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Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus [Paperback]

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer

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Book Description

1 Jun 2001
This illuminating exploration of how and why Christianity became so radically disconnected from the Jesus of history provides suggestions for returning the true Jesus of Nazareth to the center of Christian faith.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Trinity Press International (1 Jun 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1563383624
  • ISBN-13: 978-1563383625
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.1 x 22.7 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 436,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Precis of Selected Passages 6 Aug 2005
By Dr. N.Burr.Furlong - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The author (N-P) fervently believes that ancient and modern social ills are most often the result of forceful subjugation of large numbers of the peoples of the world by an exploitive elite and that, again most often, this has been done in the guise of religion as, supposedly, the will of God. The author wants to find out why Jesus is missing from Christian worship. For example, why is it that the Apostle's Creed declares that Jesus Christ was born, suffered and died with no mention how he lived, or what he said. N-P thinks that it is important to look into why he was killed and what his message said about God --- a message which, evidently, inspired and energized his followers to live as if he was still with them.

The book can be divided into three sections.

1. The first examines images and expectations of God in O.T. and N.T. scriptures and concludes that, far from giving a consistent, monotheistic picture of One God, it doesn't take a degree in psychology to recognize that many different Gods are pictured, often behaving in widely inconsistent ways and all too often demanding actions that are pathological and violent.

2. The second section details the sociological, political and religious situation in which Jesus lived including both domination by foreign powers and by the Temple elite. N-P points out how the oppressive and violent domination systems which the Jewish people had endured for centuries coupled with a belief in an Almighty God led to Messianic expectations involving a violent intervention by God.

3. The third section examines Gospel narratives and parables to find evidences for Jesus' non-violent opposition to Rome and to the Temple authorities. Jesus' opposition is rooted in his faith in a god of unconditional love rather than a God of vengeful justice. N-P rejects images of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet who preached God's ultimate wrath for wrongdoers. Jesus' God desires justice but, since coercion is incompatible with God's nature, he is powerless to enforce it through violent action. Violence and injustice can only be defused by non-violent means --- including sacrifice (as Jesus himself demonstrated), if necessary.

The Bible verses referenced below illustrate the all too common presence of passages supporting troubling images of a kind of God who, in the O.T.:

1. orders parents to murder disobedient children [Lev.20:1-2a, 9],

2. orders a test of faith by one's willingness to murder one's child [Exo. 22:2, 9b-12],

3. is angered and so commits worldwide genocide [Gen.6:13,7:23],

4. steals land from its rightful occupants [Gen. 15:18-21],

5. steals land and orders "ethnic cleansing" of the occupants [Num.21:31-35],

6. is a Holy Warrior killing those who follow other Gods [Exo. 11:4-6, 14:27-28],

7. destroys his own people [Jer. 21:3-6; Lam. 4:4,9-10]

To dispel the notion, held by some smug Christians, that this behavior is only found in Jewish scriptures, we find in the N.T. troubling images of a God who:

8. is a wrathful judge [Matt. 3:7-12],

9. kills the disobedient [Acts5:5-9],

10. is the violent avenger of injustice [Rev. 11:17-18]

To summarize, then, although there are beautiful and inspiring passages regarding the merciful and compassionate nature of God in the Bible, by far the most numerous and dominant Scriptural assertions about the nature of God are concerned with: 1. God's power (violence) is superior to that of our enemies, but 2. God withholds using violence on our enemies, thus allowing us to suffer, in order to chastise and redeem us (in answer to the question "did God fail, or is this a punishment for our disobedience?" when we are in a crisis of faith). Redemptive violence saves God's reputation of all-powerfulness when we are forced to live under conditions not in our best interest.

This all leads to N-P asking "So what do these insights lead to with regard to the ways in which Christians should live and worship today?" and he goes on to describe how Christians can revise their outlook. Perhaps the greatest reinterpretation he calls for is his rejection of all aspects of the atonement theory of Jesus' death. Jesus was killed by the Romans with the cooperation of the Temple elites because both parties viewed him as a dangerous subversive leader whose teachings undermined Roman political domination as well as Jewish religious authority. The dogma, perhaps arising in Paul but emphasized particularly by Augustine and others, that a sacrifice of life, no matter how precious or divine, was required to appease an otherwise unforgiving God is diametrically opposed to Jesus' foundational teachings about God and the nature of God's kingdom. Such a prerequisite would be inconceivable by a God of infinite love. [My note: An immortal being gains or loses nothing from the physical death of another immortal being, especially if this lost mortality can be resurrected!]

