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The Historical Jesus of the Gospels [Kindle Edition]

Craig S. Keener

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Book Description

The earliest substantive sources available for historical Jesus research are in the Gospels themselves; when interpreted in their early Jewish setting, their picture of Jesus is more coherent and plausible than are the competing theories offered by many modern scholars. So argues Craig Keener in The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. / In exploring the depth and riches of the material found in the Synoptic Gospels, Keener shows how many works on the historical Jesus emphasize just one aspect of the Jesus tradition against others, but a much wider range of material in the Jesus tradition makes sense in an ancient Jewish setting. Keener masterfully uses a broad range of evidence from the early Jesus traditions and early Judaism to reconstruct a fuller portrait of the Jesus who lived in history.

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Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. -- Catholic University of America"With critical acumen, Craig Keener presents a comprehensive account of the study of the historical Jesus. It will be a boon for all readers -- inquisitive laypeople, pastors, students of the Gospels, and biblical colleagues." James H. Charlesworth -- Princeton Theological Seminary"Keener proves why the Evangelists' view of Jesus is preferable to most modern constructs: the Gospels, as ancient biographies, reflect eyewitness accounts of Jesus and provide the only valid sources for reconstructing the historical Jesus. . . . This book is exceptional for its breadth and its captivating prose." Gerd Theissen -- University of Heidelberg"Historical Jesus research has developed in the last decades from a 'postminimalism' concerning the authenticity of Jesus traditions to a new 'moderate confidence' in the historicity of the Gospels. Craig Keener's book is both a milestone and a boundary stone in this development. By contextualizing the sources of Jesus research and Jesus himself, Keener succeeds in increasing the historical plausibility of the Gospels to a degree that is exceptional among critical exegetes. Therefore this book must be read and taken seriously -- both by those exegetes who are reluctant to support this 'historical-critical maximalism' in Jesus research and by those reluctant to contextualize Jesus in such a way. But both will enjoy reading what Keener has written with an open and critical mind."

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2737 KB
  • Print Length: 876 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (3 Nov. 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003BY3VS0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #373,320 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A knockout punch to liberal arguments 10 Jan. 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Here's the oddest thing about current biblical scholarship: even as the public laps up hilarious idiocy like 'The DaVinci Code', even as PBS and Peter Jennings' infamous documentary and the History channel cough out anti-Christian documentaries, even as the newly atheist 18 year old college student insists Christianity is based on pagan mystery religions, the orthodox scholars involved in actual biblical scholarship are beating the stuff and nonsense out of the liberals. Go figure.

Anyone who doubts that can pick up this book for proof.

Keener is calm, polite, and thorough as he demolishes the arguments of liberal scholars. Best of all, Keener writes so clearly that anyone, even someone with no background in scholarship, could pick up this book and read it.

Keener gives the background of the hunt for the historical Jesus and then sets out systematically to show how liberal theories were shown wrong.

Apocryphal gospels? "Most scholars recognize that the apocryphal gospels...bear...similarities to ancient novels...In contrast to Luke's Acts, the apocryphal acts date from the heyday of the Greek romances" (p 50). Gnostic gospels are late compared to Christian gospels and aimed at "an academic elite" (p 52), not the general public. The Gnostic gospels rely on information given in Christian documents.

Thomas, so beloved by the Jesus Seminar, has recently been shown by Perrin to bear "numerous characteristics of Syriac Christianity from the second half of the second century" (p 56).

Keener also discusses Burridge's bombshell of a book arguing that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John follow the Greco-Roman bioi. Ancient history writers aimed at finding the truth. They "harshly criticized other historians who...promoted falsehood, especially when they were thought to exhibit self-serving agendas" (p 96).

Recent studies in orality have wrecked most of Bultmann's old arguments. "Given the emphasis on memory in antiquity, many early Christians could have known sources like Mark by heart, and Matthew and Luke can be 'redacting' more freely based on memory rather than a rigid text in front of them" (p 136). Moreover, many new studies emphasize how oral cultures preserve all the important events in a story, but allow for details to change.

