The Historical Jesus

By Cooper, Ilene | American Libraries, March 1994 | Go to article overview

The Historical Jesus


Cooper, Ilene, American Libraries


Throughout most of the life of Christianity, people have assumed that whatever they needed to know about Jesus could be found in the Bible. But the Gospels are neither histories nor biographies, and biblical scholars, at least since the Age of Enlightenment, have been asking one question over and over: Who was Jesus? What do we know about the man behind the Christ?

This fascination with the historical Jesus has spread recently from scholars to general readers, fueled by a recent spate of new books on the subject. Although there seem to be as many answers to the Jesus question as there are scholars, each adds a new piece to the puzzle and prepares readers to ask their own questions.

Armstrong, Karen. A History of God:

The 400-Year Quest of Judaism,

Christianity, and Islam. Knopf, 1993,

$27.50 (0-679-42600-0).

For anyone new to the history of religion, Armstrong is a good place to start. Eminently readable without compromising scholarship, this study of monotheism compares and contrasts the developments of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, offering numerous insights into who Jesus was and how he became God.

Borg, Marcus J. Meeting Jesus Again for

the First Time: The Historical Jesus &

the Heart of Contemporary Faith.

Harper, San Francisco, 1994, $16 (04)6 - 060916-8).

Borg, a member of the Jesus Seminar, a group of biblical scholars who study scripture to ascertain what Jesus really said (see below), is also concerned with how to keep Jesus's original message at the heart of contemporary faith. Fixed doctrines take a back seat here to a very personal interpretation of experiential Christianity.

Crossan, John Dominic. Jesus: A

Revolutionary Biography. Harper, San

Francisco, 1994, $18 (0-06-061661-X).

The way Crossan sees it, Jesus was a social

revolutionary. This cross-cultural mix of anthropology, Greco-Roman and Jewish history, and textual analysis is more theory than flesh and blood, but Crossan does a great job of capturing Jesus's milieu. At the end of the book, you still may not know if Jesus was a socialist or savior, but you will understand the dynamics that allowed him to step forward in that particular time and place. …

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