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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply scholarly, shockingly readable!!
Like the other books in this series, this book combines an astonishing amount of scholarly research and reflection with a style that's not only readable but - dare one say it? - at times, wickedly impish. Casual asides, sometimes buried in the footnotes, point out some of the illogical conclusions or lazy thinking of other scholars, and do so in a wry style that's apt to...
Published on 28 Sep 2004 by J. Scott

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3.0 out of 5 stars a good, informative read.
I have read only a handful of N.T. Wright's books and I have not been disappointed. He is a very good communicator. Although I do not agree with all of his conclusions, I still appreciate the clarity, insight and perspective he has on Christian theology, Biblical interpretation and his humility in presenting the Gospel. Jesus and the Victory of God is an important book...
Published 5 months ago by Mr. D. Butt


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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply scholarly, shockingly readable!!, 28 Sep 2004
By 
J. Scott "JS" (Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: v. 2 (Christian Origins & the Question of God) (Paperback)
Like the other books in this series, this book combines an astonishing amount of scholarly research and reflection with a style that's not only readable but - dare one say it? - at times, wickedly impish. Casual asides, sometimes buried in the footnotes, point out some of the illogical conclusions or lazy thinking of other scholars, and do so in a wry style that's apt to make you laugh out loud. Not the norm, when reading a theological book!
But more seriously, there's real depth here. Wright paints a picture of Jesus which is solidly rooted in history, and after reading this book, a lot of the odd little stories and sayings in the gospels suddenly make sense. I'm talking about those difficult to understand bits, which generations of preachers and lecturers have 'explained', but whose explanations have left us feeling dissatisfied and unconvinced.
By placing Jesus solidly in his political/religious setting, and by seeing him as being in line with the Old Testament prophets, suddenly a lot of things begin to make sense.
In some sections, the book *is* hard going, because Wright is such a careful and meticulous scholar. But there are real nuggets of knowledge to be mined here.
An enlightening and important book. Highly recommended.
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71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good British Common Sense, 3 Dec 2000
This review is from: Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: v. 2 (Christian Origins & the Question of God) (Paperback)
Is it coincidence that it falls to a British scholar, Tom Wright, to be, arguably, the major stumbling block in the way of an ever-active Jesus Seminar with its witty, aphorism-producing Jesus? British scholarship has always been more conservative than that produced in the States and this is shown here in Wright's argument for a Jesus who sees himself as a representative both of God and of Israel, one who is seen as releasing Israel from exile and the power of her enemies (spiritual and temporal) and "reconstructing Israel around himself".
Wright's thesis, for all his conservatism, is both bold and distinctive. He holds to an "eschatological" Jesus, one who has a future aspect to his theology and also one who, in Crossan-like ways, has compassion for the poor and the outcast of Palestinian society in his acts of healing and eating. Wright though, in distinction from Crossan and the Jesus Seminar, is, it seems, looking to give an historical account of the historical Jesus which can dovetail nicely with a more traditional reading of the Synoptic Gospels and the New Testament more generally. In this book you will not find a plethora of references to either the Gospel of Thomas or to the Q Gospel. Instead, you will find historical argument, replete with numerous biblical and extra-biblical Jewish quotations and texts, which aims to build up a picture of a Jewish prophet and more than a prophet. This does not, in my opinion, spill over into worship or sycophancy but the argument is carefully pitched so as not to upturn too many applecarts. One might almost call it "historical evangelism" but I hope that by using that term readers wil not think that this book is either crassly evangelistic or proselytizing; it is neither. But Jesus is clearly here a hero of sorts and someone who, for the writer, answers questions of deep and meaningful significance which can only be understood by present readers within the matrix of Christianity (though Wright goes out of his way to show Jesus off as a Jew in every sense of the word).
