110 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2005
I recently purchased this book, and found it to be a very interesting read. Geza Vermes is both an erudite and compelling author, and I found his view of Jesus (both as a man and the founder of a world religion) enlightening and thought-provoking. I found it surprising that another reviewer found his work to contain a "hidden academic bias." A look at Mr. Vermes resume' (contained on the first page of the book) clearly shows that he was a professor of Jewish Studies in England for over 30 years, so there's really nothing hidden about it. And, it's his academic background which gives his conclusions such great authority. While some may disagree with those conclusions, Mr. Vermes clearly tells us which texts he used as his sources, and draws no conclusions which he cannot back up using those same texts. He leaves no doubt that his scholarship is solid. He places Jesus firmly in the context of his time, and shows where his message and the later work of his disciples diverged. Nevertheless, his respect for his subject is obvious -- the "Authentic Gospel" follows Mr. Vermes four previous books about Jesus, and his stated purpose here of separating the true words of Jesus from later false additions is an admirable one. As a reader, I didn't agree with all of his conclusions, but Mr. Vermes certainly did his best to raise levels of reasonable doubt, so to speak. Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, the book is enlightening, and will cause you to think more about Jesus, what his message truly is, and how later thinkers may have diluted or misineterpreted it. It's an enjoyable read, and I intend to purchase more of Mr. Vermes books in the future.
76 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2007
Many Bibles printed in the US are red letter editions. They have the words of Christ printed in red. Some people believe that these words are more important than the words in black. Others point out that every word in the Bible matters and that although the Epistles in the New Testament do not contain the words Jesus spoke during his earthly ministry, what Paul wrote are still the words of Christ.
Historians approach the issue from a different angle. For them, analyzing the teachings that Jesus left is the only way to portray his true figure. The words of wisdom that Jesus spoke were remembered by his disciples and were passed on until the writing of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The sentences placed on his lips may not have been the exact words that he uttered (Jesus spoke in Aramaic, whereas the Gospels were written in Greek), but they are most likely to reflect the genuine message preached and practiced by him. Upon close scrutiny, it is possible to distinguish the sayings that can be attributed to the historical Jesus and those that may reflect later additions or commentary. The approach here is philological, exegetical and historical as opposed to theological.
The Authentic Gospel of Jesus applies such a method of analysis to those words in red. Every saying attributed to Jesus in the three Synoptic Gospels is given close scrutiny in this book. Geza Vermes divide these statements into nine categories: narratives and commands, controversy stories, words of wisdom, parables, biblical quotations, prayers, son of Man sayings, sayings about the Kingdom of God, and eschatological rules of behavior. The succinct commentary attached to each quotation attempts to distinguish the diverse levels of superimposed meanings with a view to establish, if possible, their primary setting and significance in the life of Jesus.
The book is presented as a companion volume to The Changing Faces of Jesus, a previous book that the author wrote to take stock of years of scholarship on texts written at or around the time the Gospels were composed. The author compares this previous essay to "an archaeological excavation performed on literary sources", in which he digs through the layers of interpretation that obfuscate the true figure of the historical Jesus. The dig started with the top layer, the most recent of apostolic commentary contained in the Gospel of John or the epistles of Paul, and descended as it were to the authentic Jesus as revealed through the Synoptic Gospels, combined with what we know from the Jewish world in which he lived.
This new volume is more like a museum display of all the items that were found as a result from this excavation. Each item is displayed in an individual showcase and classified into files and categories. People may or may not agree with the interpretation given by the curator, but the exhibition helps give new depth and significance to those words printed in red.
45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2009
"The Authentic Gospel of Jesus", by Geza Vermes is certainly not a book for the general reader who just wants to learn about the historical evidence for Jesus and his teachings. However, those who do persist will be rewarded when they get to the final Chapter and the Epilogue, especially by Vermes' though-provoking claims.
Vermes goes to some lengths to choose and validate his source documents. These are primarily the Gospels. However, he disregards the Gospel of St John because it is a much later work than the Gospels of Sts Matthew, Mark and Juke, and was written for a Hellenistic audience. Even among the three other Gospels, he regards that of St Mark as having primacy. The reasons for these choices of sources are well set out and seem to be justified on scholarly grounds.
All the words attributed to Jesus are grouped into nine categories - sayings and commands, controversial claims, proverbs, parables, teachings with quotes from the Old Testament, prayers, Semitic sayings, the Kingdom of God, rules of conduct.
Each saying is interpreted in an historical, primarily Judaic, context and its authenticity is examined so as to winnow out later accretions - of which there have been many. Even once the authentic sayings have been identified, it is futile to claim that the actual words in the Gospels represent his verbatim sayings.
The first 9 chapters of the book are quite scholarly, even pedantic, and this leads to certain obsessions with fine points of theological detail and the minute assembly of sources to justify Vermes' interpretations.
