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David Nelson, Why I Would Have Killed Jesus and You Might Have Too (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2021), 75pp.David Nelson, Why I Would Have Killed Jesus and You Might Have Too (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2021), 75pp.

This small but powerful book by the Episcopal priest David Nelson is an extended thought experiment about a question that I have asked myself: how would I have responded to Jesus if I had lived in his day and seen him up close and personal? Nelson recounts how he actually had "the weirdest dream" to this effect, in which he met five tentative followers of Jesus who became his sworn enemies. And mind you, these were good people, each in their own way.

Deborah was a young widow who hated the corrupt and oppressive Romans. At first Jesus seemed to promise revolution. He exhibited a "warrior spirit," but then he meekly accepted the Roman occupation, which in her view was "the ultimate betrayal." The fisherman Shem always dreamed of something big, and at first Jesus seemed to offer this with all the massive crowds, healings, miracles, and spectacles.  But then he would disappear into the desert by himself, and talk about self-denial, so it's no wonder the crowds turned on him.  Sarah was attracted to Jesus until "that terrible day when he enraged the good people of our synagogue" by accepting Gentile outsiders: "it's almost as though he liked our enemies." The Roman soldier Maximus Gallus had committed himself to law and order, and so he hated the "disobedient troublemaker" Jesus. Fortunately, he was crucified for his crimes, although his "brainwashed followers" continued to cause more trouble. Aaron of Arimathea was a pious Pharisee who hated how the false teacher Jesus twisted the Scriptures, criticized the righteous, and even embraced "notorious sinners."

Nelson's disturbing dream "shattered his complacency," and raised the "terrifying possibility" of whether he would have acted like these five characters. Would he have welcomed the death of Jesus? He reminds us that Jesus was a dangerous and divisive figure in his day. In Luke 9 there are three seekers who are eager to follow Jesus, until they hear his stark demands. In John 6:66 we read how many disciples turned away from Jesus and stopped following him. There are times, says Nelson, when "Jesus threatens our deeply held values including social status, biblical interpretation, patriotism, wealth, family, and more." The gift of his book is that it disabuses us of the comforting illusion of a sentimental Jesus.

I can imagine this book as an excellent church resource for a 5-6 week adult forum. For more about this book you can contact David Nelson at

Dan Clendenin:

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