I wish I could remember where and when I purchased Charles S. Braden’s 1957 book Jesus Compared: A Study of Jesus and Other Great Founders of Religions but I can’t. Chances are I probably picked it up several years ago at some used book sale. Like many of my books, it languished away unread in my personal library until finally one day I decided to pick it up and give it a chance. After finishing it earlier this morning while hanging out at my local coffee shop, I’m kinda happy I finally read it. While it won’t go down as one of the best books on comparative religion I’ve read, Braden’s A Study of Jesus is a considerably readable and fairly well researched comparison of Jesus with to the founders of the world’s other great religions. Keeping in mind this book is over 50 years old, I thought for the most part A Study of Jesus still holds up after all this years.
Published back in 1957 while Braden was Professor Emeritus of History and Literature of Religion at Northwestern University, as its title would imply, Jesus Compared is a brief but fairly detailed comparison of Jesus to other revered figures such as Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius and Krishna. Relying upon both holy texts as well as scholarly works, Braden shows the major similarities and differences between Jesus and other great religious figures. Interestingly enough, according to Braden many of these founders are associated with miraculous if not virgin births as well as periods of public ministry and the performing of miracles. Some like Jesus and Krishna as came to be seen as divine. Some like Mohammed would be seen as mortal prophets, but certainly blessed by God. Confucius, on the other hand, based on his teachings, would be seen by many as a philosopher and political reformer as opposed to the founder of a new religion.
I’m glad Braden included in his discussion the respective founders of the Indian religions Sikhism and Jainism. Since much as been talked about concerning the contributions of Zoroastrianism to the three Abrahamic faiths, I’m also glad Braden included a chapter comparing Jesus to Zoroaster. Lastly, speaking of Abrahamic antecedents, I was pleasantly surprised to see Braden spent a chapter discussing the similarities and differences between Jesus and Moses.
Written over 50 years ago and therefore the product of another intellectual and social context, books like these can serve as fun little time capsules from another era. Compared to today’s sensitivities I thought Braden’s book held up reasonably well. Some contemporary readers might take issue with Braden’s subtle comments which seem to imply a desire to promote such interfaith dialog as a way to find common ground so Christians can more effectively evangelize among those of other faiths. However, I thought Braden was very respectful when it came to his discussion of the world’s religious.
After reading Jesus Compared, I’m thinking about next reading Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation, since it along with The Case for God for the last few years has been sitting in a big stack of unread books under my makeshift home entertainment system. Maybe Braden’s book will inspire me to finally do so.