Jesus' Identity and Message Stir New Questions

Article excerpt

THE MESSAGE AND THE KINGDOM: HOW JESUS AND PAUL IGNITED A REVOLUTION AND TRANSFORMED THE ANCIENT WORLD

By Richard A. Horsley

and Neil Asher Silberman Grosset/Putnam 288 pp., $27.50 ABRAHAM GEIGER AND THE JEWISH JESUS By Susannah Heschel U. of Chicago Press 317 pp., $48 ($20 paper) Nearly two millennia after his brief appearance in a remote Roman province, Jesus Christ continues to inspire questions. Centuries of study by theologians and scholars have failed to fully answer even some basic questions: Was Jesus a Jew or a Christian? An inspired teacher or the divinely appointed Messiah? And finally, was he a historic personage or a mythical fabrication? Two new books approach and answer these questions in very different ways. The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World, by Richard Horsley and Neil Asher Silberman, is a highly readable history of the first century of Christianity. Spanning a period roughly covering the birth of Jesus to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (AD 70), "The Message and the Kingdom" places the Master in the context of the history of the Holy Land and of the Roman Empire. Horsley and Silberman powerfully evoke the horrifying oppressions of Rome. This was a culture in which some lived in unimaginable luxury and others wallowed in unspeakable poverty. The reader can almost see the riches and beauty of the imperial court, and all but smell the putrid salt-fish factories surrounding the Sea of Galilee in the time of Jesus. The main thrust of "The Message and the Kingdom" is sobering and timeless. For the early Christians, the destruction of the temple and of much of Jerusalem brought the painful realization that Jesus' assurance "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32) was much more a spiritual than a political promise. The long-awaited Messiah was not sent to free the Jews from the yoke of Roman rule, but to liberate all mankind from corruption of every sort - political, moral, mental, physical. "The Message and the Kingdom" tells an exciting story, and tells it well. The authors quote extensively from Scripture, from early histories of Christianity, and from current scholarship. Time lines and bibliographical notes provide a path for further research. The dynamic, vivid images of Jesus and of Paul, almost on fire with Old Testament promises of deliverance and freedom for humanity, make for inspired and exciting reading. …