I really liked this book and valued its argument. I think Wright procedes along the correct line of interpretation to view Jesus as eschatological(in a future sense, though not simplistically so) and I think he argues correctly for a Jesus who saw himself connected both to the Jewish God and to Israel. I also think that Jesus fits into the paradigm of "leadership prophet" and I think that he had a distintive "prophetic consciousness". So I think that on a number of things Wright is right. But the reason I would recommend this book is because it offers a coherent and cogent opposition to a nascent belief in the Jesus of the Jesus Seminar. That Jesus has many aspects which I would disagree with, and disagree with on historical grounds. This book critiques and causes damage to the arguments of the Jesus Seminar ON HISTORICAL GROUNDS and if that is where the battle takes place then Wright's book should be welcomed and read by all who have an interest.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who is Jesus? Answered from the 1st century perspective., 14 Jan 2002
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N. T. Wright continues to demonstrate not only his marvelous scholarship, but his ability to explain deep theological truths in a way that everyone can understand.
The second volume of his "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series, this volume picks up where The New Testament and the People of God left off.
Wright encourages Christians, Jews, and people of all faiths to look at Jesus as he would have been understood by those who lived during his time.
Wright begins by responding to the "Jesus Seminar" and other quests for the "Historical Jesus," demonstrating that the documents we have (both within Scripture and without) do in fact tell the story of Jesus in a way that calls us to declare him risen from the dead, Savior of the world, and King over all of creation.
Wright then moves on to examine in greater detail the question, "Who was/is Jesus?" Wright's mastery of 2nd temple Judaism and the New Testament documents themselves come through in this work as he presents Jesus from Jesus' own perspective on his calling as the Messiah, as well as from the perspective of the apostles and the early church.
Wright's work will challenge all of its readers:
To those who discredit Christianity--take another look at the history of Jesus.
To today's Jewish people--recognize that Jesus has been given the blessings that were originally promised to Abraham and his descendants, join in Jesus' inheritance, for it is yours!
To the Christian church--recognize the meaning of the Bible and the meaning of Jesus for first century readers/hearers BEFORE you seek to find out what it means for YOU today. Doing this will give you greater insight into the Scriptures and enable you to more closely follow Jesus, continuing the ministry which he began.
Finally to the Reformed Church--re-examine the "ordo-salutis" terms used in your creeds to describe the process of salvation. Understand these terms in a way that is more consistent with the way the Bible (and first century Judaism and Christianity) used them.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superlative book to be read for generations!, 23 Jan 2007
By 
Mr. Kevin Hargaden (Maynooth, Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: v. 2 (Christian Origins & the Question of God) (Paperback)
This is serious, scholarly theology. It is not for the faint-hearted. It is a cutting edge historical interpretation of Jesus in his setting as a Jew in the era of the second temple. It is the second in a projected six volume work that if completed, will be regarded with Schweitzer and Bultmann as the most significant historical works on Jesus ever produced. As such, this is not a book for a beginner.

