Πέμπτη, 25 Μαρτίου 2010

Historical Jesus Theories

Historical Jesus Theories

Historical Jesus Theories

The purpose of this web page is to explain and explore some of the theories offered up by contemporary scholars on the historical Jesus and the origins of the Christian religion. Issues include the nature of the historical Jesus, the nature of the early Christian documents, and the origins of the Christian faith in a risen Jesus Christ. An attempt has been made to include historical Jesus theories across the spectrum from Marcus Borg to N.T. Wright and to describe these historical Jesus theories in an accurate and concise way.The authors are listed in alphabetical order. For convenience, the authors are also listed by the general view that each has on the historical Jesus. Much information is lost when a person's view is reduced to a slogan, and even scholars placed under the same rubric have different views on Jesus. The information on this web page is no substitute for reading what these writers have to say. The recent publications of each writer on the historical Jesus are indicated, with links to amazon.com to view reader reviews and buying information. Online articles by or about the author are also listed. The editor's favorites are shown in pictures on the right-hand side, and these titles are recommended for further reading on the historical Jesus.
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For more information on the debate over the historical Jesus, visit the Christian Origins web site.

Jesus the Myth: Heavenly ChristJesus the Myth: Man of the Indefinite Past
Jesus the Hellenistic Hero
Jesus the Revolutionary
Jesus the Wisdom Sage

Jesus the Man of the Spirit

Jesus the Prophet of Social Change

Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet

Jesus the Savior

The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions: Buy at amazon.com!

Marcus Borg


Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: Buy at amazon.com!Borg makes two negative claims about the historical Jesus: he was nonmessianic, which means that he didn't claim to be the Messiah or have a message focused on his own identity, and he was noneschatological, which means that he did not expect "the supernatural coming of the Kingdom of God as a world-ending event in his own generation" (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, p. 29). Borg summarizes his view of the historical Jesus in these words: "he was a spirit person, subversive sage, social prophet, and movement founder who invited his followers and hearers into a transforming relationship with the same Spirit that he himself knew, and into a community whose social vision was shaped by the core value of compassion" (op. cit., p. 119). By "spirit person," Borg means that Jesus was a "mediator of the sacred" for whom the Spirit or God was a reality that was experienced. Based on his experience of the sacred, for the historical Jesus compassion "was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God" (op. cit., p. 46). Jesus spoke against the purity system in sayings like "blessed are the pure in heart" and in parables like that of the Good Samaritan. The historical Jesus challenged the purity boundaries in touching lepers as well as hemorrhaging women, in driving the money changers out of the temple, and in table fellowship even with outcasts. Jesus replaced an emphasis on purity with an emphasis on compassion. The historical Jesus spoke an alternative wisdom in aphorisms and parables that controverted the conventional wisdom based upon rewards and punishments. The earliest Christology of the Christian movement viewed Jesus as the voice of the Sophia. The images of Jesus as the Son of God and the Wisdom of God are metaphorical, just as much as the images of Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Word of God.
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John Dominic Crossan


The Historical Jesus: Buy at amazon.com!In the work of John Dominic Crossan, there is a refreshing emphasis on methodology. To this end, Crossan has compiled a database of the attestation for the Jesus traditions by independent attestation and stratification, provided by Faith Futures Foundation in the links above. Crossan in The Historical Jesus explains that his methodology is to take what is known about the historical Jesus from the earliest, most widely attested data and set it in a socio-historical context. The bulk of the common sayings tradition shows itself to be specific to the situation that existed in the 20s of the first century in Galilee in which the agrarian peasantry were being exploited as the Romans were commercializing the area. The historical Jesus proves to be a displaced Galilean peasant artisan who had got fed up with the situation and went about preaching a radical message: an egalatarian vision of the Kingdom of God present on earth and available to all as manifested in the acts of Jesus in healing the sick and practicing an open commensality in which all were invited to share. The historical Jesus was an itinerant whose mode of teaching can be understood on analogy with the Cynic sage but who was nonetheless a Jew who believed that the kingdom was being made available by the God of Israel to his people. The revolutionary message of Jesus was seen to be subversive to the Roman vision of order and led to the fateful execution of Jesus by Pilate on a hill outside of Jerusalem.
The Birth of Christianity: Buy at amazon.com!In The Birth of Christianity, Crossan re-iterates an emphasis on methodology in laying out his presuppositions about the gospel texts as forming the basis for all of his other judgments about the historical Jesus and early Christianity. Among these are the existence of an early Cross Gospel reconstructed from the Gospel of Peter as elaborated in his tome The Cross that Spoke as well as his belief that the Gospel of John is dependent upon Mark. Crossan also explores the development of two different traditions from the historical Jesus, the Jerusalem tradition in which Jesus is believed to be the resurrected Christ, and the Q Gospel tradition in which Jesus is remembered as the founder of a way of life. For the former, Crossan reconstructs a group in the city of Jerusalem who shared everything in common and awaited the coming of Christ in power. For the latter, Crossan identifies Q, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Didache in which itinerants preach the teachings of Jesus and are supported by sometimes-critical communities. Both traditions are connected in their practice of share-meals and their origins in the historical Jesus.

Stevan Davies

Jesus the Healer: Buy at amazon.com!Doing away with the unproductive model of the historical Jesus as a teacher, Stevan Davies proposes that spirit possession played a crucial role in earliest Christianity. The texts themselves - Acts, John, Paul - tell us as much. Davies uses current anthropological research on spirit possession in order to shed new light on the history of early Christianity. Davies speculates that Jesus developed an alternate personality as "the spirit of God," by which he expelled demons in his healings. In this way, it is possible that much of the sayings material in John and sayings like Q's "No one knows the Father but the Son" reflect a tradition of the sayings of Jesus as possessed by the spirit of God. Davies explains the origins of Christianity in theorizing that took place concerning the disassociative experiences. For the idea that Jesus was divine, it took only a simple equation of identifying Jesus with his alter-ego as the spirit of God. In this way, Davies's theory fulfills a criterion that is overlooked in many reconstructions, that of explaining the development of Christian theology from the life of the historical Jesus. For fuller commentary, see Davies's own summary linked above.

