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Author: Bart D. Ehrman (HarperOne 2014)

In this book, Ehrman provides a timeline showing the evolution of the way Christians down the centuries have striven to understand the first-century phenomenon of Jesus, in particular, his relationship to God.

The pattern is set in the Gospels:

Mark — Jesus becomes God’s adopted son at his baptism. This is not the second-tier sonship we might envision. In those days in the Roman Empire, a powerful man might adopt an adult man, chosen for the younger man’s demonstrated fine qualities. An adopted son often took precedence over biological sons in the inheritance. The prime example:  Julius Caesar adopted his nephew Octavian, who became the emperor Caesar Augustus while the natural son tiptoed into the shadows of history.

Matthew and Luke:  Further down the line of time and experience, Christians felt Jesus had become the exalted human/son of God through the manner of his divinely induced birth.

John:  Here, Jesus has no human birth recorded. Instead, he is presented as a pre-existent divine being who came to earth as a human and returned to the heavenly realm.  The man Jesus was divinity incarnate.

This summary is a bare synopsis of a very detailed history of Christology, of our attempts to make human sense of the divinely sensible.  It is a tale best told by a non-believer, as here. Erhman has segued from evangelical Christian to a something resembling an agnostic, which seems to help him portray the byways as well as the highways in an evenhanded, unexcited way.  The book provides a valuable tool for understanding Christian perspectives other than one’s own — and certainly can help the thinker evaluate his or her own understanding of Jesus’ identity.