Don't get me wrong however, it is notable for how easy it is to read. Sure, the concepts are huge and the footnotes massive but that has to be taken as a given for such an ambitious project. Anyone with a sufficient grounding in the New Testament and aware of the context of historical criticism could work though this book to their huge profit. It is one of the most substantial books I have ever read and it has deeply influenced my thinking on Jesus, the Gospels and Christianity.

Wright builds on the earth-shattering argument he made in the first volume, NTPG and here tries to show how Jesus came as a Prophet, a Priest and a King. He discusses how Jesus' self-understanding diverges from church piety but equally radically from the so-called objectivity of modern academia. What he restores to us is threefold:

- confidence in the historical investigation of Jesus to show us Jesus and not just his 21st Century portrait painters

- a serious challenge to the hegemony of "skepticism" which dominated the 3rd historical quest, passing off subjective worldview as objective research

- most importantly, a Jesus as human as he is divine. This is a conservative scholar producing a radical piece of research that needs to be taken on its own merits.

The results are phenomenal. His conclusion is as beautifully written as his argument was built. Be warned. If you read the book, chew through its depth you may well will be left facing a very real claim that the Jesus we read in the four Gospels may well be making a claim on you.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jesus and the Victory of God, 28 April 2003
By 
Maxelon (Romford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: v. 2 (Christian Origins & the Question of God) (Paperback)
Another excellent book in this series. Like his earlier book in the series it is not a light read, but quite approachable for us mere mortals. If you have genuine questions about the historical Jesus this has got to be a good place to come. It has turned much of my thinking on its head (and I am probably still a little dizzy).
I can't help believeing this series to be significant, although I think much of that significance is still to be worked out.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jesus is King - of Israel and of the world of the gentiles, 23 May 2006
By 
D. H. Knight "Doug" (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: v. 2 (Christian Origins & the Question of God) (Paperback)
In this book Wright tells us that Jesus is presenting himself as leader of the people of Israel, the real king David. This kingdom of Israel has been set up by its God to show all nations how to live, and to do so in relationship with their Creator. Israel has to demonstrate the rule of God as the standard against which all human life can be compared, to make sure that no one is getting less than they should. The kings and gods of other nations do not look after their people and no longer under proper control. Only the God of Israel can bring these gods and rulers back under control, and either make them good rulers, or remove them from office. The gospel is the announcement of the arrival of this king who challenges and deposes all other pagan kings and gods. So the proclamation that Jesus is messiah, Christ, is the announcement that God has sent his man to be leader and ruler of the world. Pagan idolatry has been publicly defeated, in the cross of Jesus, and all peoples are summoned to give allegiance to the king of Israel, the umpire and arbiter of all other political authorities.

Wright's work relies on a good fifty years of NT research that has slowly been reuniting Jesus with the people of Israel. Wright's particular contribution is to reunite Jesus and the Old Testament, the agenda of the people of Israel. He shows that Jesus sets in motion what the patriarchs and prophets have been looking forward to. The revolution here is that this account of the Christian people does not cut out the people of Israel, but says their loyalty to God is a function of God's loyalty to them, and the only way to get to God for us is through these people, the people named in the Scriptures, the people of Israel.

For a long while the Church tried to have Jesus without Israel, to have the king without his kingdom and all its subjects. But it also knew that this was to try to separate the New Testament from the Old Testament, and so to divide what God holds together. The agenda driving part of the critical scholarship of the last 200 years has been to show that the Church were wrong about Jesus. It wanted to show that he was either himself mistaken, or misrepresented by the Church, being a moral champion who achieved a merely moral victory against institutional religion. All this was a way to protest at the Church, particularly in its cosy alliance with the state, and a way to say that the state does not have the authority it assumes, and is wrong to deny us our part in the political process.

Wright has put Jesus back with his people, as the one who establishes their identity as the people of God. Now to push this little further than Wright himself does, we can say that their king establishes their diversity and their unity. The Western philosophical tradition is always trying to simplify things by filtering out all the complexity, the crowds, the people. But you can't have Jesus except with Mary, and Martha, and James and John, and equally with Abraham and Moses and David. Christ is their man, and remains their man. Only because this communion and plurality is permanently established can we know that there is a life for the whole people of God into which the Gentiles - that is the Christians - are now included.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars JVG, 10 Feb 2004
This review is from: Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: v. 2 (Christian Origins & the Question of God) (Paperback)
As mentioned in my review of NTPG, reading this book is like joining a train that has by now built up a considerable head of steam, and travelled some distance. Building on the work of NTPG Wright now turns his gaze to questions specifically about Jesus. And in doing so starts to paint a picture of who is was and what he was wanting to achieve.
Again for me this was another time of personal epiphany for me as I discovered for the first time a Jesus who seemed real and understandable. Meeting a desire that had stirred in me since more ephemeral encounters with God and, I presumed, Jesus had in church.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Paving the way for Jesus scholarship of the 21st Century, 11 Aug 2011
This review is from: Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: v. 2 (Christian Origins & the Question of God) (Paperback)
Tom Wright cannot be accused of setting his sights too low: in his (projected six-volume) Christian Origins and the Question of God series, he is endeavouring to revise the nature of historical Jesus scholarship, the context of Pauline studies (in particular in the field of justification), the reading of the synoptic evangelists, and even the hermeneutics of New Testament scholarship itself - and this is on top of writing an average of eight popular books a year! Wright began his series with The New Testament and the People of God, setting the scene (and also the tone) for the subsequent volumes, proceeding under the banner of what he refers to as a `Critical Realist' hermeneutic (essentially steering a path between the naivety of positivism, and the overly critical nature of much contemporary New Testament scholarship). That first volume was an attempt at putting the emergence of the early Christian community in a proper historical context, setting in his critical sights the accounts which he views as either contextually overly similar (i.e. a Jewish community with little or no distinction from the Palestinian Judaism out of which it developed) or overly dissimilar (i.e. a Mystery Cult that is simply another variation of Near Eastern paganism). By creating a compelling image of 1st Century Judaism - with an emphasis on the diversity of reactions to the central notion of continued (spiritual) exile - Wright was able to thus present the early Christians as both inhabiting, and yet also expanding upon, traditional Jewish narrative categories, without the cost of losing that essential Jewishness.

