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The Existential Jesus Paperback – 15 Jan 2009

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Paperback, 15 Jan 2009
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Product details

  • Paperback: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (15 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582434654
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582434650
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.3 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 881,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"[T]extual scholarship of the most objective kind.... Carroll's analysis of the Gospel of Mark is compelling reading."

About the Author

John Carroll is professor of sociology at La Trobe University in Melbourne. His recent books include The Wreck of Western Culture: humanism revisited, The Existential Jesus, a new version of Ego and Soul, and Greek Pilgrimage. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Hodroulis on 3 Mar 2009
Format: Paperback
Anyone familiar with John Carroll's previous books on humanism, sociology etc, will know that he is an iconoclast par excellence, a social scientific provocateur who gleefully refuses to fit into the conventional tramlines of contemporary academicia. This latest book elaborates further his diagnosis of the ills of humanism, and proposes a radical treatment for those ills, namely a rediscovery of Jesus-as-teacher - an existential hero who stands against received and institutionalised authority, and for relentless self-deteremination and self-questioning.

The premise of the book is intriguing and provocative, as it is meant to be. However, there is for me a huge blind-spot (or perhaps a stain) that renders the book's otherwise engaging thesis rather unpalatable. Quite simply, the need for a 'return to Jesus' is advocated repeatedly upon 'his' purported centrality in 'Western culture' and 'our civilization' (he is 'the core of the Western Dreaming' and 'His presence is vital to our civilisation and its individuals'). The book thus hold to a woefully unreflective vision of 'the West' as a seamless historical-cultural continuity, a coherent and unifying thread that mediates classical antiquity via christianity into the modern world. No thought is given to the fact that this very idea(l) of 'the West' is itself a construct of 17th and 18th century neo-classicism and phil-hellenism, one whose narration served conspicuous imperial-political purposes. Carroll's West has been conveniently sanitised of its Others, the 'Oriental' elements that are inter-twined in 'its' historical genesis.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 8 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Surprised 31 Oct 2009
By Sky Light Mine - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book really caught me off guard. I am not a fan of existentialism, and at first picked up the book expecting to be annoyed. I am glad I still am able to be pleasantly surprised.

This book takes a deep look at who Jesus is in the Gospel of Mark, a Gospel that, in many ways, is bare bones. This bare bones, however, as the author shows, betrays a masterful portrait of the mysterious humanity of Jesus. This he highlights with comparisons to John's Gospel, which he sees as being in many ways the antithesis and perfect, masterful compliment to Mark. I really enjoyed the different perspective this author takes, and one can tell he has really striven and wrestled with the text, whether he is a "believer" or not. I am a Christian, and yet find his, perhaps unconventional, insights most welcome and engaging. I think you will too, even if you do not agree with all he says.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Challenging interpretation of the Gospel of Mark 30 Aug 2012
By BRANDON KNOX - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
To say that "The Existential Jesus" offers an unconventional interpretation of the gospels is an understatement. Carroll's thesis is that Jesus did not preach about an afterlife, or even about salvation in a broader sense, or even about ethical teaching (p. 9). Instead, he "is the archetypal stranger. He appears from nowhere, shrouded in mystery, but is soon gone...He is the existential hero - solitary, uprooted from family and home, restless, always on the move and, until the mid-point in his mission, blind to where he is going" (p. 1).

Carroll challenges the reader to look at Mark's gospel through a completely new lens. I found his interpretation of sin and the holy spirit intriguing. For the author the former is really a misnomer, positing instead that the original Greek meant something akin to "missing the mark" or a character flaw. Jesus's teaches was therefore not concerned with what we currently conceptualize "sin" to mean (i.e., doing something against the wishes or commands of God).

For me the most innovative and rewarding interpretation in the book was that of Legion - who he was, what he represented, and ultimately how he ties into later parts of Mark's narrative. Although the author uses Mark as the basis of his analysis, he also contrasts this gospel with that of John, showing how the two complement each other, with Mark showing an "existential" Jesus not concerned with the afterlife and John showing a "divine" Jesus.

