During his three-year ministry, Jesus frequently preached in parables and healed infirmities. But only once did he give his disciples a specific prayer to utilize. The story of The Lord's Prayer is recounted in two of the four Gospels: Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:2. The disciples often had observed him in early morning prayer when they awoke; they'd seen him pray before he made important decisions, and around spiritual encounters. And although they had prayed with him, that day they asked for a lesson on how to pray on their own. Since then, Christians have clung to The Lord's Prayer, treasuring it as their Lord's directive.
Leith Anderson's book "Jesus," includes a revelatory sidebar to the story of the Lord's Prayer. "The Lord's Prayer was probably intended more as a sample than a formula. The wording varies in the New Testament reports of what Jesus said, so it was not word-for-word the same every time. The purpose wasn't to memorize someone else's prayer but to learn a pattern that could be adapted and individualized. Most of the disciples probably heard this prayer enough times to memorize it, and they all made their own modifications..." (Pg. 184)
Provocative and informative sidebars like this one abound in Anderson's narrative of Jesus' life. The biography unfolds with pages studded by historical footnotes, translations of terms, and pertinent explanations of the society's traditions, all of which flesh out the well-known story with new insights.
Anderson has undertaken a daunting task here, and one whose potential success inherently is limited. Anderson, who holds degrees from Bradley University, Denver Seminary and a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary, brings academic credibility to the table. Interestingly, however, he has chosen to write to the average Christian. He treads no revolutionary ground; Anderson presents the Gospel accounts without theological or theoretical debate. Most scholars would question his lack of questioning. Instead, he attempts valiantly to weave the four sometimes conflicting, accounts into one linear storyline. No small feat, considering Matthew, Mark, Luke and John jumped between chronological and topical ordering. Here multiple reports of the same event have been merged into a single rendition, with quotes paraphrased and plausible enough emotions attributed to various figures. It's a literary device fraught with the tendency to draw the reader out of the story by wondering how Anderson arrived at the conclusion that Jesus or Peter or whomever, were feeling that way at that particular moment. Yet without the additions, the book would struggle to shed new light on an old story.
American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson is noted for having taken razor blade and glue pot to his Bible, removing Jesus' miracles and attempting to make a sequential humanistic narrative of the Gospels. "Jesus" resonates with an opposing goal: retaining and trying to shed light on the miracles utilizing the context of Jesus' human existence. Anderson then gently amplifies the emotion of the events with cautious extrapolation. It's a tough line to walk, and though he occasionally falters, the reader tends to be forgiving of the noble effort, which most of the time sheds great light.
It's an imperfect process yet it yields an enlightening result for the faithful Christian. Jesus and his apostles become real people with each turn of the page. The frustrating shorthand of the Gospels becomes a fleshed-out tale. The historical footnotes alone bring Jesus' actions into sharper focus. For example, when Jesus heals the 10 lepers in one of the Samaria-Galilee border villages, he instructs them to go show themselves to the priests. Anderson's sidebar explains: "The law required an examination and clearance before anyone cured of leprosy was allowed back into society. Most priests were never asked; leprosy was a life sentence." (pg. 232) Suddenly, we realize that Jesus was telling them to have faith not only that they would be healed, but also that their lives would return to normal within society.
A chilling realization occurs with one particular piece of information: "Jesus had witnessed a crucifixion when he was eleven years old. A man named Judas the Galilean led an insurrection against Roman rule. He attacked the imperial armory at Sepphoris, only four miles away from Jesus' home in Nazareth. The Roman response was swift and severe. Sepphoris was burned to the ground, and all of the citizens were sold into slavery. The two thousand rebels were crucified on the same day on crosses that lined the road near Nazareth. Jesus' memory had been etched with the horror of crucifixion." (pg. 148) Having that piece of knowledge makes Jesus' crucifixion all the more poignant.
--Lisa Bowman of The Religion Network ([...]