“James: The Brother of Jesus” By Robert Eisenman (Viking, $39.95)
Eisenman, who six years ago led the successful campaign to provide free access to the Dead Sea Scrolls, continues to challenge other biblical scholars with a revisionist look at early Christianity. Eisenman argues James was the “Righteous Teacher” mentioned throughout the scrolls and “the true heir and successor to his more famous brother.” In the early days, James thus lorded over Peter and the others and was the church’s first bishop.
Why didn’t we know this before? Because Paul, Eisenman contends, wanted to compromise with Roman authorities, while James remained a die-hard Jewish revolutionary. So James got short shrift in the Acts of the Apostles.
“Gospel Truth: The New Image of Jesus Emerging from Science and History, and Why It Matters” By Russell Shorto (Riverhead, $24.95)
Although not an apologist for the Jesus Seminar, a group of Christian scholars widely criticized for trying to debunk traditional Christian beliefs, Shorto says the group “is not far in its perspective from the mainstream of biblical scholarship.” That is: Most of today’s New Testament scholars find the Scriptures lacking in historical accuracy.
Shorto talked with anthropologists, went on a dig with archaeologists in Jerusalem and studied DNA analyses of Dead Sea Scroll fragments in drawing his own conclusions. Among them: Jesus was born in Nazareth. He was one of at least seven children. He did not change water to wine but did heal the sick and blind.
“Prayer for the Earth: The Story of Naamah, Noah’s Wife” By Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, illustrations by Bethanne Andersen (Jewish Lights, $16.95)
While Noah went about collecting animals to bring onto the Ark before the Great Flood, his wife, Naamah, set out on a different mission. God had directed her to save the world’s plants, and she did. She put on an apron with many pockets and set out to gather moss spores, redwood cones, acorns and seedlings of many varieties, as well as seeds of sunflowers, buttercups, orchids and jasmine. But telling more would ruin this inspirational tale of stewardship based on the ancient text known as Genesis Rabbah.
“The Gospel According to the Son” By Norman Mailer (Random House, $22, May)
Last spring, novelist Reynolds Price gave us “The Three Gospels” - translations of Mark and John and a poetically licensed account of the life of Jesus. Mailer does Price one better, writing about Jesus in the first person and allowing Jesus to editorialize about the distortion of his words and character. Mailer told an interviewer he wrote the book “to fill an empty space in my mind,” to explore further what it has meant for him, a Jew, to grow up in a “Christian country.”