Earl Doherty

The Jesus Puzzle: Buy at amazon.com!Earl Doherty holds that Christianity began with a mythical Christ. Earl Doherty argues that the diffuse undercurrent of religious thought called early Christianity can be shown to be a plausible descendant or cousin of Jewish mystical speculation on the scriptures (found in such writings as the Odes of Solomon, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Philo of Alexandria) and was probably well-received by those converts to early Christianity who were influenced by Platonism and Hellenistic soteriological ideas of the day. According to Doherty, religious thinking of the time saw the heavens as multi-layered and would understand the descent of a heavenly Christ to be sacrificed in the lower spheres of the heavens before being raised to the right hand of the Father. This is called the "Jerusalem Tradition," and it is exemplified by the epistles of Paul, seven of which are accepted as authentic.
As the other tributary to early Christianity, we have the "Galilean Tradition," a separate Kingdom of God preaching movement located in Syro-Palestine. According to Doherty, the earliest version of Q had no mention of any kind of founder of the Q community but rather was an anonymous wisdom collection. Doherty maintains that the final redaction of Q as well as the Gospel of Thomas derived from this original document and added the "Jesus said" references only at a subsequent stage. Doherty sees the author of the Gospel of Mark as one who had been brought up in the "Galilean Tradition" and devised a brilliant bit of religious syncretism in identifying the fictional Q founder with the exalted Pauline Christ in fashioning the passion story whole cloth. Mark's narrative (c. 85-90 CE) was the sole basis upon which the later evangelists retold the story: Matthew (c. 100 CE), Luke (c. 125 CE), and John (c. 125 CE) all depended upon Mark. The book of Acts is a catholicizing fiction of the mid second century. Although certain second century apologists continued to espouse a purely divine Christ, the Gospel myth eventually came to dominate Christian thought.
The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: Buy at amazon.com!

Bart Ehrman


Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet: Buy at amazon.com!Bart Ehrman compares the historical Jesus to the apocalyptic prophets that have appeared throughout history proclaiming the end of the age. Ehrman argues that since John the Baptist was apocalyptic and since Paul was apocalyptic and since the Palestinian Jewish milieu was apocalyptic, it only makes sense that the historical Jesus was apocalyptic too. Ehrman argues that those documents with elements of realized eschatology - the Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of John, and the Gospel of Thomas - prove to reflect the softening of apocalyptic expectation at the end of the first century or in the early second century. Ehrman proposes that the teachings ascribed to Jesus make sense as an "interim ethic" that is intended to apply to the short period of under a generation between the time of Jesus and the end of the age. Ehrman also makes sense of the cleansing of the Temple in the context of the eschatological expectations of the historical Jesus. Ehrman believes that the model of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet is the best lens with which to understand the life of the historical Jesus and the history of the movement that continued his legacy.

Robert Eisenman

James the Brother of Jesus: Buy at amazon.com!In the tradition of S. G. F. Brandon and Robert Eisler, Robert Eisenman has argued that the original Jamesian Christianity consisted of Torah-observant and nationalistic Jews of insurrectionist bent. In order to reconstruct the historical James, Eisenman peers behind the texts as we have them to get to the source of things; for example, Acts and the Pseudoclementine Recognitions are maintained to be both dependent on a source, now lost, which is better preserved in the Pseudoclementines. The Gospels are seen to be pro-Gentile, pro-Roman fictions which deliberately portray Jesus as a pacifistic, spiritual Messiah. In the Gospels, the original Heirs of Jesus are played down for political reasons.
Ancient tradition has it that the first Jewish revolt was sparked by the unjust execution of James the Just. In order to disassociate James the Just from his brother Jesus, the Gospels split him into two: on the one hand, the family of Jesus including James think Jesus is mad; on the other hand, James the son of Zebedee is one of the trio of James, Peter, and John as found in the Gospels. Yet the fiction is exposed when we look at the earlier letters of Paul, in which the trio is James the brother of the Lord, Peter, and John - what an odd coincidence, which so many scholars take at face value, that one James the son of Zebedee should have died only to be conveniently replaced by another by the name of James, the brother of Jesus! Yet, Eisenman argues, the Gospels and Acts are full of this kind of misinformation designed to obscure the significance of the James faction and to domesticate Christianity for Gentile consumption.
In addition to propounding his central thesis that the original Christianity of James was a Jewish nationalist resistance movement and that Paul transformed it into a Hellenistic cult, Eisenman has an auxiliary theory that has likely drawn both impressive book sales and scholarly derision, which is his attempt to bring the Dead Sea Scrolls into the mix. Eisenman identifies James the Just with the Teacher of Righteousness and Paul with the spouter of lies, figures vaguely identified in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, in so doing, Eisenman must strenuously argue against the use of carbon-dating and paleographical methods which suggest that the documents in question were written prior to the Christian era. Fortunately, his identifications for the characters in the Dead Sea Scrolls need not be seen as essential to his thesis.

Alvar Ellegård

Jesus, One Hundred Years Before Christ: Buy at amazon.com!Ellegård believes that first century Christianity developed within the Jewish matrix of the Essene Church of God: "Thanks to the 'evangelisation' carried out by the earliest apostles, Paul and his contemporaries, the communities were made to realise that the great teacher and prophet whom they took to be the founder of their Church, and who they believed had been dead for over a hundred years, had now been seen in Heaven, and should be regarded as the Messiah, their Saviour. In the Qumran texts - largely unknown to the Diaspora communities - he was never named, but referred to by the title Teacher of Righteousness. But after the apostles had been overwhelmed by the experience of seeing him in Heaven, they began to use instead, exclusively, the name Jesus, a name meaning, roughly, Salvation, and therefore very appropriate for somebody they had now come to look upon primarily as their Saviour. The designation Teacher of Righteousness disappears completely." (Jesus: One Hundred Years Before Christ, p. 120)
In addition to arguing that the earliest Christians believed their Jesus to have lived in the past (the time of the Teacher of Righteousness depicted in the Dead Sea Scrolls), Ellegård argues for a redating of several Christian documents. Ellegård argues that 1 Clement, the Pastor of Hermas, the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Letter to the Hebrews, and the Revelation of John were contemporary to Paul. Ellegård argues that Ignatius (c. 110 CE) represents a halfway point between Paul and the Gospels, which were written well into the second century. Ellegård concludes that the story of Jesus of Nazareth, crucified by Pilate, was a fictional construction.
From Jesus to Christ: Buy at amazon.com!

Paula Fredriksen


Fredriksen summarizes her position in three paragraphs (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, pp. 266-267):

