Historical Jesus Theories
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|Jesus the Myth: Heavenly Christ||Jesus the Man of the Spirit|
- The Meaning of Jesus : Two Visions (Harper San Francisco 2000)
- Conflict, Holiness, and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus (Trinity Pr Intl 1998)
- The Lost Gospel Q : The Original Sayings of Jesus (Ulysses Pr 1996)
- Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (Harper San Francisco 1995)
- Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship (Trinity Pr Intl 1994)
- Jesus : A New Vision (Harper San Francisco 1991)
- A Renaissance in Jesus Studies (online)
- David Friedrich Strauss: Miracle and Myth (online)
- The Historical Jesus and Christian Preaching (online)
John Dominic Crossan
- Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts (Harper San Francisco 2001)
- The Birth of Christianity (Harper San Francisco 1999)
- The Jesus Controversy : Perspectives in Conflict (Trinity Pr Intl 1999)
- Who Is Jesus? (Westminster John Knox 1999)
- The Essential Jesus (Book Sales 1998)
- Who Killed Jesus? (Harper San Francisco 1996)
- Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (Harper San Francisco 1995)
- In Parables : The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (Polebridge Press 1994)
- The Historical Jesus (Harper San Francisco 1993)
- An Inventory of the Jesus Tradition by Chronological Stratification (online)
- An Inventory of the Jesus Tradition by Independent Attestation (online)
- Common Sayings Tradition in Gospel of Thomas and Q Gospel (online)
- Seminar: HJ Materials & Methodology (online)
- A Closer Look at the Mustard Seed (online)
- Was Jesus Buried? (online)
- Alchemy and Accuracy (online)
- A Review of John Dominic Crossan's The Birth of Christianity (Harvard Theological Review 2001, reproduced online)
- Danny Yee's Book Reviews: The Historical Jesus (online)
- Simple Choices? A Response to John Dominic Crossan
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.
- Jesus the Healer : Possession, Trance, and the Origins of Christianity (Continuum Int. Publ. Group 1995)
- New Testament Fundamentals (Polebridge Press 1994)
- The Revolt of the Widows : The Social World of the Apocryphal Acts (Southern Illinois Univ Pr 1980)
- The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom (Seabury Press 1983, reproduced online)
- The Gospel of Thomas Homepage (online)
- Summary of Jesus the Healer (online)
- Challenging the Verdict: A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ" (Age of Reason 2001)
- The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity begin with a mythical Christ? (Canadian Humanist Publications 1999)
- Historical Jesus or Jesus Myth? The Jesus Puzzle (online)
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.
- Jesus : Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford Univ Pr 1999)
- The New Testament : A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Oxford Univ Press 1999)
- After the New Testament : A Reader in Early Christianity (Oxford Univ Press 1998)
- The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings : A Reader (Oxford Univ Press 1997)
- The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford Univ Press 1996)
- The Neglect of the Firstborn in New Testament Studies (online)
- Text and Interpretation: The Exegetical Significance of the "Original" Text (online)
- Text and Transmission: The Historical Significance of the "Altered" Text (online)
- James the Brother of Jesus (Penguin 1998)
- The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians : Essays and Translations (Element 1996)
- The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered (Penguin 1993)
- Paul as Herodian (online)
- Robert Eisenman's James The Brother Of Jesus: A Higher-Critical Evaluation (online)
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.
- Jesus : One Hundred Years Before Christ (Overlook Press 1999)
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.
- Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews : A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity (Vintage Books 2000)
- From Jesus to Christ : The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus (Yale Univ Pr 2000)
- Jesus, Purity and the Christian Study of Judaism (online)
- What You See is What You Get: Context and Content in Current Research on the Historical Jesus (online)
- Excerpts from Paula Fredriksen (online)
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.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.
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.
Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy
- The Jesus Mysteries : Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God (Three Rivers Pr 2001)
- Jesus and the Lost Goddess : The Secret Teachings of the Original Christians (Harmony Books 2001)
- CNN: Raising a holy ruckus
- The Gospel of Jesus : According to the Jesus Seminar (Polebridge Press 1999)
- The Acts of Jesus : The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus (Harper San Francisco 1998)
- The Five Gospels : The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (Harper San Francisco 1997)
- Honest to Jesus : Jesus for a New Millennium (Harper Collins 1997)
- The Jesus Seminar Description Website (online)
- Premises and Rules of Evidence (online)
- The Jesus Seminar: Decisions of Authenticity (online)
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.
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)
- Hearing the Whole Story : The Politics of Plot in Mark's Gospel (Westminster John Knox Pr 2001)
- Whoever Hears You Hears Me : Prophets, Performance, and Tradition in Q (Trinity Press Intl 2000)
- Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs : Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus (Trinity Press Intl 1999)
- Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee : The Social Context of Jesus and the Rabbis (Trinity Press Intl 1996)
- Galilee : History, Politics, People (Trinity Press Intl 1995)
- Sociology and the Jesus Movement (Continuum 1994)
- The Liberation of Christmas : The Infancy Narratives in Social Context (Continuum 1993)
- Jesus and the Spiral of Violence : Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine (Fortress Pr 1992)
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."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.
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.