N-P sees a re-ritualization of present Christianity is necessary:

1 The Last Supper should drop all references to atonement or substitutionary guilt and become rather a celebration of God's abundance in community where we rededicate ourselves to lives of service and sharing.

2. Baptism should drop allusions to original sin or the remembrance of the great flood and become a dedication to accept and care for God's abundant gifts.

3. The Lord's Prayer should reword its paternalistic and heavenly director images and address the real notions of debt forgiveness along with our gratitude for God's abundance.

4. The Apostles Creed should be rewritten to include Jesus, his life and goals and reject the images of "almighty" God in favor of "all-compassionate" God.

5. [My note: Hymnody should omit or rewrite those hymns whose major thrust seems to focus on declarations of violence or of punishment or of exclusivity.]
53 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Discovering the God Jesus Knew 29 Aug 2001
By Stephen D. Clemens - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
For years I have been troubled by the discongruity between the God portrayed in some Scripture as going out of God's way to "seek and save the lost sheep" ... only to find other passages imaging God as a wrathful entity hungry to visit judgment on we mortals. Nelson-Pallmeyer, while clearly committed to the Christian faith, looks at some of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures and says the God portrayed in some of them is a pathological killer. But he is not willing to stop there. He sees in Jesus' life and teaching a relationship with a God we can embrace. The author looks at who Jesus was and how he related to God and then sets that as his standard for evaluating whether an image of God resonates with the God Jesus knew and experienced. He helps the reader understand the apocalyptic views of some of the Biblical authors and his evidence on why he thinks Jesus broke with that view that was shared by one of his mentors, John the Baptist. Jesus embraces a God who is non-violent and one who suffers along with us rather than the omnipotent, all-knowing deity people believed in until our world was confronted with the horrors of the Holocaust, Pol Pot, Rwanda, and other tragedies. The message of this book is crucial in a world obsessed with violence and environmental devastation. If our image of God is distorted, so will our values. This book will disturb you, challenge you, and hopefully give you substance to live a life of grace and mercy in the midst of one's commitment to justice. If we really want to change our image of who God is, we will have to do a lot more work not only in changing the language of worship to be more inclusive, but we must re-visit (and reject) the blood sacrifice/atonement theology found in much of the contemporary church scene.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Call to Wrestle 12 Jan 2007
By H.E. Pennypacker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I consider this a very brave and honest book that needs to be wrestled and engaged with, especially in the light of 9/11. There aren't many books that thoroughly document and discuss the ethically problematic passages in the Bible as this one, especially from someone inside the faith that believes in it's emancipatory possibilities.

Because of the comprehensive amount of "pathological", violent passages found within the Bible, one cannot easily duck the implications that they raise. Nelson-Pallmeyer quotes Raymund Schwager: "There are "600 hundred passages of explicit violence in the Hebrew Bible, 1,000 verses where God's own violent actions of punishment are described. 100 passages where Yahweh expressly commands others to kill people, and several stories where God irrationally kills or tries to kill for no apparent reason (e.g. Ex 4.24-26)." And that's just the Hebrew Bible!

Part of N-P's thesis is "either God is a pathological killer because the Bible says so, or the Bible is sometimes wrong about God". N-P believes Jesus is the one who authoritatively corrects the Bible's faulty images of God by showing his Abba Father as a God of love and redemption not of retribution and violence. Jesus taught a non-violent ethic ("love your enemies") that was very much at odds with the retributional passages throughout the Bible and congruent with a God of absolute love.

N-P relies very much on a Jesus Seminar-esque portrait of the historical Jesus. The Gospels actually contain a fair amount of the troublesome passages N-P wants to free Jesus from. After all, Jesus talked a good deal about judgment and hell. More liberal scholarship has seen these as the early churches' interpolations in addressing their own contemporary situations, not the verbatim words of Jesus. Thus, Jesus is exonerated and freed from any implication which supports N-P's attempt to rescue faith in Jesus' teaching alone. I am of the persuasion that is a very thin line to dangle on but am appreciative that N-P does his best to come up with his best solution. After all, in light of the issues raised, what would anyone sympathetically suggest?