Both archaeology and studies in Second Temple Judaism have shown the clearly Jewish nature of much that exists in Paul and the gospels. The mention of a future kingdom as well as the 'Son of Man' sayings have a very obvious meaning to Second Temple Jews. 'Son of Man' would ring sharply in the ears of those familiar with Daniel. And the title is "barely used by anyone except Jesus...If Jesus proclaimed a kingdom and implied his messiahship, one...need not exclude the eschatological sayings" (p 202).

As for the title messiah, "Paul...sometimes used 'Christ' virtually as Jesus' surname" (p 257) and "for later followers of Jesus to invent such a title for him is inconceivable; it risked persecution against themselves for following one executed for treason" (p 266).

Even from the earliest Christian documents revealed "Jesus' exalted status, and is taken by many scholars as 'clear evidence that in the very earliest days the Aramaic speaking church referred to Jesus by the title that in the OT belongs to God alone'" (p 279-80). And there simply is no other example, no trace of such a claim, anywhere else among the fiercely monotheistic Second Temple Jews.

Very highly recommended.
27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All Skeptics Enter Here 30 Nov. 2009
By John A. Grubb - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
All Christians, and particularly pastors and the mentors of pastors, need to have access to the information in this book.

I don't have a television, but the one time I had access to one recently--the day before Easter Sunday, no less, in a hotel room--the programs about Jesus made him out as some kind of product of human imagination, a mere social construct. One so-called expert even characterized him as a rather pathetic individual, somewhat confused and perhaps even a bit twisted.

My faith in Jesus didn't collapse as a result of watching those programs. But it was tested. And I can imagine how, if you were a searcher of spiritual things or a struggling Christian, you might experience doubt.

My only suggestion to one who is about to abandon or dismiss Jesus is to either read this book or buy it for someone who can explain its contents. And then read or have it explained to you all over again, because there's so much to miss the first time through, and every bit of information works to build a solid case for the reliability of the Jesus of the Gospels.

You'll find out that verdict isn't in on the historical Jesus. What you see on television or hear in the lecture halls of universities isn't always as objective as it's made out to be. As a result, you'll learn not to fall for the mere speculations of experts who base their conclusions on obvious forgeries or documents that long post-date the biblical gospels. Are you listening John Dominic Crossan? Bart Ehrman?

(I'm not saying that the Bible is easy to understand. I'm not even saying that its critics don't have a right to their opinions of it, of Jesus, and of the teachings of Jesus. I'm just saying they're not the only voices that should be allowed to be heard.)

Keener is obviously a scholar, and his no-nonsense writing style and immense catalog of references reflect that. But if you're truly serious about taking Jesus seriously, you need to gain a comprehensive understanding of the intellectual, cultural, and historical milieu in which the biblical gospels took form. It will strengthen your faith in the Gospels as well as the Jesus the Gospels depict.

It will also strengthen your trust in the writers and early readers of the Gospels, who, as Keener notes, risked the wrath of Roman leaders merely by mentioning their association with the convicted and crucified Jesus, even years afterward.

I only wish Keener would write a similar book for the average reader, something along the lines of his commentaries.

Even better would be a video documentary to counter the highly problematic but popular media documentaries floating around out there.

Before you take on Keener's book, you might try Darrel Bock's Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods.

I also highly recommend Eddy and Boyd's The Jesus Legend, excluding its somewhat misleading title, though the subtitle pretty much clears things up.
62 of 87 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Evangelical Approach to Jesus Research 21 July 2010
By Evan Powell - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When beliefs are at odds with available data, it is easier to ignore the data than it is to alter beliefs. Presuppositions, as Craig Keener argues, often determine the outcome of an inquiry. Nowhere is this more evident than in the enterprise of historical Jesus studies. All Jesus scholars approach the materials with their own varied notions of what is plausible and what is not. Keener is no different in this regard, nor should anyone expect him to be.