The Jesus encountered in the present reconstruction is a prophet who preached the coming apocalyptic Kingdom of God. His message coheres both with that of his predecessor and mentor, John the Baptizer, and with that of the movement that sprang up in his name. This Jesus thus is not primarily a social reformer with a revolutionary message; nor is he a religious innovator radically redefining the traditional ideas and practices of his native religion. His urgent message had not the present so much as the near future in view.Further, what distinguished Jesus' prophetic message from those of others was primarily its timetable, not its content. Like John the Baptizer, he emphasized his own authority to preach the coming Kingdom; like Theudas, the Egyptian, the signs prophets, and again like the Baptizer, he expected its arrival soon. But the vibrant conviction of his followers even decades after the Crucifixion, together with the unprecedented phenomenon of the mission to Israel and the inclusion of Gentiles, suggests that Jesus had stepped up the Kingdom's timetable from soon to now. By actually naming the day or date of the Kingdom's coming, perhaps even for that very same Passover that proved to be his last, Jesus galvanized crowds gathered in Jerusalem who were not socialized to his mission - its pacifist tenor, its emphasis on divine rather than human action - and who in praising the approaching Kingdom proclaimed him Son of David and Messiah. It was this combustible mix of factors - the excited popular acclaim, in Jerusalem at its most densely populated pilgrim festival, when Pilate was in town specifically to keep his eye on the crowd - not his teaching as such, nor his arguments with other Jews on the meaning of Sabbath, Temple, purity, or some other aspect of Torah, that led directly to Jesus' execution as King of the Jews.
Finally, a Jesus whose itinerary is sketched primarily not from the Synoptics but from John - a Jesus, that is, whose mission extended routinely not only to the Galilee but also to Judea, and specifically Jerusalem - can speak to the anomaly that has propelled this investigation, namely, that Jesus alone was killed as an insurrectionist on that Passover, but none of his disciples were. A repeated mission in Jerusalem, especially during the pilgrimage holidays when the prefect, too, of necessity, was there, explains how Caiaphas and Pilate would both already know who Jesus was and what he preached, and thus know as well that he was not in any first-order way dangerous. Just as the crowd's enthusiasm for Jesus as messiah accounts for the specific manner of his death, so Jesus' dual focus - Judea, especially Jerusalem in and around the Temple, as well as the Galilee - accounts for the high priest's and the prefect's familiarity with his mission, and thus explains why Jesus was the sole focus of their action.
Although Fredriksen does not make an argument for its authenticity, the authenticity of the saying in Mark 14:25 as defended by Lüdemann and Meier would support Fredriksen's contention that Jesus expected the end to come immediately, a contention which Fredriksen defends as the best explanation for the fact that Jesus was crucified. For, as Fredriksen argues, the point of the crucifixion as a mode of execution was the display for the crowds, and the eschatological fervor surrounding a specific prediction of immediate cataclysm would have been enough for Jesus to excite the imagination of the crowds. Fredriksen maintains that Jesus did not present himself as the Messiah but that such a claim was made for Jesus by the crowds in Jerusalem, which led to the expedient of Pilate to contain the situation by crucifixion.

Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy

The Jesus Mysteries: Buy at amazon.com!Freke and Gandy argue for the Jesus Mysteries Thesis: "Could Gnosticism be the original Christianity, which developed from the Pagan Mysteries with the Jesus story as a Jewish version of the perennial myth of the dying and resurrecting Mystery godman?" (The Jesus Mysteries, p. 110) Freke and Gandy explain the development of the Gospel story like so: "The Messiah was expected to be a historical, not a mythical, savior. It was inevitable, therefore, that the Jesus story would have to develop a quasi-historical setting. And so it did. What had started as a timeless myth encoding perennial teachings now appeared to be a historical account of a once-only event in time. From this point it was unavoidable that sooner or later it would be interpreted as historical fact. Once it was, a whole new type of religion came into being - a religion based on history not myth, on blind faith in supposed events rather than on a mystical understanding of mythical allegories, a religion of the Outer Mysteries without the Inner Mysteries, of form without content, of belief without Knowledge." (The Jesus Mysteries, p. 207) The authors support their thesis by drawing parallels between the Christ of the Gospels and the Osiris-Dionysus myth.

Robert Funk

The Five Gospels: Buy at amazon.com!Robert Funk is founder of the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars whose purpose was to examine the historicity of the sayings and deeds of Jesus. The reports of their deliberations are available in The Five Gospels and in The Acts of Jesus. The premises and rules of evidence are available in the link above, and some of the deliberations in favor of authenticity are also linked above.
One claim of the Jesus Seminar is that the historical Jesus was not apocalyptic: "The views of John the Baptist and Paul are apocalyptically oriented. The early church aside from Paul shares Paul's view. The only question is whether the set of texts that represent God's rule as present were obfuscated by the pessimistic apocalyptic notions of Jesus' immediate predecessors, contemporaries, and successors. If Jesus merely adopted the popular views, how did sayings such as Luke 17:20-21 and Luke 11:20 arise? The best explanation is that they originated with Jesus, since they go against the dominant trend of the unfolding tradition. Fellows of the Jesus Seminar are convinced that the subtlety of Jesus' sense of time - the simultaneity of present and future - was almost lost on his followers, many of whom, after all, started as disciples of John the Baptist, and are represented, in the gospels, as understanding Jesus poorly." (The Five Gospels, p. 137) The Fellows also note that most of the parables do not evince an apocalyptic view of the kingdom.
Honest to Jesus: Buy at amazon.com!Although Robert Funk does so in Honest to Jesus, the Jesus Seminar did not attempt to make a sketch of the historical Jesus on the basis of their decisions on individual sayings. Yet a distinctive portrait does emerge from the data, as indicated for example in the comments on Lk 12:22-31: "In these sayings, Jesus depicts the providence of God who cares for all creatures - birds, lilies, grass, and human beings. Fretting about food and clothing does not produce food and clothing. Serene confidence that God will provide undergirds Jesus' lifestyle as an itinerant, without home or bed, without knowing where the next meal will come from. This is the same sage who advocates giving both of one's everyday garments to someone who sues for one; who advises his followers to give to every beggar and to lend to those who cannot repay; who humorously suggests that a rich person can no more get into God's domain than a camel can squeeze through the eye of a needle; who sends his disciples out on the road without money, food, change of clothes, or bag to carry them in; who claims that God observes every sparrow and counts the hairs on every head. This bundle of sayings, all of which commanded red or pink designations by the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar, indicate why they also believe the heart of this collection on anxieties originated with Jesus, although not precisely in the words preserved for us in Q. When these sayings are taken together, a portrait of the historical Jesus begins to emerge." (op. cit., p. 340)
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Richard Horsley


Horsley describes his view of the historical Jesus in these words (Jesus and the Spiral of Violence, pp. 207-208):

