Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews
Introduction: The History of the Historical Jesus Christianity has always been concerned with the historical Jesus. The Gospels present their religious message through the medium of a life story, providing names and dates in their own narratives -- the reign...
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Introduction: The History of the Historical Jesus Christianity has always been concerned with the historical Jesus. The Gospels present their religious message through the medium of a life story, providing names and dates in their own narratives -- the reign of Herod the Great or Augustus, the tenure in office of Pilate as prefect or Caiaphas as high priest -- that orient their story in the flow of public time. Paul himself, though notoriously unconcerned with Jesus before the Crucifixion as opposed to the Risen and Returning Christ, nonetheless still incorporates a key moment in the life of Jesus into his proclamation when he invokes the teaching about the Last Supper: "On the night when he was handed over, the Lord Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and said, 'This is my body' " (1 Cor 11:23f.). The point, both for the evangelists and for Paul, was that Jesus, his elevated status as Redeemer, Lord, Messiah, or Son of God notwithstanding, had acted and operated in a human context, within human time. Even as formal Christian theology developed and grew, and the language describing the person and work of Christ drew increasingly on the concepts and vocabulary of Greek philosophy, this historical dimension never disappeared. The same bishops who were caught up in endless controversies about the Son and the Trinity, about essences and substances, affirmed their faith in creeds whose content was largely narrative and, thus, historical: "I believe in God . . . and in Jesus Christ his Son our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate . . ." The modern quest for the Jesus of history -- the project here -- was begun and pursued foremost in the university faculties of post-Enlightenment Germany. In part continuing the Reformation's protest against the theological formulations of Roman Catholicism, in part applying the developing methods of scientific historical research to the documents of the ancient church, German scholars blazed the path for critical work on the life of Jesus. Their efforts ended in an impasse almost a century ago, when these academic portraits of Jesus, sketched primarily from the palette of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, polarized around two options: Jesus imagined essentially as a teacher of religious ethics ("The fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man"), or Jesus as self-designated apocalyptic Messiah (the hero of Albert Schweitzer's great classic The Quest of the Historical Jesus). Each interpretation emphasized different aspects of the Gospel tradition: the ethical Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount; the apocalyptic Jesus, those passages on the coming Son of Man, and God's kingdom. And both failed at the same point, namely, on constructing a convincing historical explanation (as opposed to a polemical or theological one) of why Rome would have moved to execute such an essentially religious figure in such a brutally political way. One hundred years later, where are we? Jesus the charismatic leader; Jesus the existential religious thinker; Jesus the hypnotic healer; Jesus the witty, subversive sage; Jesus the passionate social revolutionary; Jesus the prophet of the End -- all these diverse images of Jesus populate the most recent books; all are presented with the same flourish of authority; all are constructed by appeals to the same data. The paperbacks proliferate as the range of the portraits broadens. If this is progress, we might wish for less of it. Whence this bewildering variety? In part, from the enormous gains made especially in the last fifty years in our knowledge of first-century Judaism, the historical matrix of both Jesus and the early churches. The recovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, manuscript finds in Egypt and in the Judean desert, energetic and sustained archaeological research in Judea and the Galilee pursued since the foundation of the modern sta
A specialist in early Christianity, Fredriksen (scripture, Boston U.) draws from all possible contemporary sources to construct the life of Jesus and place it firmly within his time and culture. She particularly investigates why his death by crucifixion -- which indicates political insurrection -- was not accompanied by the arrest and execution of his followers.
An acclaimed young historian of religion reveals a historical Jesus living in the tumultuous world of late Second Temple Judaism--a man who was an observant Jew of his time rather than a figure outside the norm. 10 illustrations.
Paula Fredriksen is the author of "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," which won the National Jewish Book Award. She is also the author of "Augustine and the Jews" and "From Jesus to Christ." The Aurelio Professor Emerita at Boston University, she now teaches as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.