Conflict, Holiness, and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus Paperback – 1 Jun 1998
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"An excellent republication of a classic book." ----, "Religious Studies Review "
"Certainly one of the most constructive and original books about Jesus to have been written in recent years. There is also a great deal of fresh and valuable detailed exegesis...an illuminating perspective on Jesus in the social context of his day (and) an important contribution to an important ongoing debate." Themelios
"A convincing account of the relation between the political and mystical dimensions of the renewal movement inaugurated by Jesus." Journal of Theological Studies
"Its argument is crisp and clear. It carves out fresh space wich many readers of the New Testament had never imagined existed and fills it with exegetical detail that is not only patient and well-documented but also creative and innovative." N.T. Wright--Sanford Lakoff
"An excellent republication of a classic book." Fred W.--Sanford Lakoff "Religious Studies Review "
"I wish so much that this would have been a book close at hand at the beginning of my ministry instead of during my retirement years. Two issues, namely the feasting of the saints (or breaking of bread) and the place of worship in the temple provide much food for thought and elevate one's conscience to the Divine Presence. While in a sense a theological textbook, it is the type of work that lends scholarship to Chrisitian Faith and Practice, a discipline long overdue in the Body of Christ." Raymond B. Knudsen, Editor, The Counselor, April 11, 1999--Sanford Lakoff "Professional Counselor "
About the Author
Marcus Borg is Hundere Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University, lecturer, and author of twelve books, including the best-selling Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and the award-winning The God We Never Knew.
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Borg insists on placing Jesus in the historical and socio-political milieu of first-century Palestine. Specifically, Jesus was in a "conflict" over the "politics" of "holiness" embraced by the majority of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were not simply "religious leaders" as we think of them today. Their concern for "holiness" was not simply limited to individual piety. Rather, "holiness" fit in a scheme designed to protect their culture from the pagan dominance of that day and faithfully await vindication from God. Jesus, however, taught that their strategy could only doom them to destruction, a destruction that would not be a faithful martyrdom but rather the actual wrath of God delivered through the Romans.
What was wrong with the Pharisaical program? It interpreted the call to be holy and separate as a call to make visible the distinction between faithful Jews and their Gentile neighbors along with those Jews who, in some way, compromised with them. What this meant was that many Pharisees taught practices that put up increasing barriers between themselves and the Gentiles (My own example: the refusal to come into Pilate's house to try Jesus as recorded in John's Gospel. You will look in vain in the OT for a law that says going into a pagan's house will make one ceremonially unclean). Furthermore, since these practices were onerous, especially to the poor, the holiness concern meant deepening divisions among the Jews, as those who didn't practice the right sort of separation from the Gentiles found themselves treated like Gentiles by others. Zealotry without and division within were the fruit that Jesus saw coming from the pharisaical agenda.
Thus, Jesus' "dinner club" (to coin my own term to summarize his ministry) was a highly subversive and radical practice. He took the code, "Be holy for I am holy," and reinterpreted it to mean, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6.36). He insisted that everything the Pharisees were doing to promote righteousness was actually wicked in God's sight. Note: The issue is not that the Pharisees were trying to be good and were not quite good enough to please God. Rather, what the Pharisees sincerely believed to be good was actually evil.
I don't plan to say all the negative things I could say about Borg's book in this review, but instead focus on its positive content. The reason I feel free to do this is that the present edition has an introduction by Borg's friend N. T. Wright that really covers all the bases quite well.
I will only add two things. The first is simply my conviction that Borg's textual criticism is based on a flimsy foundation. The discrepancies between gospel accounts can be adequately explained by the fact that many of the teachings were given repeatedly with local variations and the fact that different witnesses are summarizing in Greek what were certainly much longer statements in Aramaic. Alleging an "original" teaching that the gospels have distorted is simply groundless. I am sure that there are some areas in which we will always wonder what happened during the entire event (i.e. what we would see if we were there with a camcorder). But we have no rational grounds for dismissing the reports we have as inaccurate or in taking sides with one Gospel writer against another. Borg himself is rather good at critiquing Enlightenment rationalism as it affects the study of the Gospels. I'm sorry he seems to have adopted it so uncritically in his stance to the text of the canonical Scriptures.
Secondly, the idea of analyzing the Pharisees as if they were simply good people is going to raise hackles in some circles, and understandably so. However, I would respectfully suggest that Evangelicals would be well served to try to benefit from such analysis. After all, if the Pharisees were obviously evil, then siding with Jesus against them is rather easy. We are really only reinforcing our own superiority. But if the Pharisees were more like us that we wish to imagine, then by acknowledging this fact, we may "again for the first time" find ourselves truly confronted by Jesus, not as a safe friend, but as one who comes to us in Judgment but in whom alone we might find salvation. (An example from another book: John 6 records the Jews trying to force Jesus to be their king because he fed them miraculous bread. I had never blinked when I read Jesus rebuking them for caring more about their stomachs than God. Then I read Horseley's and Hanson's _Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus_ and realized that, in all likelihood, these people knew what it was like to literally starve due, in part, to burdensome taxation. No wonder they wanted Jesus to save them and their children. Wouldn't you? Of course, Jesus did what was right, but now I realize that it was not easy to follow him and I had, by assuming I knew what lay behind the text, invented an easy road.)
Constraints of space forbid me from listing some of the exegetical gems to be found here. If any Evangelical wants to delve into the debate on "the historical Jesus" and read from "the other side," he could not do better than Borg. There will be much to dissent from but you will not have wasted your time. Using discernment, you will understand Jesus better than before. --mark