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Jesus the Viceroy of God,
This review is from: The Historical Figure of Jesus (Paperback)
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.
Sanders' construction of the historical Jesus as displayed in "Jesus and Judaism" is well known for being based around the incident in the Temple where Jesus turns over tables and drives out animals and/or people. This is seen as the proximate cause of Jesus' crucifixion and the event which gives us insight into his orientation as one interested in "restoration eschatology". But with "The Historical Figure of Jesus" Sanders takes a different tack, assuming much less background knowledge on the readers' part and so, consequently, providing the assumed reader with chapters of background on the political and religious settings of Jesus and on the nature of the documentary sources for his life. These chapters are as erudite as they are compact and would provide even the most novice-like reader of historical Jesus literature with a key to begin opening a number of the locks Sanders later presents. Having given background, Sanders proceeds to give chapters (some of which are so good they should be regarded as set texts on the subjects they address) which orientate themselves around Jesus' assumed interest in the Kingdom of God, his performance of miracles, the meaning of his teaching in Jewish context, Jesus' own view of himself and a programmatic chapter on Jesus' last week (an exercise in lucid brilliance). The Jesus revealed is set within a Jewish eschatological framework (discussion about the end of the current order of things) in which he is depicted very much as traditionally, even typically, Jewish. He speaks, for example, about "the reversal of values and ethical perfectionism" in the coming new age - the Kingdom of God. So what appears is a typically Jewish individual who harbours a view of his own authority to speak as, Sanders suggests, God's viceroy, and with an agenda which looks and works for the establishment of God's eschatological kingdom. All this is usefully garnished with astute discussion of the sayings of Jesus in the context of a Jewish religious situation. Two useful appendices and the addition of thorough indexes supplement the book usefully so that it is a practically orientated product for those who wish to validate or further their reading.
So this is a book which I find exceedingly lucid and wise on the subject of the historical Jesus. Of course, readerly conclusions will always be different and I would not wish to give the impression that I agree with everything Sanders proposes or to suggest that he should be regarded as a fount of infallible knowledge. I would, however, suggest that this book is the perfect one for the general and non-technical reader interested in the historical figure of Jesus. It orientates the reader to the subject at hand, provides useful and relevant background in a way that is very clear and is sure-footed as to the conclusions it reaches and the evidence upon which it is based. I recommend it whole-heartedly.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Jan 2008 20:21:25 GMT
Last edited by the author on 28 Jan 2008 20:23:12 GMT
Posted on 25 Jun 2009 15:05:07 BDT
Good review, but really could do with splitting up into more paragraphs, for ease of reading. :)
Posted on 17 Oct 2009 12:27:46 BDT
Jesus is Horus!
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