The Changing Faces of Jesus Paperback – 5 Apr 2001
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In 1926, the Protestant scholar Rudolph Bultmann wrote, "I do indeed think that we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus." Modern Biblical criticism had turned the gospels from solid rock to quicksand and suddenly the attempt to glimpse the real Jesus seemed pointless. Then Geza Vermes published Jesus the Jew, in which he presented Jesus as a charismatic Jewish teacher. In his latest book, The Changing Faces of Jesus, Vermes consolidates his thesis by trying to show how the divine Jesus was a later invention of the Christian Church. To do this he dissects the New Testament, picking out the later "divine Jesus" traditions from the earlier "Jewish teacher" traditions. There are two problems with this kind of scholarship. First the temptation is to reject as "later" the bits of the New Testament which don't fit your thesis. Secondly, all the evidence is so tenuous that as soon as one scholar comes up with a convincing thesis another argues just as convincingly for the opposite view. Vermes writes well in an accessible style and it's good to have readable religious history, but the general reader may not realise this is just one portrait of the historical Jesus among many. If this is the only book one reads on the topic the picture is distorted. However, if Vermes' portrait of Jesus is taken with all the others, a fascinating mosaic portrait of Jesus can be assembled. In that respect, Vermes' work is a valuable piece in the puzzle. --Dwight Longenecker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A bold effort to sift out the ''real'' Jesus from the theological embellishment in the New Testament that (according to Vermes) turned him into a divine persona." --The Washington Post
"Geza Vermes is one of the most distinguished living scholars of ancient Judaism. While he has specialised in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, in which his reputation is unsurpassed, he has an impressive command of all the Jewish sources from antiquity. Those who want to understand the historical Jesus and the evolving ways in which he was perceived in the following decades can do no better than to read his book. It is the masterly statement of a great scholar who has spent decades considering his topic, and whose work is gentle, irenic, relatively unargumentative, and written with exceptional skill ... in Vermes Jesus has found his best Jewish interpreter."--The New York Review of Books
"Sound research and passionate engagement with the subject make this a useful volume. The straightforward exposition of Johannine and Pauline interpretations of Jesus sheds light on the Jesus figure. A comprehensive study, certain to evoke both critique and praise." --Hal Warlick High Point University, NC
"A bold effort to sift out the 'real' Jesus from the theological embellishment in the New Testament that (according to Vermes) turned him into a divine persona." The Washington Post
"Geza Vermesis one of the most distinguished living scholars of ancient Judaism. While he has specialised in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, in which his reputation is unsurpassed, he has an impressive command of all the Jewish sources from antiquity. Those who want to understand the historical Jesus and the evolving ways in which he was perceived in the following decades can do no better than to read his book. It is the masterly statement of a great scholar who has spent decades considering his topic, and whose work is gentle, irenic, relatively unargumentative, and written with exceptional skill ... in Vermes Jesus has found his best Jewish interpreter."--The New York Review of Books
"Sound research and passionate engagement with the subject make this a useful volume. The straightforward exposition of Johannine and Pauline interpretations of Jesus sheds light on the Jesus figure. A comprehensive study, certain to evoke both critique and praise." Hal Warlick High Point University, NC" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Product description
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Vermes shows what proper textual scholarship can make of the New Testament, and I defy anyone to read this book and still maintain that the virgin birth and resurrection are beyond reasonable doubt.
Even when he attempts serious exegesis, Vermes' interpretation of the New Testament is continually at fault. On page 118, he dismisses the title of `Servant' given to Jesus as being of no significance. Yet throughout the NT the Servant Songs of Isaiah and many other Isaianic themes are key sources from OT times for the Person and role of Jesus. Again, on p. 78 Vermes repeats arguments, against the scholarly consensus, that the hymn in Philippians 2.6-11, explicitly attributing to Jesus the text which Isaiah 45.23 addresses to Yahweh, must be a late insertion into Paul's letter. On every count this is unlikely. In Philippians itself the idea occurs again, and it is also equally strongly suggested in the text of Romans 10.9 (probably another pre-Pauline confession): "if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord (kyrios) ... you will be saved". Will we be saved by believing merely that Jesus is greater than Caesar? Must not `kyrios' here, applied to Jesus, mean `Yahweh'? See also, in the same sense, Romans 10.13, 1 Cor 12.3, Col 2.6, etc.
Vermes simply will not accept that to understand the person and the role of Jesus one has to go back to the typology, the prophecies and the history of the Old Testament (including the Apocrypha), as every New Testament author does, and not forward for between two hundred and six hundred years after the life of Christ to the rabbinic teachings which are conditioned by their explicit rejection of the New Testament witness to Jesus as Son of God, Messiah, God. His references back to the Old Testament in Jesus the Jew are less numerous and less significant than his forward references to this much later rabbinic literature. The Changing Faces has no index of biblical references. Vermes' relative neglect of the OT, from which the NT Jesus springs, is indefensible. For some idea of the massive OT sourcing of the Jesus story, see the Index of `Loci Citati vel Allegati' [textual quotations, references, and influences from the Old Testament used in the NT] in Nestle-Aland's Novum Testamentum Graece, which can be expanded indefinitely.
It is false methodology to depend primarily on the thinking of the rabbinic writers (for all that they may contribute occasional useful information) as the source of the authentic portrait of Christ, in preference to the Christian NT authors, Jewish to a man (with the possible exception of Luke), believers in the OT as their only scripture, familiar with the world of ideas found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (see Fr Joseph Fitzmyer's The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins, Eerdmans, 2000), contemporaries or first or second generation successors to the immediate hearers and followers of Jesus.
Yet again: Vermes's comparison between Jesus and the Jewish holy men Honi and Hanina ben Dosa simply fails. They may match a St Francis of Assisi, but emphatically not Francis's Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. I quote only one comparison. Vermes (p. 252) sees no difference between the run-of-the-mill `bat qol' to "Hanina `my son'" and the `bat qol's to Jesus at his Baptism and Transfiguration where the heavenly messages are: "You are my Son, the Beloved, the Only-Begotten; with you I am well pleased ... This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him" (Mark 1.11; 9.7, NRSV). These recall Isaiah 42.1, Ps 2.2, Genesis 22.2 (the Aqedah), the Exodus appearances to Moses, Deut 18.15. Is this said to Honi or Hanina? Did they bring in the Kingdom of God? Were they acclaimed as Messiah? Did they rise from the dead? Were they acclaimed as God?
Vermes denies, in the face of the evidence, all of these Christian claims. He is forced to believe this instead: that Jesus, whom the disciples had last seen bloodied from the scourging, crowned with thorns, crucified as a deluded messiah/king, dead, this Jesus who according to Vermes never rose from the dead, who still lay decaying in the tomb, that "[this Jesus] yet rose in the hearts of his disciples who had loved him and felt he was near" (quoting Winter, pp. 174,175). This is incredible and impossible invention on the part of Winter/Vermes, by which they seek to explain away the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and the disciples' devotion to preaching unto their deaths the truth of this resurrection. Winter/Vermes are simply lamentable.
The OT foreshadowings are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and not in any other Jewish holy man (see the despairing and nihilistic book by Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Jewish Messiah, T & T Clark, 1997). Judaism has only ever produced one candidate as Messiah, Son of God, God-with-us - Jesus Christ. Both methodologically and exegetically, the Christian position stands.
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