The focal concern of the kingdom of God in Jesus' preaching and practice, however, is the liberation and welfare of the people. Jesus' understanding of the "kingdom of God" is similar in its broader perspective to the confident hopes expressed in then-contemporary Jewish apocalyptic literature. That is, he had utter confidence that God was restoring the life of the society, and that this would mean judgment for those who oppressed the people and vindication for those who faithfully adhered to God's will and responded to the kingdom. That is, God was imminently and presently effecting a historical transformation. In modern parlance that would be labeled a "revolution."The principal thrust of Jesus' practice and preaching, however, was to manifest and mediate the presence of the kingdom of God. In the gospel traditoins of Jesus' words and deeds, we can observe the kingdom present in the experience of the people in distinctive ways. Jesus and his followers celebrated the joys of the kingdom present in festive banqueting. In the healings and forgiveness of sins and in the exorcisms, individual persons experienced the liberation from disease and oppressive forces and the new life effected by God's action. Jesus' interpretation of the exorcisms, moreover, points to the broader implications of God's present action among the people. That is, since the exorcisms are obviously being effected by God, it is clear that the rule of Satan has been broken. But that meant also that the oppressive established order maintained by the power of Satan (according to the apocalyptic dualistic view of reality that was shared by Jesus and his contemporaries) was also under judgment. The old order was in fact being replaced by a new social-political order, that is, the "kingdom of God," which Jesus was inviting the people to "enter."
Indeed, Jesus was engaged in catalyzing the renewal of the people, Israel. Far from being primarily a "teacher" of timeless truths or a preacher of cosmic catastrophe calling for authentic "decision," Jesus ministered "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." He summoned the people to recognize the presence of the kingdom and to enter the kingdom, but if they did not respond to the historical crisis, he did not hesitate to pronounce judgment. It is precisely in the pronounced woes against whole villages or against the whole (sinful) "generation" that we can discern that Jesus was not simply addressing individuals but was calling for collective, social response.
While not saying that Jesus was antifamily, Horsley says that Jesus called for "renewed local covenantal communities conceived of in nonpatriarchal familial terms" (op. cit., p. 240). Unlike Cynics, Jesus' disciples "focused their activities on the revitalization of local community life" (op. cit., p. 231). These communities were called to be egalitarian. Horsley argues that there is no evidence for a continuous "Zealot" movement founded in 6 CE but rather that the Zealots themselves emerged only in the middle of the Jewish revolt. Attempts to use Zealots as a foil for an apolitical Jesus are misguided. Horsley argues that the passages in which Jesus associates with tax collectors and sinners are apologetic inventions against the false charge that Jesus consorted with the wicked. Because all belonged to God in Jewish thought, the "render" saying of Jesus in Mark 12:17 was ostensibly noncommital while actually advocating nonpayment of tribute. Jesus called for a social revolution in which the people "the people were to enter a new spirit of cooperation and mutual assistance, even in relation to their local enemies" (op. cit., p. 325), while in anticipation of the political revolution to be effected by God.
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Luke Timothy Johnson


Luke Timothy Johnson criticizes the Jesus Seminar and scholars such as Burton Mack for what he considers to be unchecked optimism (or pessimism, depending on your feelings about the Jesus Seminar) about what can be known about early Christianity and about the historical Jesus. Johnson calls for a more cautious approach to history that states what few facts that can be known - for example, the baptism and the crucifixion - and does not venture to speculate about what cannot be known. In place of such speculation, Johnson advocates a fideism in which we accept any additional items - for example, the resurrection - on the basis of the tradition and the authority of the church. Johnson believes that Jesus is who the New Testament and the creeds say he is: the Son of God who came to suffer willingly and die for our sins.
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Gerd Lüdemann


Lüdemann sets out four criteria of inauthenticity and five criteria of authenticity in The Great Deception, which is something of an abridged and popular version of his subsequent comprehensive workJesus After 2000 Years. The first criterion of inauthenicity is that sayings presupposing Jesus as the exalted Lord are not from the earthly Jesus. The second is that actions that presuppose the violation of natural laws are unhistorical. The third states that sayings that appear to be devised to answer the problems of later communities are inauthentic. The fourth criterion of inauthenticity says that sayings or actions that presume a Gentile rather than a Jewish audience do not go back to Jesus. The first criterion of authenticity says that sayings or actions that are offensive to Christian sensibilities are not likely to be fabrications. The criterion of difference states that sayings that do not appear to reflect the ideas of post-Easter communities likely go back to the historical Jesus. The criterion of growth says that material around which additional traditions have accumulated may be old enough to go back to Jesus. The criterion of rarity indicates that sayings with few parallels in the Jewish sphere are likely to be distinctive to Jesus. The fifth criterion of authenticity, that of coherence, says that a saying or action that fits in seamlessly with other identified authentic material may also be deemed authentic. An examination of the authenticity of all the Jesus traditions with use of criteria such as these can be found in Jesus After 2000 Years.
According to Lüdemann, Jesus like many first century Palestinian Jews went to be baptized for the remission of sins and believed in the imminent end of the world preached by John the Baptist. Lüdemann says that Jesus developed the Baptist's ideas in a new direction in three ways: "first, in the long term he did not like John's fundamentally ascetic attitude. In keeping with this, secondly, he had a tremendous experience of the kingdom of God which was prefigured in meals with him to which anyone could come. And thirdly, he found his capacity to heal an overwhelming experience which he also associated with the coming of the kingdom of God." (Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 689) Lüdemann thinks that Jesus saw himself in battle against Satan in healing sickness and sin, which were inextricably linked.
Lüdemann writes (Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 690): "In its decisive phase, Jesus' life was shaped by the unshakable faith that he had to interpret God's law authoritatively in God's name. Broadly speaking, his interpretation was to be perceived as an accentuation of the will of God. Thus he forbade divorce with an appeal to God's good creation, by which in marriage man and woman irrevocably have become one flesh (Mark 10.8). He focussed the commandment to love on the demand to love one's enemy (Luke 6.27). He forbade judging (Matt. 7.1) and swearing (Matt. 5.34). Now and then he reduced the law in sweeping manner and by so doing in fact made the food laws irrelevant (Mark 7.15); he focussed the sabbath on human well-being (Mark 2.27). But anything that - in modern terms - looked like autonomy was grounded in theonomy. Jesus could ordain this free and at the same time radical interpretation of the law only because he had received the authority to do so from God, who he addressed lovingly, as Paul did later, as Abba (a term denoting deep intimacy and affection). At this point Jesus and his heavenly Father were almost one, and that must have been most offensive to his Jewish hearers."
Against those who would make a strict dichotomy between the timeless wisdom and eschatological expectation in the words of Jesus, Lüdemann insists that wisdom and apocalyptic exist side by side in the thought of Jesus as it does in the thought of Paul. That Jesus expected an imminent end is indicated, for example, by Mark 14:25, which Lüdemann deems authentic, saying "Only Jesus' expectation of the future kingdom of God stands at the centre, and not Jesus was redeemer, judge, or intercessor" (The Great Deception, p. 77). On Luke 11:20, Lüdemann writes: "The flight of the demons is a sign that the power of the evil one has been overcome, even if a final destruction of the evil powers will only take place in the final judgment, which is imminent" (The Great Deception, p. 83).
Lüdemann comments on passages such as Thomas 98, Luke 16:1-7, Matthew 13:44, Luke 12:39, and Luke 18:2-5 as being stories of immoral heroes: "However, Jesus did not just make immoral heroes the main characters in his parables. In a way his own life was that of an immoral hero. Occasionally he deliberately transgressed the sabbath commandment (cf. Mark 2.27). He taught those who should have taught him. He called on the people to love those whom they really should have hated. In public he was regarded as a friend of tax-collectors and sinners, as a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7.34). The life of Jesus was not that of a hero who went his way to victory without hindrance; his life was not the kind that had a happy ending. Jesus' condemnation, his death on the cross and the immediate failure of his activity formally made him the opposite of a hero. Putting all existing values in question and thus turning them upside down, he became an extremely immoral anti-hero." (The Great Deception, pp. 96-97)