Keener readily acknowledges his own set of operating assumptions. He is a self-proclaimed born-again Christian, converted from the atheism of his youth. Thus, he approaches the evidence concerning the historical Jesus from a perspective of faith. Accordingly, born-again readers who seek academic arguments to validate their faith will receive Keener's book with enthusiasm, as many of the 5-star reviews on this page attest.

This book consists of 400 pages of main text, and a whopping 200 pages of endnotes in small font. The remaining 230 pages consist of bibliography and indices. Physically, it is an impressive, heavy volume that reinforces the sense of academic gravitas. This book is worth reading as all well-crafted works on the historical Jesus are worth reading. Exposure to a variety of perspectives including Keener's is immensely valuable.

For me, Keener's book is less satisfying than it might otherwise be due to its persistent apologetic undercurrent. Keener's theological orientation causes him to perceive the sources through an evangelical filter, which is understandable. However, the result is that he is often less critical of the texts than most scholars would normally be. For example, Paul offhandedly tells of the resurrected Jesus appearing to "more than 500 brothers at one time." (1 Cor 15:6). This sounds like a truly astounding event worthy of additional comment. But Paul does not elaborate. There is no indication of when this happened, or where, or what Jesus might have said to the crowd. Was this appearance a corporate spiritual vision, or did the 500 recognize him in concrete bodily form? Most scholars would wonder whether this was an historical event at all, since it is not mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or Acts. If such an appearance had happened, why was it universally ignored by the gospel writers in their resurrection accounts?

Yet Keener does not ask such questions. He merely accepts Paul's claim as a historical fact, and states, "An event like hundreds of people claiming to have seen their miracle-working teacher alive from the dead, and being prepared to die for this claim, was fairly unique at the time. Yet few would deny that this was in fact the experience of these people, however we explain it." (p. 380) Few historical Jesus scholars would think to comment on the text in this manner. In my view, Keener too frequently fails to analyze the materials with a critical eye.

Despite missteps such as this one, Keener's overall approach to much of the source material is rather conventional. Like most Jesus scholars, he relies heavily upon Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and gives scant attention to John. He believes Mark was the earliest, and that Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a source. He believes the double tradition material in Matthew and Luke was drawn from Q. All of this is consistent with conventional thought among scholars today. Meanwhile, unlike some notable Jesus scholars, he discounts the importance of second century materials like the Gospel of Thomas. My impression is that he appears to be on solid ground in this regard.

Keener opens his preface with the statement that historical Jesus studies are heavily influenced by the sources one chooses to rely upon. This is most certainly true. Thus, it is a mystery that Keener declines to consider the Gospel of John as a significant source. He says he believes in the "likelihood of substantial historical information in the Fourth Gospel." (p. xxxiv). But he says it will be ignored due to space restrictions, and the fact that readers can access his writings on the subject elsewhere. Since John paints quite a different portrait of Jesus than do the Synoptic gospels, and since John often seems to be the more credible of the two traditions when they disagree, a study entitled "The Historical Jesus of the Gospels" which discards John as a key source is, in my view, methodologically flawed from the outset.

Though Keener does not have the space to consider John's Gospel, he has the space to address the Resurrection. This is an oddity. Most historians decline to address the Resurrection, viewing it as a theological concept beyond the bounds of historical inquiry. But Keener goes boldly forward, diving headlong into the alleged historicity of the Resurrection, and ends up demonstrating the wisdom of his colleagues.

According to Keener, the missing body is a key bit of historical evidence that demands an explanation. He argues that the reader should be willing to admit the possibility that God acts in history, and thus could have acted in history to accomplish the Resurrection. Keener claims that those who do not accept this premise are presupposing an atheistic or deistic world view. This is false. One might easily believe in a God that influences human history (say, for example, to assure the victory of the Allies over the Axis powers in WW2), but did not cause Jesus' body to rise from the tomb; not because he couldn't, but merely because he didn't.

