4 : 6 June 2005

Mike Leeming

Jesus, a book by Leith Anderson


Jesus: An Intimate Portrait of the Man, His Land, and His People by Leith Anderson, published by Bethany House is a biography of the historical Person of Jesus the Messiah. After reading seven different accounts of the life of Christ, Anderson's seems to me to be far and away the best.

Basing his biography of Jesus upon the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and the first chapter of the book of Acts, and adding useful background information to give the reader greater insight into the life and times of Jesus, Pastor Anderson has given us what is probably the most complete and accurate rendition of the life of Christ of recent times.


Here is where the so-called "Search for the Historical Jesus" should begin and end, with the primary documents of the Holy Scriptures. In the flurry of excitement brought to the public by such erroneous attempts to reconstruct Jesus by the loudly touted "Jesus Seminar" or Dan Brown's fictitious The DaVinci Code, most people have, purposely and deliberately it seems to me, overlooked those who were closest to the Person in question. The men who wrote the accounts we have of the life of Jesus in the Bible were either eyewitnesses to the events they recorded or were among His earliest followers, and they were willing to seal their testimonies about this man they followed with their own blood rather than deny what they knew to be true.

Pastor Anderson does a masterful job of weaving together the events of the life of Jesus in chronological order, resisting the temptation to give interpretation or commentary, while supplying the reader with valuable historical, cultural, political, and religious insight that is helpful in really enabling the reader to understand the life of Christ.


Here are some examples of these valuable insights. In his account of the birth of Jesus, Luke mentions that an angel announced the birth of the Messiah to shepherds who had been in the countryside tending to their flock of sheep (Luke 2:8-20). Pastor Anderson adds this insight,

So many shepherds were considered untrustworthy that many courts would not permit their testimony in civil or criminal courts (p. 20).

Having often wondered why Jesus spoke to his Jewish disciples in Assyrian rather than in Hebrew, I appreciated this information on page 54. Anderson comments,

"Though the Scriptures were read in Hebrew from handwritten scrolls, they were then translated into Aramaic, because most of the people didn't understand Hebrew. Years of Assyrian conquest and occupation meant that Aramaic had become the language of the people of this region."

In regard to the way in which 1st century Near Eastern people commonly lived and took their meals, Pastor Anderson gives us this insight -

Houses often were built in a square around a courtyard. Formal meals were served in the courtyard with dinner guests reclining on couches around a low table. They lay on their sides, heads propped up with their left hands, feet bare and using their right hands to eat. When renowned teachers or celebrities were invited to dinner, the home often was opened to the public. The host provided cushions around the perimeter of the courtyard so that open-invitation visitors had a place to sit, watch, and listen. If the guest of honor was a celebrity, the home was usually packed with spectators (p. 93).

Most Christians are familiar with the story of the woman who suffered from an issue of blood and was healed by touching the hem of Jesus' garment (Mark 5:25-29). But Pastor Anderson adds this information which many Christian do not realize -

The law said that a woman with her condition could not attend religious services not could anyone she touched or who touched her. For religious purposes she was classified as unclean (p. 114).


When the Pharisees charged Jesus with eating with eating with unwashed hands (mark 7:1-5), Pastor Anderson explains the charge.

The issue was not germs but defilement. Their concern wasn't sanitation but tradition. Pharisees insisted that hands be ceremonially washed to be right with God. Religious Jews were especially careful to thoroughly wash their hands, wrists, and forearms before touching food. It was part of an array of rules that had multiplied over the centuries and was passed down as oral tradition. Anyone who failed to wash before eating was called unclean, in a spiritual more than a physical sense. Besides the sanitary benefits, the frequent washings were a way of reminding the faithful that they were ritually unclean before God. They extended the washings beyond their skin to dished and utensils. Everything had to be washed (p. 134).

Anderson then gives over a page of additional commentary on the Pharisaic concept of ritual purity and impurity in "Clean and Unclean" (pps.134-135).


One final example, on page 293, Anderson sites the instructions Jesus gives to His disciples about finding the place where they would celebrate the Passover (the event which later became known to the Church as the Last Supper)-"Jesus matter-of-factly told them, 'Go into Jerusalem, and as you enter the city you'll see a man carrying a jar of water who will be looking to meet you.'" And then Anderson adds this helpful cultural insight-"Because women usually carried water, it would not be difficult to identify a man carrying one of the large jars."

He also gives us historical background on the Pharisees and the Sadducees (pps.29-30), the various "Royal Herods" (p.48), "Antiochus IV" (pps.204-205), and on Pontus Pilate (pps.327-328), all of which add to the reader's knowledge of this time of history and the people connected to the life of Christ.


There are many other examples of the types of valuable insights in this fine book on the life of Jesus contains in order to give the reader a better and deeper understanding of what we read in then Gospels.

After reading this excellent work, I was impressed by the timeliness of this account of the life of Jesus, especially in the light of the "cunningly devised fables" (II Pet. 1:16) that are now being circulated about the most famous Man who has ever lived.


Mike Leeming
Bethany College of Missions
6820 Auto Club Road, Suite C
Bloomington, MN 55438