According to surveys and scholars, "historical amnesia" constitutes an American epidemic. More than half of American adults can't remember which president ordered the dropping of the first atomic bomb (20 percent can't even remember if we've used the weapon). More teenagers can name the Three Stooges than the three branches of the federal government. Evangelicals, an unfortunately sizeable contingent of whom acknowledge no church history between Acts and the inception of their local congregations, are frequently diagnosed as having particularly acute cases. But according to historian Philip Jenkins, the truly critical patients are contemporary biblical scholars who persist in launching quests for the "real" Jesus.

In Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (Oxford), Jenkins, distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Penn State, exposes Jesus Seminar types as—to put it bluntly—agenda-driven ninnies. Such scholars, fascinated by texts like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and others unearthed at Nag Hammadi in 1945, dig for what they want to find (evidence of alternate and legitimate "Christianities") and then spare no extravagance in touting its importance. With such titles as The Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four Gnostic Gospels and The Complete Jesus, their books promise to erode orthodox Christianity, conveniently replacing it with a kinder, gentler, and much more politically correct version.

Jenkins's problem with this body of work isn't primarily that it contradicts traditional faith, but that it rests on bad scholarship. Revisionist claims about hidden gospels require that such texts be both older and more reliable than the non-hidden sort, but Jenkins argues persuasively that they ...

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