This book grapples with the greatest puzzle of modern religious scholarship: Who was Jesus? To answer the question, author John P. Meier imagines the following scenario: "Suppose that a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, and an agnostic - all honest historians cognizant of first-century religious movements - were locked up in the bowels of the Harvard Divinity School library...and not allowed to emerge until they had hammared out a consensus on who Jesus of Nazareth was and what he intended..." A Marginal Jew is what Meier thinks that document would reveal.
A Marginal Jew represents the first time an American Catholic biblical scholar has attempted a full-scale, rigorously scientific treatment of the "historical Jesus." By the "historical Jesus," Meier means the Jesus whom we can recover and reconstruct by using the tools of modern historical research. Granted the fragmentary state of the sources and the indirect nature of the arguments, the resulting portrait is incomplete and at times speculative. Still, Meier argues, something precious is gained. The "consensus statement" that emerges is open to probing and debate by all interested parties - Catholics, Protestants, Jews, believers and agnostics alike. It can seve as common ground for ecumenical dialogue and further research among the difficult questions Meier confronts: Was Jesus virginally conceived? Did he have brothers and sisters? Was he married or single? Was he illiterate? Did he know Hebrew and Greek as well as Aramaic?
Meier's sober, well-reasoned account of the life of Jesus is nothing less than startling, as though almost 2,000 years later we are seeing Jesus for the first time as his contemporaries would have seen him - "a marginal Jew" - with all the implications and questions raised by this deliberately provocative title. Indeed, the author has here sketched out for us the portrait of Jesus for our times.
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