What Wright's first volume did with the early Christians, Jesus and the Victory of God attempts to do with historical Jesus scholarship; and what's more, it is an impressive attempt. In this volume, Wright is revisiting and adapting what he calls a `Third Quest for the Historical Jesus' - another adventure in getting behind the texts to see the `real' Jesus; nonetheless, unlike many other contemporaries doing a similar thing, Wright is broadly respectful of the intentions of the texts themselves. There is no sense of conspiracy - of the synoptic evangelists trying to cover up the real nature of Jesus - nor of some kind of unexpected (though largely undocumented) radical change within the early Christian community. Instead, Wright approaches his subject in what would seem to be the most logical procedure: if this is the Jewish context in which Jesus lived, and knowing the individual theological purposes of the Synoptic Evangelists, to what extent do the accounts of these Evangelists `fit' with the contextual evidence? Does the Jesus of Matthew, Mark and Luke really look and sound like a 1st Century Jew of the 20s-30s? And if so, what does that say about the nature of the Synoptic Gospels themselves? If the Jesus they portray does `fit' into this context, is there more to their portrayal than simply attributing it to theological construction? In other words, could it not be the case that the manner of their portrayals of Jesus and his mission actually originated with Jesus himself? It is this respect for the nature of the texts that enables him to deflect the criticisms of those who would decry him for writing a `Fifth Gospel', a meta-gospel that would enable us to dispense with the previous four.

Wright raises some interesting points. Firstly, for Jesus to truly have an impact on the Judaism of his day - an impact great enough to have him hated by the Jewish authorities, subsequently killed by the Roman authorities, and cause his followers to proclaim him as Messiah after his death - he must have both radical and charismatic, both in teaching and mission. As such, Wright argues that neither the peasant Jewish Cynic-philosophy of pithy, witty aphorisms beloved of the Jesus Seminar, nor the Orthodox Jewish rabbi of the post-Holocaust scholarly reaction, would have made much of an impact in his day. Simply stating Jesus as a revolutionary may have got him killed by the Romans, that neither explains the Jewish opposition, nor the subsequent Christian theological development. Wright greatly respects Marcus Borg's portrayal of Jesus as the non-violent Jewish prophet-mystic, but parts grounds with him over several key points, many of which are unfolded over the course of the book - though mainly over the issue of the Messianic.

Wright's solution to the problems inherent in contemporary Jesus scholarship is to present a hypothesis of Jesus as a self-conscious Messianic figure, ending Israel's exile through recreating Israel - and thus the Temple - around himself. In order to do this, Jesus creates a middle-ground between the Pharisees and Essenes, and between the extremities of collaboration with the Roman occupation and violent reaction against it (which he recognises as leading to the destruction of Israel). This is a mission that ends with a journey to Jerusalem, embodying in himself the return of YHWH - but a journey he nonetheless realises will end in his own sacrificial death if he is to be the true Israel and the true Temple. For Wright's hypothesis, all of Jesus' teachings, his actions and the trajectory of his vocation revolve around the notion that God is ending the exile through the person of himself, and thus subsequently subverting all other groups and viewpoints. Yes, I realise this is traditional substitution theology, but the question must therefore arise (which is not addressed explicitly in Jesus and the Victory of God): why did the early Christians view Jesus in substitutionary terms? Rather than pass it off as the disciples' (or a later Christian) reaction to the inexplicability of the death of the Messiah, through careful analysis of Jesus praxis and teachings in the light of the 1st Century Jewish worldview, could it not be the case that substitutionary theology originated with Jesus himself? Wright painstakingly studies how each of the events of Jesus' life - in both praxis and aural teaching - can be read in the light of this hypothesis, which can make for repetitive but still enlightening reading. He wears his scholarship lightly on his sleeve, and makes a compelling case (though I still have my hesitancies about how far he pushes this; see below).

