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From charisma to doctrine,
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This review is from: Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea, AD 30-325 (Hardcover)
For people who have studied the transformation of the perception of Jesus' teaching from something that was fully in the Jewish tradition to something that made it unacceptable to Jews, the story told here is nothing new in essence, and has indeed been told by Vermes himself in several earlier books to which he refers the reader in notes. He has always portrayed the original Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels as a figure very much in the tradition of charismatic individuals in the Hebrew Bible: eloquent prophets or preachers, miracle workers, healers, casters out of demons, concerned with social justice and always opposed to and resented by the priests of their day.
In the first half of the book Vermes shows that the message of this original Jesus was unencumbered by subtle philosophical or theological definitions or theories, how these developed and how the Jewish Jesus sect was transformed into Pauline and Johannine Christianity. He credits Justin Martyr, ca.100 to 165, with being the founder of "Christian theology, ... a theology linked to Greek philosophy and totally different from Jesus' non-speculative mode of thinking." One can see - and it is made clear in the last four lines of the Postscript - that Vermes' sympathies lie with the pre-theological phase of Christianity, scrupulously though he deals with the succeeding phases.
In the second half he deals with the continuing elaboration of theories and definitions by post-Pauline theologians, up the Council of Nicaea in 325. By that time the charismatic element (still very much present in Paul's day) and an emphasis on the message - WHAT JESUS HAD TAUGHT - had given way to an emphasis among theologians on the messenger - exactly WHO JESUS WAS and to an intense concern with his precise relationship with God. He shows how the notion of the Trinity began to take the shape that it finally took with Tertullian (ca.160 to ca. 225). That inevitably raised ferocious debates about whether the Son was subordinate to the Father or co-equal with Him, and whether one aspect of the Trinity, the Son, could ever have been a real human being. The Gnostic idea (Docetism) - that he never was but only appeared to be human - was eventually routed as a heresy, as was Subordinationism.
In addition Vermes traces the development of the Church's structure - loose in the beginning to tighter and more authoritarian even before it became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
That post-Pauline and post-Johannine story, too, can be found in many other books (for example in Part II of Diarmaid MacCullough's magisterial History of Christianity - see my Amazon review). What we find in Vermes are many illustrative quotations from the texts of key figures in the story, and most of these will be new to most readers: for instance, I have not myself seen elsewhere his interesting analysis of Justin Martyr's Dialogue with the Jew Trypho. In any case, for anyone relatively new to the history of early Christian thought, this is perhaps as useful a book with which to start as any other.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 Sep 2012 15:54:50 BDT
Aside from the point you mention at the end of your excellent review, would this book add anything new to someone like me, who has already read Vermes' Changing Faces, Authentic Gospel, and the Passion and Nativity books about Jesus?
In reply to an earlier post on 6 Sep 2012 16:05:08 BDT
Ralph Blumenau says:
As far as I remember (but I may be wrong) his earlier books do not go beyond the Pauline-Johannine transformation of the figure of Jesus - so, unless you have read, say MacCulloghor some other histories of Christianity, what might be new to you is the story between that aforementioned transformation and the Council of Nicaea.
In reply to an earlier post on 6 Sep 2012 16:39:20 BDT
Brilliant. Thank you very much for that (^_^).
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