I just finished reading Jesus the Christ, by James E. Talmage, this morning! It is an enormous book, at 736 pages. It took me an inordinately long time to finish, and now I’m way behind on my reading goal for the year, but this book is worth it. It is simply amazing.
A little background first: Jesus the Christ is, obviously, a book about Jesus. Specifically, it is about the life and mission of Jesus as our Savior. It’s also from an explicitly LDS (Mormon) perspective; it talks about specific Mormon doctrines such as the premortal existence and the Spirit World, where we go after we die. Naturally, I’m biased, but I think this book is a valuable read for denominations of Christians besides Mormons.
James E. Talmage was born in 1862 and died in 1933. He wrote several books, which I plan on getting to at some point. He wrote Jesus the Christ over several years, from 1911-1914. Throughout the writing process, he spent many hours in research and prayer to help him write this book. He was a prominent biologist and a Christian scholar. He was made a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, (the presiding council of the LDS church, under the First Presidency), in 1911. (Members of this quorum are addressed as “Elder.”)
Jesus the Christ is the most important non-scriptural book to the LDS church. Reading Jesus the Christ means you are serious about studying the gospel.
I can’t believe I’d never read it before now.
The language of the book is very intellectual. I didn’t have trouble understanding it, but the vocabulary and syntax were well above most books I read. It is a scholarly work, and it was also written over one hundred years ago.
This book is an incredibly in-depth and inspired history of the life of Christ. I learned more about Jesus from this book than I have from reading the actual gospels (which I have in fact studied, and not just glossed over). Elder Talmage relates the events of Jesus’ life in chronological order, pulling from each of the four gospels to give the most detailed account possible. He also draws on the history, culture, and geography of the Holy Land to explain a lot of things I hadn’t understood and/or known about before.
For example, I had known that Jesus’s trial before the Sanhedrin didn’t follow Jewish law, but I had had no idea just how illegal it was. It was at night, they didn’t allow enough time between the witnesses’ testimony and the verdict, they directly questioned Him to force a confession, and many more things. The details required multiple pages.
At the end of each chapter are explanatory notes, telling more about context, culture, and doctrine. If you read this book, read the notes. The notes have so much information.
Elder Talmage acknowledges that the gospels don’t agree on every detail. He also points out that this proves independent authorship. After all, the writers were imperfect people, and memories of the Savior’s precise words would have been a little fuzzy.
Jesus the Christ zeroes in on what is most important. Little controversies over the precise order of miracles, for example, don’t really matter. What matters is the take-away point of each story. Not knowing exactly where and when a sermon took place doesn’t change the importance of the message. Knowing if a lesson was given to the Twelve or to the general public, on the other hand, does matter, since that can potentially change the import for us.
It’s kind of crazy that I’ve written almost 600 words for a book review, so I’ll wrap it up: Read this book. It is amazing. If you’ve read it already, re-read it. There’s no way I’ve actually remembered more than a fraction of what I read. This book is not for the faint of heart, but it is well worth it.