1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Stands out as one of the best accounts in its field,
This review is from: The Historical Figure of Jesus (Paperback)
I've read a fair few accounts that seek to disentangle the historical Jesus from the accretions that have built up around him in the gospels and Christian history. This book stands out as one of the best. Ed Sanders' examination of the religious and political context of Jesus' time is second to none, and his description of the problems posed by external sources (like Josephus' writings) and the gospels themselves is crystal-clear. Essentially situating Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet who believed the end of the age was near, he holds that the core of Jesus' ministry was a matter of `miracles' (primarily healings and exorcisms, as also practiced by other Jewish figures of the time - he discounts the `nature' miracles as mythological expansions) and a message about the kingdom of God that was focused on followers' responding to him personally.
Playing down any political or revolutionary aspect to Jesus' message, Sanders concludes that the enigmatic teacher from Nazareth nevertheless called for a reversal of values, an insistence on a moral perfectionism accessible to the poor in spirit, which also called for the practice of mercy and humility. This it was, the author argues, that eventually led him into conflict with the religious authorities whose role vis-à-vis the Jewish people he threatened to usurp. From here, it was an easy step for the Jewish leadership to persuade Pilate that Jesus was a threat to good order: thus the crucifixion is entirely plausible. As is often the case with works on the historical Jesus, Sanders is deeply equivocal about the resurrection, though he does acknowledge that some notion of the continuation of Jesus' presence was plausible given the context in which his disciples found themselves. The reader may not agree with all of Sanders' conclusions (I find it hard to see Jesus as completely disinterested in notions of subverting the socio-economic and political power of empire, for example), but there's no doubting the depth of his scholarship, or the extent to which he roots this Jesus in the thoroughly Jewish context of his very particular time and place.