Second, contemporary scholarship has often attributed much of Jesus' complex allusions to the narratives of the Old Testament, in both praxis and teaching, to the Synoptic Evangelists. Wright's basic contention with this theory is this: it once more neglects the impact that Jesus would have had in his day. Surely a figure such as Jesus, steeped in the narrative and literature of the Old Testament as he was (as any respectful reading of the Sermon on the Mount would admit) could be able to consciously allude - as well as subvert - the stories told? And surely in being the figure who inspired the Evangelists - rather than some hollow figure that they projected upon (as if such a hollow figure could truly inspire people to go to their deaths years after his own death) - Jesus would have had a much deeper sense of the resonances of the Law and prophets than even they? Wright raises the suspicion that contemporary scholarship respects the written word more than the aural - and thus this scholarship is merely projecting modern concerns and suspicions into the 1st Century.

Third, Wright takes a swipe at overly critical readings of Jesus' portrayal within the gospels - in particular those of the Jesus Seminar - by asking the question, `Why would the Gospel writers (or the early Christian community) invent these sayings?' For instance, to give one example, why would the early church invent the accusations given against Jesus of being possessed by the Satan, and thus the subsequent reply that follows? Wright contends that much of these overly critical readings tend to view the sayings and parables most acceptable to modern audiences as `authentic' whilst dismissing the more difficult readings. As such, he accuses many of his contemporaries, in typical 19th Century Liberal style, of merely projecting contemporary political, moral and social concerns onto Jesus. On the note of disparities between the gospels of Jesus' sayings, Wright argues that Jesus, in true rabbinical fashion, probably said the same teachings more than once, in different contexts, which in themselves would develop minor Post-Easter variations. This takes away much of the sting of the accusation that the sayings have been changed to such a degree from originally uttered that we cannot tell whether Jesus said it in this form or not; by originating the disparities with Jesus himself, Wright avoids both the fundamentalist desire for a stretched harmony between the gospels, and also the radical critics of the gospels' historical accuracy.

Nevertheless, despite my overall praise for Wright's hypothesis and painstaking scholarly effort, I have several reservations. Primarily, I feel that Wright's `Critical Realism' sometimes loses its `critical' edge. Though Wright never lapses into positivism - he always reads the historical resonances in each example he gives - there is a sense in which Wright tries too hard in justifying his hypothesis. For instance, he spends much time analysing the dialogue between Caiaphas and Jesus, and fascinatingly brings out the historical - and theological - resonances within the text. Nevertheless, we cannot forget that the Gospels present this as a private trial at night. As such, we must ask the question: who was watching? Who could have recorded - or at least memorised - the events that took place? There was the Sanhedrin, the Temple guards, and a few servants; now we may hypothesise that some of the figures there eventually turned to the nascent Christian faith, or the Resurrected Christ subsequently informed his followers about the events in the trial, but this is obviously a hypothesis too far. Wright skirts over the problem. I suspect that it may be the case that Wright has allowed his theological desire for scriptural infallibility to get in the way of his historical readings.

One almost desires that at certain occasions Wright admit to passages or sayings being either invented or at least thoroughly re-written by the Evangelists. I understand Wright's desire to react against the excesses of the Jesus Seminar and other radical critical readings, but his overly positive view of the Evangelists' account becomes both somewhat tiring (one can quite often predict in advance how a certain passage will be read), and also short sighted. If Wright's scholarship is to shift the centre ground of Jesus scholarship away from radical criticism, then this over-reaction will later itself be criticised as pandering to both conservative and radical readings of the Bible.

Secondarily, I must turn to Wright's criticisms of other scholars projecting contemporary needs backwards. Although Wright readily admits of the provisional nature of his study (and therefore I would expect would welcome criticism such as mine), one has the suspicion that, fifteen years on, there is a strong element of projection in his hypothesis, arising from the political situation in Britain in the 1990s. Wright presents his own account as a Third Way between the extremities of Schweitzer and Wrede; he presents his account of Jesus as a Third Way between Zealot and Pharisee, collaborator and revolutionary. Considering Wright's broadly left-wing political sympathies, as well as the timing of the writing of this book (first published in 1996), one cannot help but be reminded of the emergence in Britain of Tony Blair, New Labour and the `Third Way' of politics between the extremities of Thatcherism and Socialism. Nevertheless, as it will take a longer period of distancing in time to see whether there is any substance to this suspicion, one cannot make too much of such a claim.