There is a "Reflections" section at the end of each chapter that gives the author's thoughts on the content of the chapter as a whole. This is more accessible and readable for general readers and is quite useful for the non-specialist.
The final chapter and the Epilogue is a summation of the book in which Vermes draws general conclusions from his material. This was the best part of the book for me because it is easy to read and the key messages are set out very clearly. Some of Vermes' messages are quite surprising to nominal Christians like me.
For example, many of the sayings of Jesus make sense only if the Kingdom of God was expected to arrive in his lifetime. Since this did not occur, changes were made to the Gospels by later editors to justify the delay. Another surprising finding for me was the powerful case Vermes makes to show that the kingdom of God was for Jews only. Gentiles would be excluded.
The religion of Jesus as summarised by Vermes is almost unrecognisable when compared with modern Christianity. Vermes then floats the idea of a second reformation to fundamentally re-assess the doctrine of the Church.
Not surprisingly, these are provocative claims and many Christians will reject them out of hand. But I will leave the last word to Vermes: "Look for what Jesus himself taught instead of being satisfied with what has been taught about him".
55 of 60 people found the following review helpful
Geza Vermes had done us an immense favor by way of five excellent volumes on Jesus. The Authentic Gospel of Jesus is his fifth and it is a treatment without peer. While E.P. Sanders and Bart Ehrman both offer excellent short introductory volumes, Vermes book is unsurpassed in its unique approach to the subject matter. Rather than writing a biography of his subject, he has taken all words and ideas attributed to him and examined them for authenticity in order to discover the personality, religion and outlook of the historical figure of Jesus.
It is a perilous task he undertakes. Believers place primacy on faith, not on reasoned arguments and on religious truth rather than historical fact, and one does not have to search very far to find works by Vermes and others roundly condemned for challenging this faith merely by their questioning the inerrancy of the Gospels. Nevertheless, Geza Vermes has performed the task with brilliance. Contained within this book is every saying attributed to Jesus found in the Synoptic Gospels. He has divided them into categories by subject matter, for instance, prayers, parables and words of wisdom. He then subjects each saying to close scrutiny by placing it into the context of 1st century Jewish custom, law and thought as well as historical chronology. He also compares the forms found in Matthew, Mark and Luke and to the doctrines and beliefs of evolving Christianity, whether Jewish or the Gentile.
Some people have criticized Vermes' use of the Talmud and other rabbinic literature in comparing Jesus' utterances to those of later rabbis, but as he has pointed out, this is a useful way to determine how closely Jesus' words fit into Jewish thought since this material preserves older teachings dating from the time of Jesus or even earlier. Nor is this material "medieval" as has sometimes been charged; it dates from 200-500 CE.
Finally, if the writings of the Apostolic Fathers and other later Christian writers can be used to shed light on the early days of the Church (and they have been) why then should Jewish sources be ignored, particularly in light of the fact that Jesus was himself a Jew. In his lifetime, there was no Church, no doctrine, no dogma, no Christian theology, and indeed, no Christianity. As the Gospels date from a time when all these things had come into being, it is absolutely critical that they be subjected to the sort of scrutiny Vermes brings to bear.
Obviously, this is not the book for someone who is married to the idea of Gospel inerrancy, but for everyone else, it is a must have.
78 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2005
This is a wonderful book, all the individual sayings of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) are studied one by one in the context of the Judaism of the time, and comparisons are made with the Qumran texts, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Old Testament. The figure of the historical Jesus that emerges is a very credible one: Jesus had an eschatological hope of an imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. After his death, the disciples' experience of his resurrection led to the awaiting of his second coming, the Parousia, with a Final Judgment. Vermes, writing from a Jewish perspective, sees Jesus as the greatest of all Jewish prophets.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Here Geza Vermes has collected, thematically classified and succinctly commented on every word attributed to Jesus in the Gospels of Luke, Mark & Matthew. To a lesser extent he refers to the Gospel of John and rarely also to the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. To understand the evidence within the historical framework and for purposes of comparison, he draws on the intertestamental records of Judaism: the Apocrypha, Pseudo-Epigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, the work of Philo of Alexandria and Flavius Josephus plus the legal and interpretative rabbinic literature.
The aim is to rediscover the core message preached and practiced by Jesus, whose statements are grouped into nine chapters by literary category: narratives & commands, controversy stories, words of wisdom, parables, scripture quotes, prayers, Son of Man sayings, Statements about the Kingdom of God, and Eschatological Rules of Behaviour. The commentary following these quotations endeavors to separate the different levels of superimposed meaning with the goal of establishing their primary settings and significance.
In the final chapter Vermes attempts to formulate the principles that establish parameters for the authenticity of these words. He probes beneath the layers produced by evangelists, the early church and 2000 years of Christianity in order to discover the true meaning of the original teachings. The work culminates in the Epilogue in which the author attempts to outline the essence of the message and personality of the real Jesus based on the words judged most likely to be genuine.
