85 of 87 people found the following review helpful
Enjoyable, informative, authoritative,
This review is from: The Historical Figure of Jesus (Paperback)
Professor Sanders must be one of those rare academics who can write well for the general public, neither over-simplifying the content nor boring the reader with excessive detail. The book has just the right balance of readability and credibility, and there are new insights on every page. Particularly interesting were the first few chapters, covering the historical and political background. We are all aware that Palestine was "occupied" by the Roman Empire at this period, but what was the nature of the occupation? Was it, for example, comparable to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the early 1940s? The answer apparently is no, and the situation in Galilee was very different from that in Jerusalem. The book paints a clear picture of what life was like for ordinary people living in that region around that time. In dealing with the events of Jesus's life, Sanders always makes clear the degree of certainty of any assertion. There is a scale, with "beyond all reasonable doubt" at one end and "as likely as not" at the other. People who want simple answers in black and white may be disappointed by this, but ancient history is not an exact science. This is surely the honest approach.
Professor Sanders has been studying this period since the 1960s and appears to be regarded as knowledgeable on Jesus (as well as on Paul). I am not in a position to judge, but certainly the book seems more authoritative than some similar titles written by journalists or by those with a proselytising agenda. Although raised in the Church of England, I read this book as a complete layman. I was aware that I had no idea how much of what I had been taught was true in a historical sense and how much was mere legend, tradition or the personal opinion of my teachers, and I was starting to ask questions like "who wrote the gospels, and when?" and "what did Jesus ACTUALLY say?". This book has taught me a great deal about the origins of this vast religion.
There is perhaps too much emphasis on dates. To the lay reader, the exact years of Jesus's birth and death are less interesting than what happened in between. And while I'm looking for faults, I could mention that there are a few things that are not well explained. For example, the Pharisees are referred to as a party, but what is meant by "party" in this context? Is it something equivalent to a modern political party? Obviously not, though just what kind of a group they were is still not clear to me. But there are few such omissions. All in all, this book gave me the information that I wanted in an enjoyable form, and I happily recommend it.