Keener trots out the improbable explanations for the Resurrection--the swoon theory that Jesus did not actually die but was resuscitated after being removed from the cross; the stolen body theory, in which the disciples remove the body to fake a resurrection. After arguing the improbability of these theories, he concludes that Christianity's claim that Jesus was resurrected by God is the most rational explanation of the evidence. Keener uses the fallacious logic of setting up straw men, knocking them down, then arguing that his preferred explanation is the most compelling solution.

The problem is that Keener remains silent on the most viable explanation for the missing body. John's Gospel states that a new tomb where no one had yet been laid was selected because it was conveniently close at hand, and sundown was fast approaching. Rock hewn tombs designed for multiple internments were the private property of wealthy citizens, reserved as final resting places for the owners and their families. Thus, depositing Jesus' body in such a tomb on the spur of the moment simply because it was close at hand, though expedient, was not a long term solution. It would have been the responsibility of those who appropriated the tomb (Joseph of Arimathea and the Pharisee Nicodemus according to John) to relocate the body for more appropriate burial after the conclusion of Passover. It is reasonable to suppose this could have happened prior to Mary's arrival at the tomb. Since it is easy to envision a natural explanation for the removal of Jesus' body from the tomb, the missing body does not, in itself, suggest a supernatural Resurrection. Keener skates onto exceedingly thin ice as a scholar and historian by pressing this claim. He opens the Pandora's box of the "Resurrection as history" debate, but does not follow through with a convincing treatment of the subject.

In the end, Keener's effort is undermined by his less than critical analysis of some of the materials, and his unwillingness to rigorously engage the Gospel of John. The Fourth Gospel's radically different perspective on Jesus, even in the narrative portions of the text that are not highly mythologized, offers information that warrants close scrutiny by Jesus scholars. Keener, like many scholars, is too exclusively dependent on the Synoptic Jesus as a foundation for historical research.

Nevertheless, Keener's book is worth reading for students of historical Jesus studies, whether they approach Jesus from a perspective of evangelical faith or secular historical inquiry. The former will find their faith reinforced; the latter will gain an appreciation for how an informed evangelical Christian interprets the source materials. As Keener argues from the outset, one's presuppositions will determine the outcome of the inquiry.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic 18 May 2011
By Brandon Ward - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Wonderfully comprehensive overview of much of the prominent scholarship on the historical Jesus--and one of the best books on the validity of the Gospels as a focal point.

This is a wonderful read, and logically progressive. One of the best books of the year, I believe.

I would highly recommend it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First-Rate Scholarship 12 Sept. 2012
By Stevie Jake - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The scholarship in this book is so thorough that I don't even know where to begin. The one thing I will say: it is a must read book on the historical Jesus! There are many books that I have read on historical Jesus studies (from both sides of the fence). But rarely (with the exception of Dale Allison) have any achieved the scholarship that is contained in Keener's tome. So, what makes Keener's book so different from the others?

Well, (despite one reviewer that says otherwise) Keener is very objective in his scholarship. He seems to heed critical scholarship when it might not suit his Christian fancies. For instance, Keener thinks Jesus was an obvious Eschatological Prophet and even seems to hint that Jesus' eschatology involved apocalyptic thought (something that conservatives cringe at). Keener's tome is also thoroughly footnoted and it's obvious he has done his homework. Moreover, the one thing that makes this book so valuable is the way Keener demonstrates that the majority of Jesus tradition strands can be traced back to an early Palestinian environment. This aspect cannot be overlooked. Keener demonstrates how permeated the Gospels are with early Palestinian Jewish tradition which in turn makes the Gospel's historicity even more plausible. In fact, there was so much information to be absorbed that I plan to read the book a second time in the future just to catch up on the abundance of scholarship.

My only (small) problem with this tome was Keener's chapter on the resurrection. Not only was the chapter weak (I will be fair and assume this was due to the space constraint) but it did not flow very well and it seemed slightly thrown together. The book would've been much better if Keener left it out. However, this problem is very minor and is not substantial enough to take away from the excellent scholarship that precedes the aforementioned chapter.

Interested in Jesus studies? Do yourself a favor and read this book.
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