The section titled The Religion of Jesus reveals that there was nothing abstract, theoretical or speculative about it. Jesus tried to teach his listeners how to draw close to God through concrete action and behaviour. There are five major themes: the Kingdom of God, observation of Torah in the final age, eschatological piety, prayers, and view of God. Jesus saw God as a loving father who cares, comparing him to a good shepherd, a generous employer and all-knowing head of a family aware of all his creatures' needs.
In essence, there is absolutely no harshness or severity in the God of Jesus Christ. In my opinion, based upon much reading and study of religion and spirituality, this portrayal corresponds most closely to that of Jewish mysticism and what is variously called New Thought, Divine Science or Mental Science. For proof, please compare The Hidden Power of the Bible by Ernest Holmes, The Sermon on the Mount by Emmet Fox and above all, Bible Mystery and Bible Meaning by Thomas Troward. Jesus considered anxiety, worry and fear of the future as denial of God according to Matt 6:25 - 34 & Luke 12:22 - 31, judged to be examples of his genuine teaching.
The modern varieties of Christianity with their blend of philosophical speculation on a triune deity, logos mysticism, Pauline theology, sacramental symbolism, ecclesiastical discipline and widespread anti-Judaism appear remote, even alien, from their claimed source. Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman is a valuable primer that shows how the aforementioned notions and practices developed and eventually triumphed in Constantine Christianity whilst Larry Hurtado's brilliant book How On Earth Did Jesus Become A God? sheds a fascinating light on the early origin of devotion to Jesus. Vermes remarks that his reconstruction of the genuine religion of Jesus is nowadays espoused only by single individuals or is distorted by sects and cults.
The author proceeds to discuss the conduct and eschatological motivation of the followers of Jesus after the crucifixion. They continued his charismatic activity of healing and exorcism while still awaiting the imminent arrival of the Kingdom. When the feverish expectation of his return began to subside, the church became a maternal and this-worldly substitute for the Kingdom. In this regard, see also Lord Jesus Christ by Hurtado. Vermes concludes with the counsel that earnest seekers in the Christian tradition ought to heed what Jesus himself taught instead of blindly accepting what has been taught about him.
The appendix contains a register of the sayings discussed in chapters 1 to 9. An asterisk marks those that Vermes considers authentic or probably authentic. The rest is "editorial," ranging from the probably genuine but substantially reworked to the almost certainly inauthentic that represents the view of the early church from approximately 70 to 100 AD.
The book includes a map of the Holy Land in the time of Jesus, a chronological table of important events from 197 BC to 135 AD and concludes with an index of Gospel citations from the Synoptics. For other interesting perspectives, I have found Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus by David Bivin, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church by Ron Moseley and Yeshua by Yacov Rambsel very instructive and thought-provoking.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2007
This book is a must for anyone seriously trying to sort out what might be the authentic words of Jesus from additions made by the gospel writers. My first such journey was with the "Five Gospels", by the Jesus Seminar, which is also a "must" read. Vermes uses a different approach, using his background in Judaism of the first century, including being an expert on the Dead Sea scrolls. Remarkably, these two sources agree on the majority of the possible speeches. Vermes has valid reasons for rejecting some of the Jesus Seminar's choices. He adds many more sayings. Some of these are very short and don't add much to my understanding, while others are well worth considering.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2013
Mr. Vermes has proved once again that he deserves the reputation he has. This well researched work is understandable not only to biblical scholars but the layperson as well. As the Gospels have a way of showing Jesus as all over the theological map, Mr. Vermes identifying those statements and doctrines attributable to Jesus gives us a more focused idea of what the Gospel Jesus preached really was. While it may challenge some of what you always believed about Christianity it is a thought provoking, enlightening read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2013
This is a fascinating book in which Vermes analyzes the teachings of Jesus to best demonstrate which were actually from Jesus himself and ones attributed to him in order to strengthen the early church's doctrines. He points out where there has been alterations to the gospels, and also puts them in their historical perspective showing many parallels between the gospels and what was popular and had been taught during the intertestamental period.
This is an informative read for anyone wanting the historical Jesus and his teachings. For someone that is not willing to question the church( I mean Christianity in all its various forms) this book will be troubling and a waste.
To give a little background, I was one who grew up in a Christian household and never understood why we were constantly being taught Jesus but rarely his teachings. So one day I decided to sit down and read the gospels and there were many contradictions that I wanted answers to and everyone I asked had no answer. However, Vermes puts it all in proper perspective in this book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2014
Before starting to read this book, you have to be mindful of something: the author is analyzing the Gospels through historical authenticity, comparing the Gospels among themselves and with all the other jewish texts from that period of time. Geza reviews one by one the verses and comments if the words belong really to Yeshua or is a produc of later edition and modification. I highly recommend to everyone who is fascinated by Yeshua, either as the Savior (myself included) or just as a prominent prophet. This book will bring you closer to Him!!