The National Geographic Magazine December 2017 issue devotes 40 pages of text and photos to explore “What Archaeology Is Telling Us About the Real Jesus.” The article, written by Kristin Romey, focuses upon the Edicule inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, historically regarded to be the tomb in which Jesus’ body was placed. HBU’s Dr. Craig Evans served as a consultant for the article, exchanging emails and phone calls with Romey to help guide its content, and was quoted concerning Jesus’ cultural identity in the first century.
Throughout his career, Evans has enjoyed the privilege of delving into both the teachings of the Bible and the history surrounding them. The John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins for HBU, Evans is a sought-after New Testament expert, contributing to Christian and secular projects ranging from archeological undertakings to publications to television programs.
Before coming to Houston Baptist University in 2016, Evans spent more than three decades serving as a professor in Canada; notably, he founded the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University. His journey as a biblical studies professor and as a key contributor in high-profile projects was unforeseen for him.
“Growing up, initially I wanted to be a lawyer. I attended an elite small college in southern California. I majored in history and minored in philosophy,” Evans said. “In my senior year, I felt strongly convicted not to go into law school, but to go into theology and prepare for what I’ve always regarded as a ministry for the church and for the academy. I prepared to be a professor, teacher and scholar who would be very much active in the church.”
Evans couldn’t have imagined how his interest in history would take on such an important role in his work. From his first trip to the Holy Land 25 years ago, Evans has returned dozens of times, and is continually captivated by the place where Christianity began.
“That first trip was a transformational experience. I realized, ‘Wow – archaeology has to be part of what I do. It just can’t be something I read about occasionally.’ Ancient history is important to all of us. As a Christian, I see God’s work in human history, so the better I understand history, the better I understand God’s story of what He’s doing with us. I’ve imagined myself as one of Jesus’ disciples. I wanted to know how He lived and about His own faith in God. I wanted to know His world better – the culture, language and politics.”
Thanks to his passion for biblical history, and his work and scholarship, Evans has become something of a Christian Indiana Jones. He’s been involved in archeological restoration projects with the National Geographic Society, and has contributed to several of their books. Evans has written hundreds of articles, and published more than 80 books, including the well-known, “Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels.” He’s appeared in and contributed to about 100 documentaries and news programs, which have reached millions of viewers. One of the most well-known television projects in which he participated is “The Bible,” a miniseries created by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, which was viewed by a record 100 million people. The strong response to each of his projects, Evans says, is an indication of a hunger to know about Jesus.
Evans remembers, for example, standing before the blinding lights of 130 world reporters during a press conference regarding the “Gospel of Judas” manuscript restoration project. He recalls, in another instance, how an estimated one-quarter of North American adults watched the Dateline NBC two-hour special on “The Last Days of Jesus.”
“I never would have dreamed there would be all of the publicity,” Evans said. “The public is interested in the historical Jesus. He is the most sought-after endorsement in world history. I find that so fascinating; that is not the way it is with anyone else. Outside of Muslims, who wants Muhammad’s endorsement? Outside of Buddhists, who cares what Buddha may or may not think about you? But everybody around the world wants to know where they stand in reference to Jesus. It’s so interesting how it goes back to the question Jesus asked his disciples: ‘Who do people say that I am? And who do you say that I am?’ Those two questions remain as relevant today as when they were first asked 2,000 years ago.”
In all of his studies, writings and projects, Evans thinks of how he can relate information that will be edifying. He teaches regularly at Second Baptist Church of Houston, and is a guest teacher in other settings as well. “I never lost sight of how this translates into something that’s meaningful in the pew,” he said. “I love preaching and want to keep doing it.”
Also at Second Baptist, Evans is involved in HBU’s recently launched Houston Theological Seminary, which equips future ministry leaders. Additionally, he has partnered with Christian Thinkers Society’s Dr. Jeremiah Johnston to further the work of the HBU-based organization.
In 2018, Evans will again be a consultant for the National Geographic Christmas issue. This time the focus will be on ancient biblical manuscripts.
When he considers the legacy of his life’s work, Evans thinks of how he has succeeded in encouraging Christians to understand the historical context and evidence of their faith. “Every single archeological discovery that’s of any relevance supports what the Gospels have to say. Fiction writers – fakers – just don’t get that lucky,” he said. “I hope I’m remembered as a Christian who tried to be faithful to Jesus and the Gospels – to His message.”
Looking ahead, Evans wants to help people find Jesus and then know Him better. “There are people out there saying that the Gospel can’t be trusted and that Jesus doesn’t exist. I’ve received emails and letters from people around the world who say (my work) helped them come to faith, save their faith and answer their questions,” he said. “So, I want to keep preaching, teaching, speaking and writing.”
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