Book review: The Existential Jesus

by John Carroll


Ex-is-ten-tial –adjective: of or relating to existence, especially human existence.

This is Jesus, the way you’ve never read about him before. John Carroll draws primarily on the Gospel of Mark, a Gospel which rather quickly fell into disuse among early Christians as they favored the more majestic stories told by Matthew and the others.

Mark’s Jesus is far more human. He sometimes questions, sometimes fails. He is ridiculed by his family. Carroll portrays Jesus as a lonely, mysterious stranger with an obscure mission. By the end of his journey, he has lost all of his followers. “His life reaches its consummation in tragedy—a godless and profane one—and a great death scream from the cross, questioning the sense of it all.”

Mark’s story then closes with a mystery. An empty tomb, and three women fleeing in terror, told to tell no one of what they saw—or didn’t see. (Carroll is correct; the ending we have now in the book of Mark, describing the resurrection of Jesus, did not exist in the earliest manuscripts.)

Mark’s Gospel is, of course, one of four. Over time, the Jesus story grew in splendor, and by the time the fourth Gospel was written, Jesus had become God Himself. When I complete my book about John’s Gospel (yet a couple years away from publication), I am going to wander through every local bookstore and move my book next to Carroll’s, where the two extremes can sit side-by-side.