Hyam Maccoby

Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil: Buy at amazon.com!Hyam Maccoby writes (8/5/01): "I write on Christian origins from the standpoint of a scholar of the ancient Jewish writings, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the Midrashim. My view on Christian origins is that Jesus was a Jewish messiah-figure who had no intention of starting a new religion. The real founder of Christianity as a separate religion was Paul. Jesus died on a Roman cross because he was considered a threat to the Roman occupation of Judaea, not because he was regarded as heretical or blasphemous by the Jewish religious authorities, the Pharisees. His Jewish opponent was the High Priest, who was a Roman appointee, who acted for political, not religious motives, in arresting Jesus. Jesus was not a military figure, but, like Theudas, and some other contemporary messiah-figures, relied on the hope of divine intervention, which he thought would take place on the Mount of Olives." Maccoby has a book to be published in 2002 titled The Pharisee Jesus from SCM Press.

Burton Mack

The Lost Gospel: Buy at amazon.com!Following up on earlier suggestions, such as by Koester and Robinson in Trajectories through Early Christianity, Mack identifies numerous social groups lurking behind the scenes of early Christianity. Quoting from The Lost Gospel, p. 214: "The Q people were not the only group that formed within the Jesus movement. To take five additional groups as an example of the experimental nature of the Jesus movement, there is some evidence for (1) a group of Jesus people distinguished by its allegiance to Jesus' family, (2) Jewish followers who took up residence in Jerusalem for a time, (3) the people who designed sets of (five) miracle stories as their myth of origin, (4) the Jesus movement in which Mark was at home and in which the pronouncement story genre was highly developed, and (5) the tradition within which Luke was at home, a tradition with a sketchy history but one in which a distinctively human view of Jesus prevailed." Famously, Mack reconstructs the social history of the early Q people on analogy with the Cynics, libertines with a fondness for paradox and humor who traveled lightly and used their sharp words to controvert social conventions. Although Mack is hesitant to make pronouncements of knowledge concerning the historical Jesus, there is the distinct possibility that these early Cynic-like Jesus people were following the practice of their founder. Mack is among those who stratify Q, and the apocalyptic polemics characteristic of Q2 are thought to reflect anger and disappointment over the failure of their Jewish brethren to repent and live in the kingdom of God.
Who Wrote the New Testament?: Buy at amazon.com!Mack views these Jesus movements as the earliest expressions of incipient Christianity. In a particular group of Jesus people in northern Syria, the kerygma of Christ developed. In the mix of Hellenistic Jews and converted Gentiles, these congregations began to view Jesus as an innocent who had died "for us," for the congregations of Christians, in line with Greek traditions of the noble death. This martyrology, in which Jesus died for the kingdom of the God of Israel, allowed the first Christians to think of themselves as belonging the new configuration of "Israel," the people of God, justified in the inclusion of gentiles. The same first Christians developed the notion "that God raised Jesus from the dead as a vindication for his faithfulness to the cause for which he had died" (p. 218). Then came the idea that "Jesus was recognized by God as the rightful heir to his kingdom," as the "son of God whom God designated as a king." Jesus became the Christ, the lord of God's people, the Christians. "With such a dramatic mythology focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus as the Christ, the congregations of the Christ no longer needed to cultivate the memories of Jesus as a teacher." (p. 219) Mack continues, "The evidence from Paul's letters is that the congregations of the Christ were attractive associates and that their emerging mythology was found to be exciting. A spirited cult formed on the model of the mystery religions, complete with entrance baptisms, rites of recognition (the holy kiss), ritualized meals (the lord's supper), the notion of the spiritual presence of the lord, and the creation of liturgical materials such as acclamations, doxologies, confessions of faith, and Christ hymns." (pp. 219-220)
Thus, out of the soil of the Jesus movements, an entirely different movement sprouted up in the congregations of the Christ. According to Mack, the Gospel of Mark effected a reduction of the Christ myth into terms comprehensible to Jesus people. For the author of Mark, the "lord's supper" is merely the last supper, "not intended as an etiological script for ritual reenactment" (p. 222). Mark stayed a course between the Christ myth and the Jesus traditions and succeeded in getting people in the Jesus traditions to think of Jesus as the Messiah and to think of his death as a martyrdom for the cause. A different combination was effected by the Johannine tradition, in which the cross of Christ "revealed a divine world of life and light that had always been present but never clearly seen until Jesus as the son of God had made it known" (p. 223) Later second century documents such as Acts created the notion of an apostolic age in which true doctrine was handed down once for all.
A Marginal Jew, v. 3: Buy at amazon.com!

John P. Meier


A Marginal Jew, v. 1: Buy at amazon.com!In the first volume, Meier looks at "the roots of the problem and the person." Meier distinguishes between the real Jesus, the actual person who walked the sands of Palestine, and the historical Jesus, an abstraction representing what we can know about Jesus. Meier identifies Q, Mark, special Matthew, special Luke, and John as representing five independent sources within the New Testament. Bucking a trend of the "Third Quest," Meier rejects the attempts to argue that the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, and other noncanonical material may be independent of the New Testament. Meier argues that Josephus provides independent confirmation of the historicity of Jesus, but the other references in Jewish and pagan literature have little value. Meier lays out his criteria of historicity; five primary criteria of embarrassment, discontinuity, multiple attestation, coherence, and "rejection and execution" as well as four dubious criteria of traces of Aramaic, Palestinian environment, vividness of narration, and tendencies of the developing synoptic tradition. Meier argues that Nazareth is a more likely birthplace than Bethlehem as well as that Jesus had real brothers. Meier argues that Jesus was unlike many of his contemporaries in that he was literate. Meier attempts an analogy for the economic status of Jesus as "a blue-collar worker in lower-middle-class America" (p. 282), by which he means that Jesus' economic situation was typical of Galileans, though this in itself was not great.
A Marginal Jew, v. 2: Buy at amazon.com!In the second volume, Meier examines "mentor, message, and miracles." Meier argues strongly for the baptism of Jesus by John. Meier also argues that the historical Jesus, like the historical John, preached the Kingdom with a future sense, not just a present sense. "Jesus not only presented himself as the eschatological prophet of the coming kingdom of God, not only presented himself as the Elijah-like miracle-worker who made the future kingdom already effective and palpable to his followers, but at the same time presented hmself as a teacher who could tell Israelites how to observe the Law of Moses - indeed, who could even tell Israelites what they should or should not observe in the Law." (p. 1046) Meier states that an Elijah-like miracle-working eschatological prophet is not so readily relevant to us today as a domesticated "kindhearted rabbi who preached gentleness and love" (p. 1045). Yet, Meier says, the historical Jesus was such a prophet.

