Review: The Jesus Inquest – Charles Foster
by Charles Foster
Kindle Edition, Thomas Nelson 2011
Charles Foster is a barrister, part-time Crown Court judge and teaches Medical Law and Ethics at the University of Oxford. In this book he uses two characters, X and Y, who argue opposing sides of the case of the resurrection of Jesus.
It is a rather extraordinary book, in that he manages to really get under the skin and argue both sides of the debate. He has clearly done a lot of research both in terms of historical data and the advocates of both sides. This is no Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell apologetics.
There are sections covering issues such as the crucifixion (did Jesus die?), the burial, the empty tomb, and origins and expectations of resurrection belief, as well as issues such as the alleged ‘Jesus Family’ tomb. In each case X and Y both have their say, and Foster leaves it to the reader to make their own mind. X argues against the resurrection, using a number of arguments that anyone who has read Robert M Price or Richard Carrier will be familiar with, though he did put forward some that I had not come across before. Y argues for the resurrection and there are traces of N.T. Wright and others in there. However, Y holds a few views that some evangelical apologists may not agree with (such as arguing that certain inconsistencies in the gospel narratives are not able to be harmonised).
The appendices are very helpful and deal with arguments relating to the medical cause of death, the issues relating to the Shroud of Turin, and the Gospel of Peter.
One would be hard pressed to find another book on this issue anything like this, offering a broad and fair portrayal of both sides of the argument while leaving the reader to decide which they find more persuasive (it is testament to the author – or perhaps his barristerial skills – that he can actually manage to argue a view which he doesn’t actually hold in a way which can be rather persuasive). If one is at all interested in this historical issue, and wants to see both sides of the debate via a work that has a broad and deep understanding of the literature and evidence, then this book is highly recommended.
Some more personal conclusions:
Ultimately I found the case put forward by Y (for the resurrection) to be most persuasive. While the views put forward by X certainly resembled very closely the views of many I have read, I saw a number of flaws in them, and I found the criticisms Y made much more persuasive than those that X made of Y. I found it very interesting that Foster could have X argue something which made me think, “hmm, that’s a very good point”, only to have Y rebut it, as happened several times.
I also agree with Foster’s conclusions regarding the Turin Shroud: the carbon dating was almost certainly compromised and methodologically flawed, and needs to be redone. Excluding that, there is good evidence to place it in 1st Century Palestine as an authentic burial shroud of a crucified man. To say any more than that is unsafe.
This was the first book I have read on our new kindle, and overall it was a god experience. The screen is nice, and the ability to easily highlight and make notes and jump to footnotes is great. A couple of times I pressed down instead of across (or was it the other way around?!) and it jumped to the next chapter, which was a little annoying.