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on 25 October 2008
Borg's tone and presentation speaks to scholars and laypeople at the same time. He patiently explores all segments of the Gospel accounts, turning them around like gem stones to expose various angles of meaning. His approach highlights the challenging questions raised by Jesus' words. What, for example, are the implications of giving to God what belongs to God, and to Caesar what is Caesar's? What do we say belongs to God? Everything? And what belongs to Caesar? Does anything?

In all the stories, from the Prodigal Son to the various resurrection scenes, Borg stresses the search for intended meaning, without insisting on certainty about historical facts. He emphasizes the difference between believing doctrines about Jesus and actually following Jesus way of living. For modern America he raises an ancient concern: What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus and also a citizen of the world's most powerful empire?

I found the book a pleasure to read. It's a lifetime labor of love, and every page is packed with insight.

--author of Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story
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on 15 April 2008
This book is thought provoking throughout , however, it has an excellent chapter on the political, social and cultural setting of Jesus. In our modern age of literal and factual thinking it is, to some, insulting to even imply that the bible may have things in it which were not actually spoken, this brings to light the mindset of biblical authors and shows that what we call 'just metaphor' is actually vitally important to the writers actual understanding of Jesus, His works, and Father.
Borg has written works which with his radical style and radical message has rubbed many people up the wrong way. this book refers back to a life times research and publishing but as Borgs manner and style of teaching has matured the message stays as radical but the style far more accessible.
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on 30 October 2011
A Lutheran Marcus Borg was up at Oxford with Tom Wright, later to be Bishop of Durham. At Oxford J.B.Caird was one of their Tutors. Borg and Wright co-authored "The meaning of Jesus" - a valuable addition to any bookshelf.
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan (a one-time Roman Catholic priest) co-authored "The First Christmas" and "The Last Week" each of which are insightful and expressed with characterist clarity.
In his "Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary" Marcus Borg draws together, against the backgound of Israel under Roman domination, what influenced Jesus' ministry as a 'Jewish Mystic' filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Borg's analysis is incisive, frequently taking the reader back to the underlying Hebrew or Aramaic meaning of the words found in today's translations from the Greek. Particularly valuable is Borg's expression of his understanding of experiences of the spiritual and the 'numinous' leading, with supportive scriptural evidence, to a closer appreciation of the mind of Jesus and His relationship with 'Abba'. In addition to the scholarship incorporated in his writing Borg achieves a lucid readability in his text which makes it a joy to follow.
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on 3 November 2009
This book is excellent - quite easy reading but demanding in terms of thought. Keep going until the end, otherwise you could end up thinking that Borg is heading towards heresy. I found the insights gained have enriched my understanding of Christ and the gospel and have spurred me to read other authors who have, recently, been subjected to much criticism by evangelical writers; people like Tom Wright (Justification) and Steve Chalke (The Lost Message of Jesus).
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on 13 July 2016
If you're looking for a book that neatly and eruditely summarises Marcus Borg's perceptions on Jesus, then you can't go wrong with this.

Although I don't agree with all of Borg's conclusions (I still have a biased towards N. T. Wright's work in the COQG volumes), I found myself affirming and being enlightened by a great number of them. Borg is a great scholar and communicator. He keeps his language tidy and free of overtly heavy theological terms (and when used, he defines them very clearly). As a result, *Jesus: The Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary* is excessible to everyone from Scholar to general inquirer.

Highly recommended!
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on 13 August 2013
Marcus Borg describes the history of the Gospels as documents and the social/political world of Jesus. He then gives his view of the character of Jesus, his teaching about God and the Kingdom of God, and his challenge to the religious and political system of his day. I found much in these chapters helpful and thought-provoking. However, it is odd that Borg does not discuss the significance of the title "Son of Man" by which Jesus referred to himself.
Interestingly, on p164, Borg comes very close to enunciating the well-known "mad, bad or God" trilemma of CS Lewis; Borg says, `you could experience him [Jesus] and conclude that he was insane, as his family did, or that he was simply eccentric or that he was a dangerous threat - or you could conclude that he was filled with the Spirit of God.'