Stephen Patterson

The Fifth Gospel: Buy at amazon.com!Stephen Patterson writes: "Of particular importance is Kloppenborg's influential study of the redaction of Q. Just as we have already seen that Thomas and Q1 agree in opting for a non-apocalyptic interpretation of Jesus preaching, so also now it is to be noticed that neither Thomas nor Q1 seem to be much interested in Jesus' death. It is, at any rate, not a primary point of departure in their respective theological orientations. The convergence of Thomas and Q1 on these points is very important, for it helps us clearly to locate reflection upon the death of Jesus and the use of apocalyptic scenarios in the sayings tradition to the synoptic trajectory alone, and to its later stages at that. It is becoming ever more difficult to imagine a Jesus who reflected upon his own death, and preached an imminent apocaylptic judgment to be visited upon the world." (The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus, p. 231)
Patterson suggests "that Jesus was a wisdom teacher, and that the early Jesus movement thought of itself as a kind of wisdom school" (op. cit., p. 232). Patterson continues, "By moving the wisdom mode of discourse in a more speculative direction, one could account, on the one hand, for the wisdom-oriented opponents of Paul reprimanded in 1 Corinthians, and on the other, for the emergence of the descending/ascending revealer Christology that comes to predominate later in the Gospel of Thomas and in John." (op. cit., p. 233) Patterson also sees social radicalism as an essential part of the earliest Jesus movement and, by extension, of the historical Jesus: "Utterly destitute, the wise sage is called upon to dispose of his or her money (Thom 95, par. Matt 5:42//Luke 6:34-35a, Q), and to take no care for such necessities as clothing (Thom 36 [Coptic], par. Matt 6:25-33//Luke 12:22-30, Q) or food (Thom 69:2, par. Matt 5:6//Luke 6:21a, Q). Their poverty is to be a sign of blessing (Thom 54, par. Matt 5:3//Luke 6:20b, Q)." (op. cit., p. 234) Patterson thus paints the historical Jesus as an itinerant wisdom sage with a message of social radicalism.
One Jesus, Many Christs: Buy at amazon.com!

Gregory Riley


From the title of One Jesus, Many Christs, one might expect three themes in the text: the first theme is the identity of the one and only historical Jesus, the second theme is the diversity of Christian images of Christ, and the third theme is how one gets from the former to the latter. Instead, we find that the first and third themes are missing entirely. The book by Riley is solely about the different ways in which early Christians viewed Christ and particularly in how these views of Christ are all based on the model of the Hellenistic hero.
Riley concludes his first chapter with these words (p. 14): "The story of Jesus was the story of a kind and righteous man, a man from God, the son of God, whatever was meant by the phrase, who followed the will of God against evil to the death and thereby not only gained resurrection for himself, but could offer it to others who would do the same. And in so doing, the early Christians brought new meaning to the word 'martyr.' I think that Tertullian was right: the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church. That is the kind of energy necessary to start a world religion and call forth the commitment that requires one's whole life. That energy is ofund in only one place in the Greco-Roman world - in the tales of the heroes that had been told for a thousand years. The very culture was founded on them, and the people lived and died imitating them. For those who heard the story of Jesus in the ancient world, whichever doctrinal form it came to them in, Jesus was a hero. He was also, of course, many other things to his followers far more familiar to us arising out the many doctrinal formulations. But why the story of Jesus was able to inspire so many people in the ancient world, why they imitated him and followed him to the grave, was that, in some way lost to us, he was their hero."
Chapter 3 of the book is quite valuable, in which Riley explains "The Story of the Hero and the Ideals of Antiquity." Riley begins with an exploration of the different types of living beings according to Plutarch and Hesiod. Hesiod combined the story of the Four Ages of gold silver, bronze, and iron with the concept of the types of living beings: gods, daimones, heroes, humans, and animals. According to Hesiod, gods and humans came from the same source, and the Golden race was happy and favored by the gods. Hesiod says that the souls of those living in the Golden age became daimones, "agents of Zeus who now invisibly watch over human affairs, kindly spirits who guard and deliver us from harm (Works and Days, 122-24)" (p. 33). The daimon was not to be seen as purely evil until the rise of dualism after the Exile in intertestamental Jewish literature. After the golden age comes the silver age and the bronze age, which are successively more unhappy and violent. The bronze age destroys itself, and instead of leading to a further degeneration (in line with the ANE myth of the Four Ages), there comes the Age of Heroes: "they are not degenerates, but righteous demigods, literally hemitheoi, 'half gods,' again to be ruled over by Kronos in his new capacity as sovereign of the blessed afterlife. Yet they are curiously human like ourselves; they fight the battles and suffer the pains and death of the famous epics of Greece, the battles of Thebes and the Trojan War. These are the classical heroes of antiquity." (p. 34) After the age of heroes, comes the age in which we live, the worst of all ages, known as the Age of Iron. Yet, according to the myth, the age to come will be a return to the Golden Age.
Riley notes that the hero is typically "the offspring of the union between divine and human parents," as reflected in Greek literature and even in Gen. 6:4. The hero is known to be a person of remarkable talent, such as a Homer or Alexander the Great. The fate of the hero is interwoven with the fate of the hero's people; "their very genetics placed them in the mids of destiny on a larger-than-human scale" (p. 43). Continuing his exploration of the hero in Greek culture, particularly in the Illiad, Riley notes: "This choice to die for principle and with honor became one of the most famous heroic events to be imitated in the entire tradition." (p. 47) And Riley says: "The issue of destiny, often fatal destiny, points to another aspect of the heroic career - heroes have divine enemies." Riley observes that heroes have rulers as human enemies and that the rulers who abuse the hero bring suffering on their cities (such as Troy and Thebes in Greek legend, or Jerusalem in Christian). Riley states: "Common to all stories of heroes is the test of character - the critical situation that is the hero's destiny and shows forth the true character of the soul," as is most obvious in the choice of Heracles between Vice and Virtue and subsequently in the labors (p. 51). Riley claims: "The fate in which the hero is bound while alive often forms a complex pattern of divine justice in which the gods themselves are partners: the hero suffers humiliation, privation, and even death as a kind of bait in a larger divine trap designed to catch and destroy the wicked." Riley points out the example of Odysseus, whose wanderings eventually led to the destruction of the wicked suitors. Riley also argues that the hero dies "in the prime of life, in the midst of the very test, the crisis for which they were destined" (p. 54). The prize of immortality is a theme among some stories of heroes: "One may see here the concept that among the ancient heroes suffering led to a prize. The prize for Heracles was immortality, but for the rest of us, in spite of the assurances of the philosophers, the prize was an uncertain remembrance of bravery among our friends and family, or perhaps nothing at all." (p. 58) The hero could act as an intermediary: "What remained after death was the right of the hero to stand on behalf of his or her worshipers who themselves passed the test. This was true because through death the hero became a transformed being." (p. 58) Riley also notes: "Heroes not only offered help - their stories also provided understanding of the proper modes of action. They were models, examples, and ideals." (p. 59) This sums up the concept of the hero.
Riley boldly declares: "If one is not a New Testament scholar, one may see with little difficulty from the preceding chapters that stories of the life of Jesus were very much set in the mold of the stories of the ancient heroes." (p. 61)
The Historical Figure of Jesus: Buy at amazon.com!

