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13 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jesus in the right context !, 14 July 2007
This review is from: The Changing Faces of Jesus (Paperback)
I can't help but feel that the previous reviewer has missed the point of this book. What Geza Vermes has achieved here is to separate the modern-day, Christian interpretation of Jesus's words and actions from the first century, Jewish point of view, i.e. the rightful context of Jesus's ministry. In the process he succinctly demonstrates the evolution and mythification of the life of a charismatic Galilean preacher. A must-read before attending the next Alpha course!
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 May 2008 17:55:57 BDT
Last edited by the author on 1 May 2008 19:51:24 BDT
trini says:
Digby Lightfoot,
On the assumption that I am the 'previous reviewer' you disagree with, may I say that you have given no evidence whatsoever that anything I said is incorrect. Please indicate what you think I will need to revise, and why.

I have not 'missed the point of the book'. The point of the book, as of all Vermes's 'Jesus books', is to demolish the Christian claims that Jesus is the divine Messiah, Son of God, himself God. I recognize that Vermes brings to this task a thorough (but not unrivalled or unchallengeable) knowledge of the double requirement of familiarity with pre-Christian Judaism and the New Testament, and carries out an exegetical exercise of real value, but his prejudices, to which I call attention, e.g. in his last chapter, lead him to refuse to allow the Christian understanding of Jesus, and the developing understanding of Paul and the other New Testament writers, while he accepts uncontrolled later rabbinical developments, notably of the stories of Honi and Hanina. I point out that these holy men are largely the creation of later rabbinic thinking. You may have noticed that when I referred above to pre-Christian Judaism (I myself attach the greatest importance to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the other Intertestamental literature, as well as to the Old Testament), I did not mention rabbinism as an essential aid for elucidating the Jesus picture. In this I follow the lead of Fathers Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer, who both stress that there is no example whatsoever of rabbinic literature that predates the end of the first century after Christ, and therefore this cannot be determinative in talking about Jesus. Of course, with these eminent Catholic scholars I accept that later writings can preserve earlier memories.

You say that "what Geza Vermes has achieved here is to separate the modern-day, Christian interpretation of Jesus's words and actions from the first century, Jewish point of view, i.e. the rightful context of Jesus's ministry." I reply that this is to misunderstand the New Testament totally. The New Testament gives us the actual "first-century, Jewish point of view" on Jesus. I am profoundly convinced of the Jewishness of Jesus (partly because of Vermes's own writinigs, especially his 'Jesus the Jew', and I am very grateful to Vermes for this emphasis in his writings), and, if I may put it that way, I am equally convinced of the Jewishness of Christianity, which (for me) represents the straight-line development and continuation and fulfilment of God's revelation over the centuries to the Hebrews, the Israelites and the Jews. For all the later clarification of the Councils like Nicaea and Constantinople in the fourth Christian century, the essential picture of the real Jesus, Jesus the Jew, is the Jesus of the Gospels, of Paul, Peter, Hebrews, and all the other New Testament writings. The "rightful context of Jesus' ministry" which you wish to contrast with first Christianity is what we find in the New Testament, not (except very peripherally) what the rabbis of later generations have to say. May I also say that I find it comical (sadly, because scholarship is so vital) that Dead Sea Scroll scholars will organize international conferences to discuss the tiniest scraps of DSS parchment for the light that they might shed on our understanding of Judaism between 200 BC and 100 AD, while the massive witness that the New Testament gives to first-century Jewish life is considered (by you, and apparently, you think, by Vermes too) as some kind of rootless, unsourced deviation. No, and no, and no. It is also unbearably tendentious for Vermes to say, as he does, that if he had been Jesus he would have done things differently, left his own writings, etc. That is unworthy of scholarship.

I could go on and on.

May I refer you to my reviews of Israel Knohl's The Messiah Before Jesus, Michael Wise's The First Messiah, and Dan Cohn-Sherbok's The Jewish Messiah. I head my review of Wise's book with the title, "Not Wise's Judah, nor Knohl's Menahem, but Jesus of Nazareth is the First and Only Messiah". The New Testament Jesus successfully fulfils all the unfulfilled expectations that Wise and Knohl attribute to their 'Messiahs', and that Cohn-Sherbok despairingly and explicitly and sweepingly rejects as delusions for all 'Messiahs'. The Christian claims for Jesus, the Unique Messiah, stand. I am humbled by this.

Best wishes.
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