Luke Timothy Johnson
- The Writings of the New Testament : An Interpretation (Fortress Pr 1999)
- The Real Jesus : The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and Truth of the Traditional Gospels (Harper San Francisco 1997)
- "Whose Faith Saves?" Summary of a Lecture by Luke Timothy Johnson (online)
- The New Testament and the Examined Life: Thoughts on Teaching (online)
- Reshuffling the Gospels: Jesus According to Spong and Wilson (online)
- Higher Critical Review. The Real Jesus. By Robert Price. (online)
- Jesus at 2000: The e-mail debate (online)
- Jesus After 2000 Years : What He Really Said and Did (Prometheus Books 2001)
- The Great Deception : And What Jesus Really Said and Did (Prometheus Books 1999)
- Virgin Birth : The Real Story of Mary and Her Son Jesus (Trinity Pr Intl 1998)
- What Really Happened to Jesus : A Historical Approach to the Resurrection (Westminster John Knox Pr 1996)
- Heretics: The Other Side of Early Christianity (Westminster John Knox Pr 1996)
- Resurrection of Jesus : History, Experience, Theology (Fortress Pr 1995)
- Gerd Lüdemann on the Secular Web (online)
- Gerd Lüdemann's Homepage (online)
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)
- Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil (Free Press 1992)
- Paul and Hellenism (Trinity Press International 1991)
- The Mythmaker : Paul and the Invention of Christianity (Harper San Francisco 1987)
- Christian Myth : Origins, Logic, and Legacy (Continuum Pub Group 2001)
- Who Wrote the New Testament? : The Making of the Christian Myth (Harper San Francisco 1996)
- The Lost Gospel : The Book of Q & Christian Origins (Harper San Francisco 1994).
- A Myth of Innocence : Mark and Christian Origins (1988).
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.
John P. Meier
- A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 3 (Anchor Books 2001)
- A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 2 (Doubleday 1994)
- A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 1 (Doubleday 1991)
- Finding the Historical Jesus: An Interview With John P. Meier (online)
- The Present State of the 'Third Quest' for the Historical Jesus: Loss and Gain (online)
- The Historical Jesus and the Historical Samaritans: What can be Said? (online)
- The Historical Jesus and the Life of Faith (by David L. Bartlett, reproduced online)
- "Companions and Competitors" - and Context? (online)
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.
- The Fifth Gospel : The Gospel of Thomas Comes of Age (Trinity Pr Intl 2000)
- The God of Jesus : The Historical Jesus and the Search for Meaning (Trinity Pr Intl 1998)
- The Search for Jesus : Modern Scholarship Looks at the Gospels (Biblical Archaeology Society 1993)
- The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus (Polebridge Press 1992)
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.
- The River of God : A New History of Christian Origins (Harper San Francisco 2001)
- One Jesus, Many Christs : How Jesus Inspired Not One True Christianity, but Many (Fortress Pr 1997)
- Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy (Fortress Pr 1995)
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)
E. P. Sanders
- Paul : A Very Short Introduction (Oxford Univ Pr 2001)
- The Historical Figure of Jesus (Penguin 1996)
- Studying the Synoptic Gospels (Trinity Pr Intl 1990)
- Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Pr 1987)
- Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Fortress Pr 1983)
- Paul, the Law and the Jewish People (Fortress Pr 1983)
- Jesus in Historical Context (Theology Today 1993, reproduced online)
- Duke Department of Religion: Prof. E. P. Sanders (online)
I. Certain or virtually certain:Sanders writes of the 'connecting link' (op. cit., p. 334):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Robert H. Stein
- Studying the Synoptic Gospels : Origin and Interpretation (Baker Book House 2001)
- A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible : Playing by the Rules (Baker Book House 1997)
- Jesus the Messiah : A Survey of the Life of Christ (Intervarsity Press 1996)
- The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings (Westminster John Knox Pr 1995)
- Luke (The New American Commentary, Vol 24) (Baptist 1993)
- An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus (Westminster John Knox Pr 1981)
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.
- The Religion of the Earliest Churches (Fortress Pr 1999)
- Psychological Aspects of Pauline Theology (T&t Clark Ltd 1999)
- The Gospels in Context (T&t Clark Ltd 1999)
- The Historical Jesus : A Comprehensive Guide (Fortress Pr 1998)
- Miracle Stories of the Early Christian Tradition (T&t Clark Ltd 1998)
- The Shadow of the Galilean (Fortress Pr 1987)
- Comprehensively Questing for Jesus? (online, by Mark Goodacre)
- Review of The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (online, by Peter Kirby)
"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 (Viking Pr 2001)
- The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin 1998)
- The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Fortress Pr 1993)
- Jesus the Jew : A Historian's Reading of the Gospels (Fortress Pr 1981)
- Interview: Providential Accidents (online)
- Excerpt from The Changing Faces of Jesus (online)
G. A. Wells
- The Jesus Myth (Open Court Publishing Company 1998)
- The Jesus Legend (1996)
- The Historical Evidence for Jesus (Prometheus Books 1988)
- Did Jesus Exist? (Prometheus Books 1987)
- The Jesus of the Early Christians
- G. A. Wells on the Secular Web (online)
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.
N. T. Wright
- The Meaning of Jesus : Two Visions (Harper San Francisco 2000)
- The Challenge of Jesus (Intervarsity Pr 1999)
- What Saint Paul Really Said (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co 1997)
- The Original Jesus : The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1997)
- Jesus and the Victory of God (Fortress Pr 1997)
- The New Testament and the People of God (Fortress Pr 1996)
- The Wright Quest for the Historical Jesus (online)
- Paul's Gospel and Caesar's Empire (online)
- One God, One Lord, One People (online)
- God's Way of Acting (online)
- Jesus' Resurrection and Christian Origins (online)
- Defending Nicea (online)
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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