However, I am less convinced about Borg's views on the Gospels as historical/metaphorical sources. Borg claims that many incidents which the Gospel writers report as fact should be understood as metaphor. He considers the metaphorical meaning of Gospel narratives to be truthful and truth-filled independently of whether or not they are historically factual. He uses the phrases "more-than-literal" and "more-than-factual" (p 51). But surely these phrases mean that an event has to be literal and factual before it can also be metaphorical. What does Borg mean? When he says more-than-literal does he actually mean fiction but with a metaphorical meaning? Apparently so; the stories `are symbolic narratives created for their metaphorical meaning' (p57). Did the Gospel writers really feel free to make up stories? And who decides what the metaphorical meaning is? Borg discusses alternative meanings of, for example, the parable of the workers in the vineyard (pp181-3).

The foundational belief of Christianity is that God raised Jesus from the dead. Borg believes in the resurrection of Jesus - more or less. He says it does not matter to him whether or not Jesus' body disappeared from the tomb. But it surely mattered to the first disciples. How could they proclaim the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem if the authorities could simply show people the tomb, even open it and display Jesus' body? Borg (in contrast to NT Wright) believes the resurrection appearances were not of a physical Jesus; he believes they were "visions". The disciples were convinced `that God had vindicated Jesus' says Borg (p 289). It seems to me that the disciples' visions and experiences show no more than that something of Jesus survived death. If that is all God is going to do by way of vindicating Jesus, then God seems to be powerless.

This is a middle-weight book. I would place it between EP Sanders "The Historical Figure of Jesus" and the academically heavyweight "Jesus and the Victory of God" and "The Resurrection of the Son of God" by NT Wright. A serious defect of this book is that it has no general index. This makes it difficult to use as a study book; it seems to be designed to be read through and accepted rather than analysed.

Of minor importance, but still worrying, are the number of questionable statements and errors in the text.

For example, Borg says that the central part of Mark's Gospel describes Jesus' journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (Mark 8.22 to 10.52) and that Mark frames this account with two stories of blind men being given their sight. But the first time Mark says that Jesus was going to Jerusalem is not until 10.32, and in chapter 9 Mark says that they were going through Galilee (v 30) and then that they came to Capernaum (which is in Galilee) (v 33). Why does Borg think the journey to Jerusalem begins as early as chapter 8?

Examples of simple errors are: the origin of the name "Caesar" is uncertain but it does not mean "emperor" as Borg states on p66. Nor does the word "Augustus" mean "divine one"; it means "venerable, admirable".

On p186 Borg says that Rome referred to itself not as an "empire," but as a "kingdom". I have read a lot about Rome but I do not remember coming across this claim before. Rome drove out its kings in the sixth century BC and afterwards thought of itself as the "Respublica". And Rome certainly claimed "Imperium Romanum", i.e. military command and power, over its provinces.

Then, at the same time as Jesus is making his "Triumphal Entry" into Jerusalem, Borg imagines the Roman governor, Pilate, entering the city with `a panoply of imperial power' including `golden eagles mounted on poles' (p232). Surely Borg knows that eagles were the standards of the Roman Legions. Pilate did not have any Legions under his command; all his troops were Roman Auxiliary units, which did not have eagle standards.

Mark reports that, during Jesus' crucifixion, darkness came over the whole land for three hours. Borg comments, `It is idle to wonder if this was an eclipse of the sun; eclipses never last more than a few minutes.' (p 265) Yes, it is idle, because Jesus was crucified at Passover which is always at Full Moon. Eclipses of the sun can only happen immediately before New Moon. (It is true that a total eclipse of the sun only lasts a few minutes but the light begins to dim for some time beforehand as the moon begins to partially eclipse the sun's disc and, after totality, it takes some time for full daylight to return.) Borg, it seems, has never bothered to inform himself about eclipses.

These errors warn us that a book such as this cannot simply be read. It needs to be read with caution and careful checking. And it needs to be compared with similar books which come to different conclusions.
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on 3 March 2014
Having read with great interest N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God I was keen to look at a similar sort of style of modern academic writing on Jesus but from a different perspective. Wright is known to be no fan of the Jesus Seminar, though I am aware that he has quite a lot of respect for Marcus Borg. So it seemed reasonable that I might start with Borg.

