Great book and author! Our Bible study group is totally enjoying studying the Jewish culture and the influence on Jesus. Well worth the read; be sure to take the time to explore the Jewish holidays and their meaning. This book helps us to understand Jesus and that time and how it all applies to us today.
"Understanding Jesus" gave some cultural background information to the gospels and Revelation. The author spent most of the book exploring the Feasts of the Lord to provide insight into some things Jesus did and said. He also briefly covered information on the four messianic miracles, clean and unclean foods, binding and loosing, tear jars, fence laws, prayer shawls, and more.
The author quoted large sections of Scripture before explaining the cultural insight he'd gained into those verses. This is good, but, of 180 pages of text, it seemed like only about half of them were spent explaining the cultural insights. Many of the topics weren't explored in-depth.
Perhaps because of this, I sometimes felt his statements were misleading. For example, the way he explained the timing of John the Baptist's birth and Jesus' birth would lead the reader to believe everyone who has studied the topic agrees with his timeline. However, the timeline he gave is based on many assumptions, and not everyone agrees with those assumptions.
Also, sometimes the author took an idea or tradition further than the evidence supported it. For example, on pages 28 and 29, he said that people took their burial shroud with them whenever they took a long journey. From this, he concluded that the "strips of cloth" that baby Jesus was wrapped in were from a burial shroud. I suppose this might be true, but babies have been swaddled for centuries. It's just as likely that Mary used stripes of cloth specifically intended for swaddling Jesus (since they knew she was near birth and would have been prepared for that) rather than hastily using a shroud to make swaddling stripes.
Sometimes the information he gave conflicted with information that I've read elsewhere. Like he gave a slightly different order for the steps of a betrothal-wedding than the very detailed information given in "Women of the Bible" by Smith, Phillips, and Sanna. Amaral implied that the marriage was consummated before the wedding feast, but other sources say that the first day of the wedding feast is celebrated before the marriage is consummated.
As another example, the information he gave on page 96 and 97 about the scarlet thread and the Day of Atonement doesn't actually match up with what the Rosh HaShanah 31b, Babylonian Talmud says on the topic.
So some of the information in this book was solid and insightful, other parts sounded neat but were highly speculative, and some parts seemed to be in error or were potentially misleading.
Personally, I'd recommend books that covered more certain topics and covered them in-depth (like "Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus" by Spangler, Lois Tverberg) before I'd recommend this one.
I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
I love this book. But I have to qualify that statement. I love this book, but not in the way where I want to just sit down and read it cover to cover. While Understanding Jesus is written in narrative style, author Joe Amaral is actually relating the findings of his extensive cultural and linguistsic research, making this more of a resource or reference book. It can be a lot to take in and digest; I read it in small doses to better manage all the information.
In Understanding Jesus, Amaral basically deconstructs modern Biblical interpretations, coming to terms with the Hebraic basis of feasts, events, and expressions. This book is absolutely packed with fascinating historical facts and perspective. It adds a new dimension to my Bible reading, helping me feel more "in" the passages.
I'm not sure of Amaral's writing background. At times, his writing does seem a little amateur, and the flow can be a bit awkward. Too, the lay-out makes me wonder if I'll ever be able to find a given idea again if I wanted to refer back to it. Nonetheless, I highly would recommend this book to anyone who would enjoy having a better understanding of the historical Hebraic roots of Christianity.
Note: I believe it is very dangerous to blindly accept new Biblical interpretations that come our way, so I read this book with a very cautious mindset. Fortunately, I did not encounter ideas that tried to change my views; instead, a new depth was added to my current understanding.