(PUBOxford University)"An elegantly written, much-needed book. Ehrman has synthesized prevailing scholarship, walking the reader through all of the sources that a scholar might use, explicating the limits to which they can use outside texts. Should be the first book for any lay reader interested in the historical Jesus,"---Kirkus Reviews. 274 pages, hardcover.
In this highly accessible discussion, Bart Ehrman examines the most recent textual and archaeological sources for the life of Jesus, along with the history of first-century Palestine, drawing a fascinating portrait of the man and his teachings.
Ehrman shows us what historians have long known about the Gospels and the man who stands behind them. Through a careful evaluation of the New Testament (and other surviving sources, including the more recently discovered Gospels of Thomas and Peter), Ehrman proposes that Jesus can be best understood as an apocalyptic prophet--a man convinced that the world would end dramatically within the lifetime of his apostles and that a new kingdom would be created on earth. According to Ehrman, Jesus' belief in a coming apocalypse and his expectation of an utter reversal in the world's social organization not only underscores the radicalism of his teachings but also sheds light on both the appeal of his message to society's outcasts and the threat he posed to Jerusalem's established leadership.
Ehrman admits that there are "something like eight zillion books written about
Jesus." Then why add another book to this mountain of verbiage? Because,
according to Ehrman, very few of these books are aimed at a popular audience;
most are "inexcusably dull and/or idiosyncratic"--they don't consider the
evidence and they scarcely show the view that is held by "the majority" of
scholars. Unfortunately, this comes dangerously close to the pot calling the
kettle black. Although Ehrman's writing is lively and thorough, he glosses over
scholarly debate, making heavy use of phrases like "almost all scholars" and
"most historians" and wrongly giving an illusion of certainty and agreement
where there is none. He finds very little of historical value in the Gospels,
seeing them as theological documents pasted together from a patchwork of
sources after decades of oral change. A more balanced look at the scholarly
debates can be found in Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?: A Debate Between
William Lane Craig and John Donimic Crossman (LJ 1/99). Those desiring a more
intensive introduction to the questions discussed here will find that Raymond
Brown's An Introduction to the New Testament (LJ 2/15/98) repays the extra
effort. Still, this is a well-written exposition of one side of an important
scholarly debate; recommended for public and academic libraries.--Eugene O.
Bowser, Univ. of Northern Colorado, Greeley Copyright 1999 Cahners Business
At the end of the millennium, there are as many views of the historical Jesus
as there are scholars who writing about him. In his engaging study, Ehrman,
associate professor of religious studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, argues that Jesus
can be best understood as a "first-century Jewish apocalypticist...who fully
expected that the history of the world as he knew it was going to come to a
screeching halt and that God was going to overthrow the forces of evil in a
cosmic act of judgment." The author contends that this portrait of Jesus, first
proclaimed by Albert Schweitzer in The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906),
has been overlooked in the rush to draw Jesus in the images of whatever
scholarly or popular movement is painting Him. Ehrman examines carefully
noncanonical and canonical sources as he reconstructs the life of Jesus. He
uses already established critical criteria--independent attestation,
dissimilarity, contextual credibility--to determine what elements of the Gospel
accounts of Jesus' life can be considered authentic. For example, according to
the evidence, he asserts that we can seriously doubt that the virgin
conception, Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and the story of wise men following a
star are historical events. Ehrman then proceeds to provide a lucid overview of
the turbulent political and religious times in which Jesus lived and worked.
Finally, the author provides a detailed examination of Jesus' words and deeds
to show that they present the work of a Jewish apocalyptic prophet who expected
universal judgment and the coming Kingdom of God to occur within his own
lifetime and that of his disciples. While Ehrman's provocative thesis will stir
up controversy among scholars, his warm, inviting prose style and his
easy-to-read historical and critical overviews make this the single best
introduction to the study of the historical Jesus. (Sept.) Copyright 1999
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