Overall, I agree with N-P's assessment that "the Bible is sometimes wrong about God." The Bible was written within a specific cultural context that very much colored the perceptions of the biblical writers. They weren't simply God's dictational secretaries. That does not rule out that they were truly God inspired, but that like us, they were also fallibly human. Obviously, most Christians would prefer to believe in an infallible/inerrant Bible and thus gain absolute certitude. But under more open-minded scrutiny, that just doesn't seem to hold water in light of NP's discussion (and many, many other's). I am not as skeptical as N-P, that the other portions of the Bible, besides the Gospels, can't be mined more for the profound revelational insight they do contain. But can we continue under the illusion that the biblical writers always got it exactly right? Vibrant Christian faith doesn't necessarily fall under such conclusions.

This is a challenging call to the church and believers to seriously wrestle with this perplexing issue. I don't think it helps much to side-step the implications of this problem and simply chalk it up as a mystery of God's inscrutable nature or the thinking of an avowed troublesome liberal. God's alleged promotion of the genocide of whole groups of peoples: men, women and children (Joshua 8:24, 10:26-43 etc. etc.) simply won't allow that to wash. (And if one has no problem with these type of passages, then how can one say religiously driven terrorists are automatically evil? If God's goodness is incomprehensible to human sensibilities, then maybe we have no entry point to understand what is or isn't God's justice.)

As "people of the Book" we need to have the courage to be forthright about our own pathologies that come from that Book. The current global terrorism, often in the name of religion, calls all faiths to purge away their destructive elements. (And some Christians have no difficulty that it's all the others who have the problems -- strange!) Perhaps God's revelation is ongoing in the light of the supreme revelation in Christ?

In conclusion, I would like to compliment N-P for raising the issues that many of us would not have the audaciousness to raise. Many conservatives, no doubt, will have little patience for N-P's questioning because he undermines their core belief in an inerrant Bible. But can we just listen to his legitimate line of questioning above the din of our demands for orthodoxy? Perhaps for most, the answer is no but if some can entertain the question seriously, perhaps it will enable the way forward.
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read, but start with Walter Wink 9 Oct 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I think this is a phenomenal, eye opening book. I read it while working at a bible camp having been stigmatized for taking the kind of views that Jack Nelson Pallmeyer did in this book. It is a fascinating exegesis on the gospels and on the old testament with some good eye opening historical information. However, it is not a book for the light hearted and i think it takes the miracollous wonder of the resurrection away. Pallmeyer seems to want to focus merely on the life of Jesus, which i think is a legitimate topic in more progressive circles. However more literature needs to be done focusing on both issues of Christ, not claiming a conservative or liberal agenda. Pallmeyer really did not provide much new information or insights in the book. While it might be good for a religious scholar to read, I would suggest Walter Wink's books for anyone who wants a good solid introduction to the issue of power and dominance in the church.
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Take It With a Grain of Salt 10 Sep 2003
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel J. G. G. Block - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Professor Nelson-Pallmeyer is idealistic, compassionate, intelligent, creative and intentional about living out his faith in the real world. In this text he makes a noble effort to interpret scripture through the life, actions and sayings of the historic Jesus of Nazareth.
Unfortunately, he attempts his hermeneutic task with a degree of certainty unjustified by the evidence. What Professor Nelson-Pallmeyer forgets is that neither Schweitzer nor any of his successors, up to and including the Jesus Seminar, have been able to define the life and sayings of the historic Jesus with any degree of certainty. Consequently, Professor Nelson-Pallmeyer projects back on the historic Jesus concerns that are more appropriate to the twenty-first century a.d. than to the first. The result is that Professor Nelson-Pallmeyer interprets scripture through a Jesus of his own making. Sadly, he has succeeded in recasting Jesus in his own image.
Nevertheless, Professor Nelson-Pallmeyer's concerns about the subordination of faith to culture are important and worth pondering. His response, forged through years of focusing his scholarly and personal life on issues of justice and peace, is worth considering. Read this text and take Professor Nelson-Pallmeyer seriously, just as he attempts to take Jesus seriously. However, take him with a grain of salt.
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