My final point is neither criticism, nor praise, but warning: to what extent is the Jesus as portrayed by Wright worthy of worship? Although Wright continually emphasises that the Jesus he presents is not egocentric nor delusional considering the Jewish context - and the historical similarities with both earlier and later figures - one cannot help but be reminded of the quip about politicians: `Anyone who decides to be in a position of such immense power and responsibility has to have something wrong with them, and why should I trust the running of the country in such a stunted human being?' A similar thought applies to the reconstructed historical Jesus as present by Wright: human beings are human beings, and no matter what their historical context certain attributes always rise to the surface. In the light of Wright's kenotic perspective on Jesus' divine consciousness, to what extent can we view the Jesus who views himself as the embodiment of YHWH returning to Jerusalem as the same Eternal Son who views equality with God as something that cannot be grasped, and thus truly humbled himself even unto death? In other words, does believing yourself to be the embodiment of God really sound humble? The defence may arise that it is in being the Word incarnate that Jesus' humility is located, but this is to skirt the issue. This may be to place the issue in its most extreme and exaggerated perspective, but one begins to realise that in the light of thorough historical criticism, and the realisation of the incarnation taking place within thorough historical contingency, the literal Resurrection is thoroughly necessary, that the vindication of Jesus is theologically required. Otherwise, how can we in good conscience present the man Jesus as truly worthy of our worship? This is perhaps why Wright himself states that if the Resurrection did not happen, then he'd forget the whole enterprise - hence the writing of the third volume of the series, The Resurrection of the Son of God (proving once more the inter-connected nature of theology and historical criticism).

To reiterate, this is not to criticise Wright's historical method for presenting us with such a Jesus. As a historical reconstruction of the life and context of Jesus of Nazareth, Wright's study is - to use that overly used term - magisterial, and surely ranks with some of the great works of New Testament scholarship of the modern era, even if this is judged merely by the breadth of scholarship and the fecundity of hermeneutical insight. Instead, my acknowledging of these problems is to make us aware, once more, of the difficulties historical criticism still raises for modern Christians. In Wright's account, one can historically see how in the light of the figure of Jesus how New Testament theology could have developed, and therefore subsequently how Orthodoxy stands on good historical grounds (another nail hammered into Harnack's coffin). Yet in spite of this, historical developments do not necessarily entail theological truths, and vice versa. The problems inherent within New Testament historical reconstruction are still present: even in Wright's moderately conservative (and textually respectful) form it raises large issues for contemporary theology, about the nature of what has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Open your eyes to Jesus, 6 Jun 2010
By 
Dr. C. Jeynes (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: v. 2 (Christian Origins & the Question of God) (Paperback)
This wonderful book published in 1996 is from the (to my mind) foremost Biblical scholar today. It is over 600 pages long, with 32 pages of bibliography and another 35 pages of citations of ancient texts, most of which are Biblical but including 6 pages of Jewish sources (including Apocryphal, Pseudepigraphy, Philo, and rabbinical works), nearly 2 pages of Christian (and Gnostic) writings, and nearly a page of Roman and Greek writings. If you want an index on who has said what, and how, this book is a good place to start!

Many scholars have written popular books on Jesus, largely, it seems, from a point of view seeking to discredit the "traditional" orthodox account. N.T.Wright (who is now Bishop of Durham) writes here from a purely historical standpoint, but he takes detailed issue with the revisionist scholars, and in particular those of the Jesus Seminar.

Wright states that his aim is to take account of all the evidence (including Biblical, extra-canonical, Jewish and pagan sources), and reconstruct the events in a way that incorporates all of this evidence naturally. He takes the New Testament text effectively at face value, carefully explaining where doing this is contrary to "received wisdom" and why his reading is at least as plausible as those of the revisionists.