While I found Carroll's underlying thesis challenging and thought-provoking, I feel he has skirted around some very fundamental questions. For example, he argues that the true meaning of sin (hamartia) and the holy spirit (pneuma hagion) were distorted over time, that Jesus used these terms very differently than we think of them today. This basic premise is itself on shaky ground. The gospels was written decades after Jesus's death, in a language (Greek) that he did not speak, addressed to a community of Gentiles (whereas Jesus preached among the Jews). To argue that Jesus's teachings were later twisted by the institutionalized church requires one to believe that the gospels themselves captured Jesus's teachings accurately, and that what he preached in Aramaic, with all of its supposed linguistic subtleties, was captured in koine Greek.

A similar critique could be made of Carroll's interpretation of the concept of the "holy spirit". He argues that "pneuma hagion" should be viewed as "the charged wind, the cosmic breath, the driving spectral force. It is also the directing power that drives the stranger [Jesus] into the wilderness" (p. 25). Such an interpretation puts the orthdox conception of the holy spirit on its head. However I struggle to believe that this is what the author of Mark had in mind when he wrote his gospel. Paul used the same term in his writings, which were penned roughly 20 years before Mark. I would be interested in knowing whether and how this Greek term had been used previously as well. Was it a term that appeared in Greek writings only with the emergence of the Jesus movement? I would need to see more than simply the author's critique to discard the orthodox meaning of the holy spirit.

Despite my disagreements with some of the fundamental arguments made by Carroll, I still found this to be a fascinating book. I found it an excellent critique of Mark's literary structure, as he explains the arch of the story, but I find his theological arguments much less convincing.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Stretch Mark 30 April 2011
By Stuart Schulz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As the other reviewers attest, this is a powerful book. John Carroll is a wonderful writer, in the crazed literary critic mode, not that of the pedantic theolgian, digging deep for new connections, unafraid of over-stretching the simple truths of Mark. Which he does, often. He has discovered themes, parallels, motives, metaphors and allegories that never would have occurred to me upon five readings of Mark. And while I buy only half of them, this still represents a treasure of new insights presented in oftentimes aggressive, staccato sentences that practically poke you in the chest, and dare you to disbelieve. In fact, he at times almost sounds like the so-called primitive Mark himself. I recommend a slow read. Dont rush this book, for the wisdom of many of his ideas become apparent with several readings and consultation of the Notes in back.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
thought provoking 19 July 2009
By Chadwick Riddle - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tho the author states that he is a non-believer, nonetheless, I highly recommend this work to any Christian who is interested in a wider understanding of the human Jesus. Carroll paints a real living man in a surreal world of death by crucifixion. Happily he skips all the current new age fantasy Jesus. Here one encounters the man Jesus. No new scholarship here or claims of historical revelation. Carroll's work is well worth the read.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Dubious Disciple Book Review 22 Jan 2011
By Dubious Disciple - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Ex-is-ten-tial -adjective: of or relating to existence, especially human existence.

This is Jesus, the way you've never read about him before. John Carroll draws primarily on the Gospel of Mark, a Gospel which rather quickly fell into disuse among early Christians as they favored the more majestic stories told by Matthew and the others.

Mark's Jesus is far more human. He sometimes questions, sometimes fails. He is ridiculed by his family. Carroll portrays Jesus as a lonely, mysterious stranger with an obscure mission. By the end of his journey, he has lost all of his followers. "His life reaches its consummation in tragedy--a godless and profane one--and a great death scream from the cross, questioning the sense of it all."

Mark's story then closes with a mystery. An empty tomb, and three women fleeing in terror, told to tell no one of what they saw--or didn't see. (Carroll is correct; the ending we have now in the book of Mark, describing the resurrection of Jesus, did not exist in the earliest manuscripts.)

Mark's Gospel is, of course, one of four. Over time, the Jesus story grew in splendor, and by the time the fourth Gospel was written, Jesus had become God Himself. When I complete my book about John's Gospel (yet a couple years away from publication), I am going to wander through every local bookstore and move my book next to Carroll's, where the two extremes can sit side-by-side.
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