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34 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Jewish historian, Jewish Jesus, 16 May 2000
This review is from: The Changing Faces of Jesus (Hardcover)
With "The Changing Faces of Jesus", Geza Vermes once more promulgates his thesis that the historical Jesus was much more like a Jewish Galilean holy man than an apocalyptic preacher, a messiah or a divine son of God. It is work he has carried on (even overtly in print) for over 25 years now since his publication of "Jesus the Jew" so I don't think we should be too surprised to find him following it through here in his latest offering. As it stands, this book is lucid and informative on the Jewish history acolytes to biblical and Jewish studies will be familiar with. Vermes is well known for his mastery of this material and that mastery shows here. So we have much rich and useful background to the world Jesus most probably knew. One point to note, however, is Vermes's seeming philosophical naivety. His use of the word "real" to describe the Jesus he finds - and which the New Testament, he argues, so interestedly disguises - is both irritating and impulsive on his part. In a world in which many studies of Jesus now devote whole sections to what they are actually finding under the rubric "historical Jesus" Vermes's persistent simplification here is both annoying and misleading. But since this book (without footnotes people!) is clearly written for the general reader we may assume such things are thought irrelevant in such a context even if we admit that as a contribution to "the Quest of the historical Jesus" this book will always fall short of the methodological heights others have reached. So, to cut to the quick, this is a book written by an expert in ancient Jewish texts who uses that knowledge to present an angle of view on the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. It is not a Christianised Jesus that is found, for Jesus was not a Christian but a Jewish "man of God" - hence the Gospels and the New Testament are engaging in creative writing in line with their beliefs - something Vermes finds understandable if not entirely historical. The reader, thus, must judge whether such a Jesus is something they can stomach before they begin to read a book written from the point of view of an expert in Jewish texts. It may be judged, though, that history is rather more than fitting historical figures into the available information - which is Vermes's assumed method. One last point: the Epilogue, of a dream Vermes once had, where Jesus appears and speaks to various religious communities is a priceless piece of hyperbole!
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