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The Historical Figure of Jesus Paperback – 30 Nov 1995

4.5 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (30 Nov. 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140144994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140144994
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 98,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Ed Sanders was a Professor of Religion at Duke University until 2005. His other works include Paul and Jesus and Judaism.


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This is a good introduction for those interested in studying the historical figure of Jesus. Deceptively short as the text is quite small, Sanders provides a welcome antidote to the sensationalist pseudo-history such as Holy Blood Holy Grail and others.

Sanders is correct to state that the study of the historical Jesus is a perilous and frustrating task, not least due to the lack of sources. Sanders cleverly provides a setting for Jesus, putting him fully in his times of first century Galilee and Judaea. He places Jesus vis a vis Judaism and the political climate of Jesus' time. The strength of this book is that it is not encumbered with theology, but is an appraisal of Jesus the man, someone who had, or believed he had, an intimate relationship with God and who saw himself as the man to prepare the Jews for the coming of the kingdom. As Sanders correctly concludes, as a result Jesus was more of a teacher and a prophet than a preacher of repentance.

All in all a recommended book for both Christians and non-Christians wanting a good introduction to Jesus, without sensationalism, be it theological or pseudo-historical.
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Professor Sanders must be one of those rare academics who can write well for the general public, neither over-simplifying the content nor boring the reader with excessive detail. The book has just the right balance of readability and credibility, and there are new insights on every page. Particularly interesting were the first few chapters, covering the historical and political background. We are all aware that Palestine was "occupied" by the Roman Empire at this period, but what was the nature of the occupation? Was it, for example, comparable to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the early 1940s? The answer apparently is no, and the situation in Galilee was very different from that in Jerusalem. The book paints a clear picture of what life was like for ordinary people living in that region around that time. In dealing with the events of Jesus's life, Sanders always makes clear the degree of certainty of any assertion. There is a scale, with "beyond all reasonable doubt" at one end and "as likely as not" at the other. People who want simple answers in black and white may be disappointed by this, but ancient history is not an exact science. This is surely the honest approach.
Professor Sanders has been studying this period since the 1960s and appears to be regarded as knowledgeable on Jesus (as well as on Paul). I am not in a position to judge, but certainly the book seems more authoritative than some similar titles written by journalists or by those with a proselytising agenda. Although raised in the Church of England, I read this book as a complete layman.
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E.P. Sanders is without doubt one of the most pre-eminent scholars of the New Testament and of historical, that is, Second Temple, Judaism alive today. His expertise and breadth of knowledge are acclaimed by all quarters of biblical scholarship as often as his work is seen in print, which is it to say that this is often. Particularly he has made key entries into the current round of the academic Quest of the historical Jesus. The first was with his 1985 book "Jesus and Judaism", a technical and academic study in which Sanders outlined his position vis-a-vis Jesus as an historical personage about whom we could know a number of things with a substantial degree of certainty. Amongst these were that Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed, that he confined his activity to Israel and that he was baptised by John the Baptist. All in all he stated 8 "almost indisputable facts" in that book which any reasoned and reasonable account of the historical Jesus should be able to account for. With "The Historical Figure of Jesus" Sanders presents a much more reader-friendly (and appreciably less technical though still academically formulated) account of Jesus of Nazareth in which he ups the statements he now considers as "almost beyond dispute" to 15 and attempts to draw his picture of Jesus around these chosen static points. Clearly, then, the things Sanders considers as fixed are crucial here. These demonstrate some modification of Sanders' position from his earlier book and the addition of some "equally secure facts" about "the aftermath of Jesus' life". They are not things which scholars or general readers would find particularly controversial. But then the devil is always in the detail.Read more ›
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Whilst books like the Da Vinci Code continue to dominate people's thinking on religion, books like these based in fact provide a welcome read. This book in particular is probably the best historical book I have read.

Sanders has not only created a book that is authorative and intelletucual, but he does what other academics fail to do - he makes it readable. Sanders focuses only on what can be proved or dissproved and rarely goes into speculation. If he does he always tempers it with a 'we infer'. Sanders goes into some detail about the historical setting of Jerusalm and Jewdasim at Jesus' time to build his case.

What he doesn't do is go into great details about his birth or upbringing, because quite simply, he has no proof or knowledge of it.

Very much a recommended read for all those that interested in trying to understand the facts of Jesus' life as opposed to speculating on it.
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