Review: Dating Jesus

Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American GirlDating Jesus
by Susan Campbell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dating Jesus / 978-0-8070-1066-2

When Amazon started recommending "Dating Jesus", after purchases of books like "Quiverfull" and "The Purity Myth", I mistakenly believed that the book would cover modern fundamentalist objections to dating and basic sex-education, and I was slightly surprised to find that this book has very little to do with dating and much more to do with the author's discovery of feminism as she grows up in a fundamentalist environment.

I was instantly charmed by the first few chapters of "Dating Jesus", as Campbell tells her life story and I recognize so much of myself and my own past in her story. Her writing style is folksy and flows nicely, and so much of her writing reminds me intimately of my own history (particularly counting the wood-knots during the countless sermons she sits through). As the book advances, however, the biographical parts become more and more broken up with feminist history, and often in such a meandering tone that I wish this book had been more rigorously edited. Campbell breaks narrative frequently and often to say, basically, "I can't believe I just wrote that, that makes me sound bad, haha!" and the effect feels less conversational over time and becomes more affected (in other words: one outburst is spontaneous emotion, but a dozen outbursts are planned). Much of the feminist history presented here is interesting and important, but as it is not filtered through the lens of the biography format ("I felt that Susan B. Anthony...") but rather is just given in a flat textbook format, the flow of the book feels broken and jagged.

As a side note, while on the subject of history, I would like to make a motion that Christians and ex-Christians stop talking about Biblical "history" when they have nothing more than scripture *memorization* and the "history" they learned in Sunday School. I respect Campbell immensely, and I am sure she means no offense, but she should not use her book to repeat the old canard that Jesus was a "rebel rabbi" because he didn't treat women like dirt when all the other contemporary Jewish teachers did because the Bible seems to say so. Actual scholars like Robert Price have painstakingly pointed out that many of the rabbis of Jesus' day did NOT subscribe to the literal interpretation of the Hebrew law that Christians claim Jesus was 'rebelling' against, and it verges on anti-Semitism to continue to spread mis-truths about a culture just because you can't be bothered to research the issue outside of a single, competing religious text. Jesus - if he existed, and if the writings we have of him truly reflect his teachings - was awesome enough on his own without flanderizing his contemporaries into caricatures for him to out-perform. Furthermore, claims regarding Biblical authorship and early church timelines should be made by actual scholars and historians, not former Bible Quiz Masters. It's frustrating that Campbell seems to have this blindspot - she can understand that much of what she has been *taught* (about women, at least) is not necessarily true, but she seemingly cannot accept that much of what she *read* may not be historically fact either, presumably because it would be emotionally damaging to have spent so much time memorizing the Bible, only to find that much of what she believes about it may not be true.

Disregarding the non-scholarly material regarding Biblical history and authorship, there is a lot here that is interesting, but the format feels awkward and forced. I wish the feminism information had been framed less in a 'textbook format' ("Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote 'The Woman's Bible' in 1898, discuss.") and more in terms of how Campbell felt, as a girl, upon learning about 'The Woman's Bible' - and what she felt about the contents, then and now. The jumps from biography (how Campbell feels about church, boyfriends, and brothers) to history with very little bridge in-between creates the impression that Campbell does not really remember how she felt, or perhaps does not know how she feels now, but I would much prefer to read Campbell's piecing together of her likely childhood response to this marriage of her holy Bible and her intuitive feminism, as opposed to the novel equivalent of a Wikipedia page with dates and quotes and factoids.

I wanted very much to like "Dating Jesus", but by the end of the book I was left with the impression that Campbell didn't have as much to say on her childhood as I wanted to read. The biography sections are superb, the historical sections are dry but probably factual, the Biblical sections are marked with that fundamentalist blindness that believes Biblical study should occur in a vacuum - beginning and ending only with the 'approved' Bible books, and nothing else - but the assortment as a whole fails to mesh, and ends up feeling like three short books wedged uncomfortably into one.

~ Ana Mardoll

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