See also www.thechristfiles.com.au.
This is a great resource. It’s a lively look at the reliability of the historical evidence for Jesus. As presenter Dr John Dickson reminds us, unlike any other world religion, Christianity is founded on historical events. It stands or falls by the reliability of those claims.
Dickson examines the historical sources we have for Jesus. He starts with those furthest from the events (which allows him to debunk Dan Brown-style theories based on the Gnostic Gospels) and moves to the closer and more reliable sources, ultimately to the canonical Gospels (with a great discussion of the reliability of eyewitness evidence). The series ends cleverly with Tom Wright talking about the OT background to the Gospel and especially the OT background to the last supper which allows some pointers to the soteriological significance of the cross.
Here’s the outline:
- Gnostics and Romans. Examining manuscripts stretching from AD 250 to 75, Greco-Roman historians and the Gnostic gospels give us a picture of how the ancient world viewed Jesus of Nazareth.
- Jews and Christians. Starting with the records of Jesus’ own people, the Jews, we arrive at the early Christian sources, letters and biographies assembled between AD 90 and 48.
- Lost Sources and Oral Traditions. With a 20-year gap between Jesus’ death and the earliest written accounts of his life, we turn to the source of information considered most reliable in the 1st century – oral tradition.
- Archaeologists and Artefacts. Having uncovered a solid picture of the historical Jesus, archaeology helps us piece together the world in which Jesus lived, giving context to the things he said and did.
Along the way we are treated to interviews with a veritable bevy of top NT scholars – James Dunn, Richard Bauckham, Tom Wright, Marcus Bockmuehl, James Charlesworth, Martin Hengel and Geza Vermes among others.
The style of that the Discovery channel (without all that irritating repetition and without the build up to an ultimately disappointing reveal that seems to characterize documentaries on the Discovery Channel!). Dickson is an animated presenter (for British readers, he’s somewhat in the style of Adam Hart-Davis). The jump from serious interview with a NT scholar to a presentational gimmick can be slightly jarring in places. But the programmes hold your attention.
One of the great things about this product is its adaptability. The core product is 4 half-hour programmes. But there is also a one hour version (as shown on Australian TV) plus thematic chunks plus both shorter and extended interviews. If you’re teaching on the Gospels you can invite Richard Bauckham or Tom Wright or Vermes to contribute!
I could see myself using the DVD to supplement an evangelistic course like Christianity Explored. If someone asks about the reliability of the Gospel opr the historical evidence for Jesus then this would be a great resource to give to them. The slight difficulty with this is that, while Dickson himself is careful to be accessible, the interviewed scholars use jargon from the start.
I can also seeing myself using it to teach students. It would be a introduction to year one students or people training for leadership who need some background to the Gospels or who need to know how to counter arguments against their historical reliability without needing a whole course on the quest for the historical Jesus.
Here’s a video introduction to the DVD: