Book Review: The Mystical Life of Jesus

The Mystical Life of Jesus: An Uncommon Perspective on the Life of Christ
by Sylvia Browne

Gnon-sense from beginning to end

Sylvia Brown, accompanied by her spirit partner Francine, have decided to take on the greatest (and most lucrative) mystery of all -- the life of Jesus Christ. Browne promises that this book will combine the truth discovered by biblical scholars, along with corrections from "The Other Side," channeled by Francine. There ought to be no limit to the depths of knowledge that can be achieved by such a partnership -- one side of which seeks truth by conventional means, the other one knowing all the answers.

Some odd results emerge. Browne, supposedly passing along the insights of biblical scholars, puts forth some howlers. Biblical scholars are fairly unanimous in supporting the two-source theory of the gospels, in which Matthew and Luke (writing around 85 CE) base their gospels on Mark (written around 70 CE) + a hypothetical document "Q". To this mixture, each evangelist adds his own material. Because of the tight relationship between these three gospels, they are called "synoptic," which means "with the same eye," which is to say, from the same point of view. But Brown states categorically that the Synoptics were written by the same person! And there is no mention -- not even a dismissive one -- of "Q." It's almost as though she (and presumably Francine) had never heard of it.

Brown explores the infancy narratives of Luke and Matthew, noting that each relates different details of the birth of Christ. This, of course, is a legitimate field of inquiry. Should believers attempt to harmonize the accounts -- adding Matthew's Star and Magi to Luke's manger and angels? Are they both, as many scholars believe, legendary accounts that seeks to communicate theological truths via unhistorical accounts? Browne splits the difference by basically dismissing Matthew and accepting Luke. However, she does accept the star stor -- Francine says it was a supernova. And though she accepts the visit of the Magi, she claims that they were local merchants -- not the priestly class of ancient Persia that the word "Magi" indicates. I'm sure this is news to the scholars.

Browne's version of the Passion is equally tipsy. She mentions that the gospels are confused because they refer to Jesus as the "Son of God" and as the "Son of Man." Crazy evangelists -- trying to fool us! But Browne seems not to grasp that "Son of Man" is generally understood as a Semitic self-reflective idiom for "this person", i.e., "myself" -- and simultaneously as a reference to the apocalyptic "Son of Man" figure from the book of Daniel.

In Browne's understanding, Pilate admired Jesus and wanted to save him, but wanted to preserve peace. Jesus, for his part, knowing that the Jews wanted to kill him, approached Pilate to work out a deal. So Pilate, Jesus, Judas and Joseph of Arimethea conspired (secretly, except for the ever-watchful Francine) to bring Jesus to trial. Pilate's role would be to try to sway the trial Jesus's way. But if that didn't work, he would have Jesus endure a "Crucifixion Lite" which would fool the Jews into thinking he was dead. Then, Jesus would be smuggled out of the country. Browne's idea of the trial is ludicrous. She imagines Pilate as a sympathetic judge in the American tradition who is powerless at the trial to do anything but pass sentence. But as procurator of Judea, Pilate had near-dictatorial powers that were backed up by the Roman legions. Besides, if Pilate wanted peace and planned to let Jesus live anyway, why go through the charade of the mock crucifixion? Why not just smuggle him out of the country in the first place?

Browne, desperate for material, pirates plotlines and ideas from all over -- including the "Passover Plot" and "Holy Blood, Holy Grail." She is incredibly lazy, even about historical facts that could be checked with 2 minutes on Google. She claims, for instance, that Mary Magdalene was secretly canonized by the Catholic Church (every gnostic's favorite bug-bear) at the Second Vatican Council in 1969. Too bad for her that the council had been over for four years by then.

Brown rejects the Resurrection, claiming that Jesus survived his Crucifixion. His dimwitted disciples, informed of the deception by the "risen" Christ, kept the cover story alive by spending the rest of their lives proclaiming the lie of the Resurrection. Jesus, meanwhile, lived to a ripe old age at his villa in France, raising kids, performing the odd miracle and starting a gnostic church. This is surely more absurd than the idea that Jesus ascended bodily to heaven and that his disciples devoted their lives to spreading the good news of his real return from the dead. Browne serves up every preposterous notion she can think of. The "Beloved Disciple" was a woman (in spite of Jesus's words, "Son, behold your Mother")? No problem! Mary Magdalene was the first pope? Why not? Jesus prayed to a female deity? Natch.

The work of scholars is daunting, slow and painstaking. Long hours are spent bent over manuscripts, searching for tiny clues in ancient texts. The meaning of a word may hinge on the shape of a serif, or on a new pottery shard unearthed during highway construction. But while the temptation to find a quicker way to the truth is understandable, shortcuts have not been found. The slow slog continues, grinding down generations of scholars in the relentless pursuit of truth. Sylvia Browne's book makes hash of centuries of scholarly toil. She pretends to give her readers a glimpse into the truth of Jesus's life. Instead she concocts a warped and bizarre version of reality that not only mocks the mission of Christ and the Church that bears his name, but also the Truth for which he stood. Her purpose is not to shine a light on history and to bring her readers to God, but to sow confusion and to line her own pockets. It's a shame that the time is ripe for such nonsense to proliferate. Pathetic." name=review> Sylvia Brown, accompanied by her spirit partner Francine, have decided to take on the greatest (and most lucrative) mystery of all -- the life of Jesus Christ. Browne promises that this book will combine the truth discovered by biblical scholars, along with corrections from "The Other Side," channeled by Francine. There ought to be no limit to the depths of knowledge that can be achieved by such a partnership -- one side of which seeks truth by conventional means, the other one knowing all the answers. Some odd results emerge. Browne, supposedly passing along the insights of biblical scholars, puts forth some howlers. Biblical scholars are fairly unanimous in supporting the two-source theory of the gospels, in which Matthew and Luke (writing around 85 CE) base their gospels on Mark (written around 70 CE) + a hypothetical document "Q". To this mixture, each evangelist adds his own material. Because of the tight relationship between these three gospels, they are called "synoptic," which means "with the same eye," which is to say, from the same point of view. But Brown states categorically that the Synoptics were written by the same person! And there is no mention -- not even a dismissive one -- of "Q." It's almost as though she (and presumably Francine) had never heard of it. Brown explores the infancy narratives of Luke and Matthew, noting that each relates different details of the birth of Christ. This, of course, is a legitimate field of inquiry. Should believers attempt to harmonize the accounts -- adding Matthew's Star and Magi to Luke's manger and angels? Are they both, as many scholars believe, legendary accounts that seeks to communicate theological truths via unhistorical accounts? Browne splits the difference by basically dismissing Matthew and accepting Luke. However, she does accept the star stor -- Francine says it was a supernova. And though she accepts the visit of the Magi, she claims that they were local merchants -- not the priestly class of ancient Persia that the word "Magi" indicates. I'm sure this is news to the scholars. Browne's version of the Passion is equally tipsy. She mentions that the gospels are confused because they refer to Jesus as the "Son of God" and as the "Son of Man." Crazy evangelists -- trying to fool us! But Browne seems not to grasp that "Son of Man" is generally understood as a Semitic self-reflective idiom for "this person", i.e., "myself" -- and simultaneously as a reference to the apocalyptic "Son of Man" figure from the book of Daniel. In Browne's understanding, Pilate admired Jesus and wanted to save him, but wanted to preserve peace. Jesus, for his part, knowing that the Jews wanted to kill him, approached Pilate to work out a deal. So Pilate, Jesus, Judas and Joseph of Arimethea conspired (secretly, except for the ever-watchful Francine) to bring Jesus to trial. Pilate's role would be to try to sway the trial Jesus's way. But if that didn't work, he would have Jesus endure a "Crucifixion Lite" which would fool the Jews into thinking he was dead. Then, Jesus would be smuggled out of the country. Browne's idea of the trial is ludicrous. She imagines Pilate as a sympathetic judge in the American tradition who is powerless at the trial to do anything but pass sentence. But as procurator of Judea, Pilate had near-dictatorial powers that were backed up by the Roman legions. Besides, if Pilate wanted peace and planned to let Jesus live anyway, why go through the charade of the mock crucifixion? Why not just smuggle him out of the country in the first place? Browne, desperate for material, pirates plotlines and ideas from all over -- including the "Passover Plot" and "Holy Blood, Holy Grail." She is incredibly lazy, even about historical facts that could be checked with 2 minutes on Google. She claims, for instance, that Mary Magdalene was secretly canonized by the Catholic Church (every gnostic's favorite bug-bear) at the Second Vatican Council in 1969. Too bad for her that the council had been over for four years by then. Brown rejects the Resurrection, claiming that Jesus survived his Crucifixion. His dimwitted disciples, informed of the deception by the "risen" Christ, kept the cover story alive by spending the rest of their lives proclaiming the lie of the Resurrection. Jesus, meanwhile, lived to a ripe old age at his villa in France, raising kids, performing the odd miracle and starting a gnostic church. This is surely more absurd than the idea that Jesus ascended bodily to heaven and that his disciples devoted their lives to spreading the good news of his real return from the dead. Browne serves up every preposterous notion she can think of. The "Beloved Disciple" was a woman (in spite of Jesus's words, "Son, behold your Mother")? No problem! Mary Magdalene was the first pope? Why not? Jesus prayed to a female deity? Natch. The work of scholars is daunting, slow and painstaking. Long hours are spent bent over manuscripts, searching for tiny clues in ancient texts. The meaning of a word may hinge on the shape of a serif, or on a new pottery shard unearthed during highway construction. But while the temptation to find a quicker way to the truth is understandable, shortcuts have not been found. The slow slog continues, grinding down generations of scholars in the relentless pursuit of truth. Sylvia Browne's book makes hash of centuries of scholarly toil. She pretends to give her readers a glimpse into the truth of Jesus's life. Instead she concocts a warped and bizarre version of reality that not only mocks the mission of Christ and the Church that bears his name, but also the Truth for which he stood. Her purpose is not to shine a light on history and to bring her readers to God, but to sow confusion and to line her own pockets. It's a shame that the time is ripe for such nonsense to proliferate. Pathetic.