It is a book of history, not theology. He does not get into Christology (hence "Jesus" in the title), but he is centrally interested in exploring the important historical question, why did Jesus die? The "Victory of God" in the title is referring to the various different ways in which the Jews then thought of the "Hope of Israel", and the way in which Jesus thought of it which was at once continuous with the Jewish traditions and radically different at some vitally important points.

Looming over the whole discussion is the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 after the first disastrous Jewish War. Wright's thesis is that Jesus saw this coming, and interpreted it similarly to the way that Jeremiah interpreted the foreseen fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. But Jesus is preaching the Kingdom of God realised in himself! "Something greater than the Temple is here!" he says (Matt.12:6).

Whoever you are, if you want to understand our society with its Christian heritage (for better or worse!) you need to know who Jesus really was. And in this long and complicated book a historian of the very first rank leads us through a huge mass of primary and secondary sources, astonishing us at every turn. He makes perfect and disturbing sense of the Gospel accounts, which are today overlain with so much anachronistic and sentimental assumptions that it is often hard to see what was going on and what the Evangelists are getting at.

This book, with the two others in the series (I have already reviewed the third, "The Resurrection of the Son of God"), is the most exciting thing I have read for many years. I can't recommend it enough.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Makes some good points but others I find unconvincing, 6 July 2014
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This review is from: Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: v. 2 (Christian Origins & the Question of God) (Paperback)
This is the second book in a scholarly series by N.T. Wright (who later became bishop of Durham). In contrast to Wright's books for the general Christian public, these books are somewhat difficult to read, with lots of footnotes. You will need to have your Bible at hand if you really want to understand what Wright is saying because he often refers to passages by chapter and verse without giving you any other indication of what passage he is referring to. Sometimes his language is a bit difficult to understand as well – I puzzled several minutes over one sentence (p. 634) before realizing that it was a subtle plaisanterie! And you'll have to put up with his insistence on not capitalizing the word "god". But if you are willing to make the effort, the book is a worthwhile study of what Yeshua was really doing and saying – which should be important to every Christian. And sometimes his conclusions are quite different from what is usually taught.

The book starts with a review of couple centuries of the "quest for the historical Jesus", leading to the recent "Jesus Seminar". In the remainder of the book Wright finds (using the methods of a historian) that the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are probably pretty accurate, rather than being the invention of the early church, as many scholars have proclaimed. (There is so much disagreement among the scholars! One is forced to the conclusion that at least half the things they confidently assert are wrong.)

Wright concludes that Yeshua, through his actions and parables, was proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom, the end of Israel's exile, and the fulfilment of the Biblical prophecies concerning Israel. However, this was in a paradoxical way, because many in Israel were to be destroyed due to their "taking the sword" (against the Romans) instead of following Yeshua and his way of peace and of being a light to the nations. And Yeshua was replacing the strict observance of kashrut and shabbat with his own ethos of community and forgiveness. The Pharisees opposed him and the chief priests wanted him dead because he claimed to be Messiah the King. But he believed he could conquer Evil and the Evil One by taking upon himself the kind of death at the hands of the Romans which many Jews would later face due to their rebellion.

Wright explains that because of the risk of being arrested Yeshua spoke cryptically and in parables. One is nevertheless left with the impression that if he was really saying all the things that Wright says he was saying, then he didn't do a very good job of communicating. For instance, if he was really announcing the end of the exile, why does he never even use the word?

Yeshua did not see himself as God, but according to Wright did see his journey to Jerusalem as symbolizing the prophesied return of God to Zion (Isaiah 52:8 for example).

One of the vexing questions about Yeshua is whether he really did predict his own Second Coming within one generation, with the sun and moon darkened and "the stars falling from the sky". Wright ridicules the idea of "the Son of Man coming on the clouds". He says that is symbolic (based on Daniel 7, which shouldn't be taken literally) and the bit about the signs in the heavens was just Jesus using standard prophetic metaphor for some sort of very important event – namely the "vindication" of Jesus by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD.

The most disturbing thing about the book, for me, is the idea that the Kingdom of God spoken of by Yeshua and the reign of God spoken of by the prophets came about in the year 70. If this evil world we live in is what was promised, then I'm a bit disappointed. I should say however that Wright has indicated (for example, in a 2008 Time interview http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1710844,00.html) that he does believe in a future return of Jesus and the renewal of the Creation.
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