E. P. Sanders


E. P. Sanders provides this list of things we know about Jesus (Jesus and Judaism, pp. 326-327):

I. Certain or virtually certain:
1. Jesus shared the world-view that I have called 'Jewish restoration eschatology'. The key facts are his start under John the Baptist, the call of the twelve, his expectation of a new (or at least renewed) temple, and the eschatological setting of the work of the apostles (Gal. 1.2; Rom. 11.11-13, 25-32; 15.15-19).
2. He preached the kingdom of God.
3. He promised the kingdom to the wicked.
4. He did not explicitly oppose the law, particularly not laws relating to Sabbath and food.
5. Neither he nor his disciples thought that the kingdom would be established by force of arms. They looked for an eschatological miracle.
II. Highly probable:
1. The kingdom which he expected would have some analogies with this world: leaders, the twelve tribes, a functioning temple.
2. Jesus' disciples thought of him as 'king', and he accepted the role, either implicitly or explicitly.
III. Probable:
1. He thought that the wicked who accepted his message would share in the kingdom even though they did not do the things customary in Judaism for the atonement of sin.
2. He did not emphasize the national character of the kingdom, including judgment by groups and a call for mass repentance, because that had been the task of John the Baptist, whose work he accepted.
3. Jesus spoke about the kingdom in different contexts, and he did not always use the word with precisely the same meaning.
IV. Possible:
1. He may have spoken about the kingdom in the visionary manner of the 'little apocalypse' (Mark 13 and parr.), or as a present reality into which individuals enter one by one - or both.
V. Conceivable:
1. He may have thought that the kingdom, in all its power and might, was present in his words and deeds.
2. He may have given his own death martyrological significance.
3. He may have identified himself with a cosmic Son of man and conceived his attaining kingship in that way.
VI. Incredible:
1. He was one of the rare Jews in his day who believed in love, mercy, grace, repentance and the forgiveness of sin.
2. Jews in general, and Pharisees in particular, would kill people who believed in such things.
3. As a result of his work, Jewish confidence in election was 'shaken to pieces', Judaism was 'shaken to its foundations', and Judaism as a religion was destroyed.
Sanders writes of the 'connecting link' (op. cit., p. 334):

We went in search of a thread which connects Jesus' own intention, his death and the rise of the movement. We found first a general context which embraces both Jesus and the movement which succeeded him: hope for the restoration of Israel. Second, we found a specific chain of conceptions and events which allows us to understand historically how things came about. Jesus claimed that the end was at hand, that God was about to establish his kingdom, that those who responded to him would be included, and (at least by implication) that he would reign. In pointing to the change of eras, he made a symbolic gesture by overturning tables in the temple area. This is the crucial act which led to his execution, though there were contributing causes. His disciples, after the death and resurrection, continued to expect the restoration of Israel and the inauguration of the new age, and they continued to see Jesus as occupying first place in the kingdom. Also, as we saw in ch. 8, they continued to look for an otherworldly kingdom which would be established by an eschatological miracle, although its locale may have shifted from this world to the heavenly one. The person of Jesus himself was also progressively interpreted: he was no longer seen just as 'Messiah' or 'Viceroy', but as Lord. Some who were attracted to the movement began to win Gentiles to it. The work of the early apostles, which is so well reflected in Paul's letters, fits entirely into known expectations about the restoration of Israel.
Sanders believes that this reconstruction is the one that gives the most natural explanation of the life of Jesus and of the birth of Christianity.
Jesus the Messiah: Buy at amazon.com!

Robert H. Stein


Stein writes: "Without an openness to the supernatural, the result of any investigation of the life of Christ has predetermined that the resulting Jesus will be radically different from the Jesus who was born of a virgin, was anointed by the Spirit, healed the sick, raised the dead, died for the sins of the world, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Yet it is this supernatural Jesus that humanity desperately needs, for only this supernatural Jesus can bridge the gap between human sin and God's holiness. What the world so critically needs is a Savior, but only a supernatural Jesus can be a Savior." (Jesus the Messiah, p. 13) Stein continues: "In writing this work I have assumed the presence of the supernatural in the life of Jesus. In other words, this life of Christ has been written from a believer's viewpoint." (op. cit., p. 13)
Stein considers the virgin birth, Herod's slaughter of the children, and the visit of the three wise men to be historical incidents. Stein contends that Jesus was sinless although his family did not notice this fact. Stein believes that Jesus, assured of his status as Christ at the baptism administered by John, worked out what it meant to be the Messiah when tempted by the devil in the wilderness: "He would not use his messianic powers for his own ends. Jesus rejected all political concepts of messiahship and especially the path of the Zealots. Instead he would accept the path of the suffering servant that God had ordained for him." (op. cit., p. 110) Jesus chose the twelve disciples to be the foundation of the church. Stein recognizes that "the ethic of the kingdom" is realized in living as God's children and loving outcasts, sinners, and enemies.
Stein writes: "The events of Caesarea Philippi were clearly the watershed and turning point of Jesus' ministry. It is at this point that the disciples came to acknowledge, despite their own misconceptions, that Jesus was indeed the Christ. Upon receiving this confession Jesus began to prepare the disciples for his forthcoming passion. This new teaching would cause even more confusion during Jesus' ministry, but after the resurrection the disciples would be able to see clearly that the cross was not a tragedy or mistake but part of the divine mystery. The resurrection would not create a new understanding of the person and work of Jesus, the Christ. Rather, it would confirm what he had taught all along: Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world." (op. cit., p. 165)
Stein writes that Jesus "claimed authority to purify the temple and to pronounce judgment on it" in the action of the cleansing of the temple (op. cit., p. 196). Jesus instituted the Eucharist as a memorial of his redeeming sacrifice. Stein emphasizes that God was fully in control in the betrayal of Judas, the desertment of the disciples, the denials of Peter, and the execution of Jesus, all of which were predicted by Jesus. Stein rejects any attempt to deny the involvement of the Jewish leaders in the death of Jesus. Stein reviews the arguments against the idea that Jesus was not crucified and for the idea that his tomb was found empty by the women on the third day. Stein concludes by saying that the life of Jesus did not end with the crucifixion, as Jesus rose from the dead and will return on the last day.

