Book Review: Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

I’ve never read a biography that began before time. But then, Jesus is no ordinary human. In Jesus: A Theography, Sweet and Viola begin in the eternity before creation and delve into the creation with considerable detail. It’s not until page 55 that we come to Jesus’ birth. They touch on Jesus’ childhood and so-called “missing years” (the years which the Gospels ignore, at least directly). They continue through Jesus’ baptism, temptation, mission, miracles, teaching, death, and resurrection. They end Jesus: A Theography with a discussion of how Jesus’ second coming will fulfill the Sabbath and the feasts of Israel, along with the prophecies and promises we most often associate with His return.

Throughout the book, Sweet and Viola attempt to demonstrate how Jesus is the story of the Bible. This goal comes in part from the account of Jesus on the road to Emmaus with two of His disciples. They are confused by His death and do not understand that He has been resurrected. They fail to recognize Him, and as they walk together, Jesus teaches them. Luke says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 22:27). Sweet and Viola, unlike some other writers who’ve attempted to reconstruct Jesus’ teaching, don’t focus on the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. They focus on symbols, shadows, and types of things to come. Though I’m not used to thinking about the Bible in the way the authors do, I found most of their interpretation pretty convincing. I didn’t feel so much like they were stretching the text as just drawing new connections for me between things I didn’t previously associate.

However, sometimes the connections weren’t easy to follow. For instance, they say the tabernacle was completed in seven distinct stages, and they give a Bible reference, but I don’t find their claim as obvious as they do. They offer no further explanation but go on to make their connection to Jesus’ life. (I apologize for lack of page number. I couldn’t find it again, and there is no index in this book.) Or take the connection Sweet and Viola try to draw between the “I AM” statements of Jesus in the book of John and the circumstances of His birth (59). When Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” was He really trying to remind us about the star at His birth? Or was He trying to tell us about Himself? When Jesus said, “I am the vine, and you are the branches,” was He drawing attention to his birth in Bethlehem Ephrathah, (which the authors say means “fruitful”), or was He explaining the relationship between Himself and His followers? In this case, I think the authors have tried too hard to find connections that aren’t meant to be there.

On the whole, I found Jesus: A Theography to be challenging and refreshing. The authors helped me appreciate aspects of the Jesus story which I’ve never spent much time on before, including His role in the eternal plan for humankind, His story paralleled in creation, His career before His ministry, His human imagination, His sense of humor, His humiliation in His death, and His fulfillment of the feasts.

Jesus: A Theography is a book I could foresee using as a reference for later study. It is rich with information. However, the lack of any index whatsoever is a serious drawback. It’s difficult to find passages again without rereading the whole book, and it’s a thick one.