Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus


346 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2395-2
DDC 232.9'08




Reviewed by Ashley Thomson

Ashley Thomson is a full librarian at Laurentian University and co-editor or co-author of nine books, most recently Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide, 1988-2005.


Few individuals are more well placed to tackle the topic of Jesus as a
historical figure than Queen’s University’s Donald Akenson, longtime
editor of the Canadian Papers in Rural History and author of numerous
books, including Surpassing Wonder: the Invention of the Bible and the

Akenson constructs his book around the destruction of the Temple in 70
A.D. (or C.E., as he prefers). Before that event, he notes, the Holy
Land was home to dozens of sects, most of whose theology depended on the
use of the Temple as a place to offer sacrifices to God. When it ceased
to exist, Christianity emerged, because there were those who
“desperately wanted a way to continue the eternal covenant with
Yahweh.” When he died, Christ served as an “invisible Temple” for
everyone who believed in him.

Akenson goes on to argue that the four Gospels were written after
rather than before the destruction of the Temple. Moreover, because they
were written in such a way as to foreshadow that cataclysmic event,
historians cannot take them seriously. By the same token, the letters of
Paul—written before 70 C.E.—are, for the most part, legitimate
historical documents. Within this framework, Akenson dismisses the
Resurrection as mass hysteria and writes off Christ as just another holy
man in the neighbourhood.

Potential readers should be advised they will be scurrying to their
dictionaries on almost every page, unless they already know the meaning
of such words as pseudepigrapha, piacular, and aniconic. A more serious
problem with Saint Saul is that, if just one or two of Akenson’s
assumptions are wrong, his whole case collapses. What if even just one
of the Gospels was written before the Temple’s collapse? What if Paul
and at least 500 others saw Christ physically resurrected? Akenson
clearly believes in his own interpretations. Others may have a different


Akenson, Donald H., “Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,