Gerd Theissen

The Historical Jesus: Buy at amazon.com!Jesus joined up with John the Baptist to confess his sins. "Like everyone else he, too, expected the imminent judgment of God." (The Historical Jesus, p. 569) In his own ministry, the historical Jesus taught that the time before the end had been extended by the grace of God but that evil had already been overcome, as shown in his exorcisms. Jesus chose twelve disciples to rule the soon-to-be-restored Israel. The belief in a God who would bring deliverance to the poor, weak, and sick stood at the center of his message. Theissen writes, "his vision of the future rule of God was that of a great shared meal in which Jews and Gentiles were no longer divided by commandments about food and cleanness" (op. cit., p. 571). Jesus was an itinerant with a "radical ethic of freedom from family, possessions, home and security" (op. cit., p. 571) Jesus foretold that God would substitute a new temple in place of the old, and he deliberately attacked the legitimacy of the temple in the symbolic action of cleansing the temple. The Jewish aristocracy arrested him for his criticism of the temple but accused him before Pilate of the political crime of seeking to be a royal pretender. He was condemned to be executed, and his disciples fled.
"After his death Jesus appeared first either to Peter or to Mary Magdalene, then to several disciples together. They became convinced that he was alive. Their expectation that God would finally intervene to bring about salvation had been fulfilled differently from the way for which they had hoped. They had to reinterpret Jesus' whole fate and his person. They recognized that he was the Messiah, but he was a suffering Messiah, and that they had not reckoned with. They remembered that Jesus had spoken of himself as 'the man' - specifically when he was confronted with excessively high hopes in himself. He had given the general term 'man' a messianic dignity and hoped that he would grow into the role of this 'man' and would fulfil it in the near future. Now they saw that he was 'the man' to whom according to a prophecy in Dan. 7 God would give all power in heaven and on earth. For them Jesus took a place alongside God. Christian faith had been born as a variant of Judaism: a messianic Judaism which only gradually separated from its mother religion in the course of the first century." (op. cit., p. 572)
See also my review of The Historical Jesus linked above.
The Changing Faces of Jesus: Buy at amazon.com!

Geza Vermes


Jesus the Jew: Buy at amazon.com!Geza Vermes portrays the historical Jesus as a charismatic teacher, healer, and exorcist who believed in the soon-to-be-realized Kingdom of God. Jesus was a Hasid, a Galilean holy man, on analogy with other holy men such as Hanina ben Dosa. Jesus was also a prophet, one who expected decisive action from the God of Israel in the near future. Jesus used the term "son of man" only as a circumlocution for his own person or for people in general. Along with other Galileans, Jesus had little interest in the halakhic matters that consumed the Pharisees; indeed, Jesus flaunted them "in his table-fellowship with publicans and whores" (Jesus and the World of Judaism, p. 11). The conflict between Jesus of Galilee and the Pharisees would "merely have resembled the in-fighting of factions belonging to the same religious body, like that between Karaites and Rabbanites in the Middle Ages, or between the orthodox and progressive branches of Judaism in modern times" (op. cit., pp. 11-12). Like John the Baptist, Jesus was arrested and executed because he was seen to be popular with the people, and this alone justified suspicion of seditious intent.

G. A. Wells

The Jesus Myth: Buy at amazon.com!Wells argues that most of what is said of Jesus in the canonical gospels is put in question by the fact that it is not confirmed by extant Christian documents which are either earlier than the gospels or early enough to have been written independently of them, i.e. composed before they or the traditions underlying them had become generally known in Christian circles. Paul, for instance, wrote before any gospel existed, and his Jesus lived on earth as a shadowy figure of the indefinite past. Such early Christians developed their beliefs in the tradition of Jewish Wisdom speculation about a supernatural personage who sought an abode on earth but was rejected by man and who then returned to heaven.
However, in his latest books, Wells allows that such a complex of tradition as we have in the synoptic gospels could not have developed so quickly (by the end of the first century) without some historical basis; and so some elements ascribed there to the life of Jesus presumably derive ultimately from the life of a first century Galilean preacher. The essential point, as Wells sees it, is that this personage is not to be identified with the dying and rising Christ of the Pauline and other early documents, and that the two have quite separate origins. The Jesus of the earliest Christians did not, on this view, preach and work miracles (or what were taken for such) in Galilee, and was not crucified by Pilate in Jerusalem.
Jesus and the Victory of God: Buy at amazon.com!

N. T. Wright


In The New Testament and the People of God, N. T. Wright sets forth a critical realist account of knowledge. By this, Wright means that it is impossible to do "mere history" from a supposed objective standpoint, just as much as it is impossible to see an object without using one's eyes. Wright states that the text and our own worldview stand in dialogue, with historical knowledge as the interplay of text and worldview in public dialogue.
Wright sketches Second Temple Judaism as telling the story of Israel's relationship to God and as using the symbols of Temple, Land, Torah, and Ethnic Identity. Jews held to creational monotheism over against henotheism, pantheism, deism, and Gnosticism. Jews held to providential monotheism, according to which God is continually active in the world. And Jews held to covenantal monotheism, in which God plans to restore the world through Israel. Jews rejected the forms of dualism in which there are a source of all that is bad and a source of all that is good, in which the material world is a shadow of the ideal world, and in which human beings are composed of body and spirit in opposition. Wright contends that Jews hoped for the revolution of the current world order but not a destruction of the material world in a final conflagration as depicted in Stoic philosophy.
Wright writes, "it should be quite clear that what united early Christians, deeper than all diversity, was that they told, and lived, a form of Israel's story which reached its climax in Jesus and which then issued in their spirit-given new life and task." (The New Testament and the People of God, p. 456, emphasis original) Wright turns the typical form-critical assumption on its head in saying that it is likely that pericopes originally contained narrative contexts but were stripped of them in a process of Hellenization, as is seen in the Gospel of Thomas. Wright rejects the "Q-plus-Thomas hypothesis" of a non-eschatological Jesus movement and states that Q, if it existed, was in form much like Community Rule from Qumran in containing both future and realized eschatology.
Wright elaborates on his disagreement with scholars such as Crossan and Mack in his book Jesus and the Victory of God. Wright uses as his principal tool the criterion of double similarity, according to which material that makes sense in a Jewish context and explains the rise of the church is likely to be historical. Wright maintains that Jesus planned for his own death: "Jesus, then, went up to Jerusalem not just to preach, but to die . . . Jesus believed that the messianic woes were about to burst upon Israel, and that he had to take them upon himself, solo" (Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 609). Wright believes that the development of soteriology in the church cannot be explained adequately unless it had its seed on the far side of Easter.


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