Brant Pitre’s new book, “The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ,” is a must read for all Christian parents. Pitre is a professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. His accessible prose in “The Case for Jesus” is gumbo for the soul! With clear diagrams, C.S. Lewis quotes, and bits of memoir, Pitre book turns tired secular complaints about our belief in Christ’s divinity into a launching pad for advanced theological study.
Pitre is a curious guy who learned both Ancient Greek and Ancient Hebrew in order to better understand the historical accuracy of Holy Scripture. I loved his deep, almost Socratic, trust that questions about our common belief in the Resurrection can be useful. For 198 pages, Pitre keeps reminding us that real Christian faith is a constant search for truth.
“The Case for Jesus” contains a fresh summary of scholarship on the divinity of Christ. We reexamine the historical background of the Four Gospel writers, as well as St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, and St. Paul. Most surprising is his description of the book of the Prophet Jonah. Here’s a quote to get a taste of Pitre’s reassuring style:
“True confession: For years, when I read [the mysterious “sign of Jonah”], I went away somewhat underwhelmed. With all due respect to Jesus, I always felt like the comparison between Jonah being in the belly of the whale for three days and the Son of Man being in the ‘heart of the earth’ for three days was, well, somewhat forced. Don’t get me wrong- I got the parallel: three days and three nights. But this didn’t seem to me to be the most impressive prophecy of the resurrection you could come up with.” (pg. 186).
Rather than limp along in doubt, Pitre decides to reread the book of Jonah, “carefully, and in its original Hebrew.” He discovers that the book of Jonah is far deeper than traditional sermons recount. Evidence suggests that Jonah died inside the belly of the great fish, and his corpse was vomited out on the shore of Nineveh. Pitre makes us a chart, like notes on a blackboard, to highlight the similarity between the Sign of Jonah and the Resurrection of Jesus. Pitre delights in the synchronicity of our Christian faith. His joy in deep theological scholarship is easily shared with his readers.
Pitre's book idea came from an inspired conversation between Bishop Robert Barron, the Word on Fire Ministry, and Pitre during a car ride from the Pittsburgh Airport ten years ago. Pitre complained how often the “transmission of the story of Jesus” is compared to “the Telephone Game.” Bishop Barron turned around and said “Yes! Someone needs to write a book dedicated to refuting that stupid comparison.”
In “The Case for Jesus,” Pitre reminds us that the belief in Christ’s divinity isn’t a garbled myth repeated to us like some game at a child’s birthday party. In the First Century, a variety of witnesses became convinced that something unique happened in an empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Their united belief in the Divinity of Christ changed the entire pagan culture around them.
I left my reading of “The Case for Jesus,” with a renewed sense in of trust and wonder in the doctrine of the Resurrection. I will never teach myself Ancient Hebrew like Pitre and St. Jerome. However, Pitre reminds me that a good self-study in deep theology is the responsibility of every parent and every Religious Education teacher.