In setting out stall, he writes presents us with false premise of a dichotomy between two methods of biblical interpretation (liberalism and literalism) with no middle ground between the two. So in choosing to reject literalism, he plays the liberal card. but not in a good way. This is not liberal scholarship in the sense of 'a scholar with a broadly liberal outlook', more a case of 'playing fast and loose with the evidence, cherry-picking what evidence supports the hypothesis'. He also employs the argument from authority fallacy on a number of occasions, usually when he lacks any credible reason or evidence for holding the views that he does.

Having tied himself up with his methodological straightjacket, it might seem that there is very little that Borg could say about the historical figure of Jesus. Thankfully, he actually disregards much of his own stated approach and does actually engage with some of what the gospels say. His study then becomes more akin to an interpretation of Aesop’s fables. He is not interested in whether or not there is any historical basis but is more keen on what he calls the “more than literal” meaning.

Early in the book, Borg reveals himself as an adoptionist. Borg’s argument is that if Jesus were to be thought of as in any divine before Easter, then you must regard him as Superman, which Borg sees as docetist. But in rejected one heresy, he seems to have embraced another.

He also advocates panentheism (not to be mistaken for a similar, but distinct, idea of pantheism). That is, God is ‘present’ in everything in creation. However, in stating this position, he makes no attempt to answer what I consider to be one of the strongest arguments against it from a christian point of view; that of how to address the question of evil with a panentheistic paradigm.

In regards to his actual portrayal of Jesus, though it is arguable as to how complete it is, given his take on the historicity of the gospels, what he does have is certainly interesting, thought-provoking and worth taking note of. His overriding theme is that Jesus was a Jewish mystic. To this, he seems to owe a debt of gratitude to the recently departed Geza Vermes, whose work on re-establishing Jesus’ Jewish identity helped undo many years of latent anti-semitism in the church. However, Borg does take care to define what he means by mystic, so as to avoid the wrath of Karl Barth’s dismissal of mysticism as, to paraphrase, “[misty theology leading to schism]”. Rather, Borg argues for what might almost pass a charismatic interpretation of mysticism, whereby Jesus derived his understanding of God more from a personal relationship than from any scriptural basis. Though whilst Trinitarians might see this as stemming from Jesus’ homoousios with God, Borg’s adoptionist stance forbids him from doing similarly.

He makes an excellent point about prophecy that I wish more christians would pay attention to, in that prophecy is not about fortune telling but is about making a sober assessment of the way things are now. As such, it is anachronistic to say that the likes of Isaiah predicted Jesus, but rather that Jesus acted in such a way as to reflect Isaiah. Though again, one notes that Borg readily accepts that Jesus was perceived as a prophet in his time, but when it comes to Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah (which follows immediately in the synoptic accounts), Borg sees this as a later addition and does not relate to the pre-Easter Jesus.

