, or of the Jesus drama.
To be fair, de Benoist makes it clear he wishes to nail no flag to no mast. As he stressed in an interview with Breizh-Info, L’Homme qui n’avait pas de Père is not a polemical or theological work (as in a sense the works of Bart Ehman may be said to be), so his book is anything but sensationalistic. It might, with more humor, have been called All You Wanted to Know about the Background to the Gospels but were Afraid to Ask. It is a scholarly, scrupulously researched and referenced examination of the historical figure of Jesus Christ as recounted in the gospels, including those gospels excluded from the Biblical canon.
De Benoist stresses that the four gospels of the Bible are far from being all the gospels which were written. The Church has been happy that the faithful have forgotten, if they ever learned, that the four gospels of the Bible are only those four which achieved the status of belonging to “the canon” in the early days of the Church. That acceptance was achieved only after years of struggle and disputes, many of them reflecting the participants’ religious and political ambitions. There are more gospels than the books “according to” Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Some of the non-biblical gospels are still in existence, while some only exist in fragments and some are known only through historical reference or citation. De Benoist is well aware of this and writes at some length about it. He also looks at the astonishingly few and low-key extant early non-Christian references to the man who apparently lived in Palestine at the time of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, and the later account of whose life and execution has been the epicenter of the religion of the West.
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