In Salt and Light: The Complete Jesus, Jonathan Dean offers a personal, reflective, and expansive look at the life and teachings of Jesus. His goal is to deliver an “authentic” portrait of the first-century preacher who changed the course of human history. “Jesus started the world’s largest movement,” Dean writes, “and to billions of people now and in the past, somehow he has served in some form or other as a model for our humanity.”
Who exactly was Jesus, what did he say, and what did he do? Dean does a deep dive into the historical record to answer these questions, utilizing the “critical method” to apply “a non-sectarian, reason-based approach” to not only the Bible and first-century sources but to over 100 years of research on the historical Jesus.
As Dean notes, recent scholarship suggests Jesus never actually existed. Truth be told, there’s no physical or even direct historical evidence that he did. But Dean looks at secondary sources from such early writers as Tacitus and Josephus and offers his personal take on why early pagan, Christian, and Jewish writers provide enough proof to suggest that Jesus was a living person.
Dean then proceeds to examine Jesus’s teachings by exploring the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, while touching on the writings of Paul and second-century Christians such as Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp. Throughout it all, the question of messiahship arises. Was Jesus the Messiah? The author offers an interesting answer.
Dean’s simple, conversational writing style makes for easy reading—no small task when dealing with dozens of competing historians and theologians. His summaries are succinct, and his arguments are presented in a linear fashion as he connects his ideas and hypotheses in a logical manner.
While there’s little new in this book, Dean’s labor of love—the product of more than ten years of research—offers an unintimidating and multifaceted introduction to Jesus that makes you feel smarter after you’ve read it.