While I have questioned his dismissive approach to the historicity of the gospels, much of what he says about the implications of our discipleship is well worth listening to. But I could not let the review pass without discussing his view on the crucifixion, the resurrection and theology surrounding both. While he acknowledges the historicity of the crucifixion, he openly opposes the idea of it as any kind of penal substitution. Instead he favours the christus victor idea. For my own part, I think this either/or is a false dichotomy and that both/and is a far more helpful way to consider the implications of the crucifixion. In so doing, he makes an interesting statement whereby he tries to frame Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship as supporting Borg’s view that God’s grace needs no sacrifice. In other words, he tries to hijack Bonhoeffer as a supporter of ‘cheap grace’ – the very idea that The Cost of Discipleship was most firmly opposed to. As for the resurrection, while not denying it completely, Borg is rather dismissive of the need to treat the resurrection as historical. It is then interesting to see what Borg makes of 1 Corinthians 15, the longest discourse on the resurrection in the bible. He ignores most of it, only using an English translation of soma pneumatikon as “spiritual body” to mean something that is not physical. For an in-depth study on this topic, I would refer Borg and any of his readers to N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Whether you agree with Borg or disagree with him, you have to admit that he’s a good communicator. The book is well written though the American spelling and grammar mistakes were left in, even though he has a different publisher in the US. There are a few times when he comes across as slightly patronising, but he has made a good effort to make himself understandable to the general reader. This is a book for those who ask the question “Who is this Jesus, anyway?” Some of Borg’s answers I find enlightening, some I think miss the mark. Borg’s is a voice to take note of, though I would add, as a word of caution, not in isolation.
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on 16 March 2016
Borg is a scholar who can write with a genuinely light touch. This book is a pleasure to read and contains many important insights. The essential argument is that Jesus was a man filled with the spirit of God whose mission was primarily focused on denouncing the systems of world political, social and economic domination represented by the Romans and their Jewish collaborators. Naturally this did not go down well with the authorities who had him put to death but the resurrection was God’s ‘yes’ to their ‘no’. As a result of this the ‘pre-Easter’ Jesus became transformed into the ‘post-Easer’ Jesus about whom it became possible to write mythologically in ways which, while not historically accurate nevertheless convey a true understanding of who Jesus was (or had become). It is easy to be persuaded by this. It is a rather attractive and superficially plausible picture – but there are a number of reasons why it is not convincing. Myth can indeed convey deep truth but Borg fails to provide a clear case that the gospel writers, Luke especially, did not intend readers to take their accounts as history and even if they did not so intend he does not provide any account of how or when Christians began to misunderstand their intentions. More significantly, if the pre-Easter Jesus was as Borg claims, there is no reason to think that anyone would have thought that he was anything other than another unsuccessful prophet, an man of extraordinary spirituality no doubt but certainly not unique. Unless Jesus really had done something particularly striking, and in particular unless the resurrection did have some basis in historical fact it is hard to see how the pre-Easter Jesus could ever have become the post-Easer Jesus. Borg is too inclined to reject as myth aspects of Jesus’ story that even many secular historians recognise as genuinely characteristic – the healing ministry for instance. Another weakness of Borg’s theory is that he places too much emphasis on what was only one relatively marginal aspect of Jesus’ message. Obviously Jesus did have harsh words for the rich and hypocritical among his fellow Jews but to imply that social and economic protest was the core of his message is to seriously distort the evidence. The record suggests that his was not a socio-economic kingdom at all but one that concerned the personal relationship of the individual with God. The righteous do not oppress their neighbours – but there was no call to political action, quite the opposite. By focusing so much on this one element of his teaching we are left with a Jesus bereft of real spiritual significance beyond being an outstanding example of social responsibility. His death and resurrection appear essentially symbolic. Borg seems to think that he is advocating a form of the Christus Victor theory of atonement but it is not easy to see the nature of the victory. We also need to ask in what sense if any is Borg’s Jesus God? We do need books like this from liberal Christians who are also serious scholars but if liberal Christianity is ever to have the persuasive spiritual power of its more bigoted Conservative evangelical competitors it needs to offer a more convincing Jesus and a more theological Jesus than this – a Jesus who we not only can believe and want to believe in but one who in some real sense transcends the ordinary and who has profound spiritual significance for all humanity. A Jesus who is socially radical and close to God is credible and fairly attractive and for most of us rather challenging – but he is not the Divine Word made Flesh we want to believe that he is.
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on 29 November 2010
An important book - a reflection on what it really means to follow Jesus, and to believe in Him. Examines a lot of teaching down the years that has given a very different picture, and suggests clear paths ahead.
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on 18 February 2012
This book was OK. I wasn't looking for a scholarly book that made me feel I was taking a course at Divinity School! But if you like that type of book, then this book is for you. I also just finished Peter Cayce's book, "What Did Jesus Really Say -- What To Say To A Born Again Christian Fundamentalist, But Never Had The Information." Personally, I thought Peter Cayce's book was better. Easy to read. Enjoyable. Interesting as well. It's up to you. Here's the Amazon link:

What Did Jesus Really Say-How Christianity Went Astray: [What To Say To A Born Again Christian Fundamentalist, But Never Had The Information]
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