The Changing Faces of Jesus
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The Changing Faces of Jesus [Hardcover]

Geza Vermes
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews Review

The Changing Faces of Jesus is a reflection on the ways that translations of Scripture have transformed believers' understandings of Jesus. Author Geza Vermes, a biblical scholar perhaps best known for his English translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, reviews the varying portraits of Jesus in Scripture, particularly focusing on the letters of Paul and the Gospel of John. The author contends that, "by the end of the first century Christianity had lost sight of the real Jesus and of the original meaning of his message." The real Jesus, a "religious man with an irresistible charismatic charm," was replaced by "Jesus the Christ, the transcendent object of the Christian religion." Vermes avoids the polemic tone often adopted by scholars who make similar arguments. Here is an example of the modest style in which this author makes his momentous claims:
As a historian I consider Jesus, the primitive church and the New Testament as part and parcel of first-century Judaism and seek to read them as such rather than through the eyes of a theologian who may often be conditioned, and subconsciously influenced, by two millennia of Christian belief and church directives.
This tone will help readers--even those predisposed to disagree with Vermes--to understand his argument that religious belief has skewed understanding of the central figure of the Christian religion. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

This academic yet accessible book tackles the question of Jesus' identity by attempting to strip away theological and historical interpretations in order to reach the original, Jewish, human Jesus. Vermes, professor emeritus of Jewish studies at Oxford, begins with the Gospel of John, which he asserts was the first to ascribe divine status to Jesus, and proceeds through the Pauline letters, the Book of Acts and the Synoptic Gospels. Along the way, he dismantles any statements about Jesus' life that he feels to be inaccurate or questionable. Vermes argues instead that if one returns to the actual and indisputable words of Jesus as stated by the Synoptic Gospels, and if one also takes into account the historical and Jewish religious tenor of the time, Jesus is revealed as a "prophet-like holy man, mighty in deed and word, a charismatic healer and exorcist." Vermes's Jesus is a teacher concerned with the Kingdom of God on earth, in the tradition of other Jewish holy men. The book sometimes engages in speculative reasoning: for example, a) Luke was an associate of Paul, b) Paul's theology is missing from Acts, c) "one would have expected an associate of Paul to do better than that," so d) Luke must not have written Acts. For the most part, however, Vermes ably poses the critical questions that have characterized the "quest for the historical Jesus," adding a few of his own.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Vermes (emeritus, Jewish studies, Oxford), one of the world's great Jewish scholars on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the historical Jesus indicates that as a historian, he considers "Jesus, the primitive church and the New Testament as part and parcel of first-century Judaism." Here he sets out to illuminate Jesus' teachings as they were understood in their original Aramaic. Using these assumptions and information, Vermes takes the fascinating and unusual approach of looking for Jesus in the Gospel of John. (Most writers on the historical Jesus begin with the Synoptics; i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke). He then moves from what he thinks are less authentic portraits of Jesus to those he considers more authentic: the Gospel of John presents Jesus as a "stranger from heaven;" Paul's Jesus is the Son of God and universal Redeemer; Acts presents Jesus as Prophet, Lord, and Christ; and in the Synoptics he is a charismatic healer, teacher, and eschatological enthusiast. Finally, Vermes looks for the real Jesus beneath the Gospels and deals with what he finds at the "dawn of the third millennium." Vermes's vast knowledge of first century Judaism ensures that this work will become one of the most important works in historical Jesus studies, and his readable style makes it useful for both public and academic library patrons. Highly recommended. David Bourquin, California State Univ., San Bernardino
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Vermes, a biblical scholar best known for his translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, takes a whack at a popular topic: the Jesus of the Bible versus the historical Jesus. He reverses the typical order of this discussion, beginning with the Gospel of John and ending with the synoptic Gospels. The usual building order, from earliest to latest, is more logical, but by opening with John's mystical Jesus, Vermes makes readers think in a new way about today's Christianity and its evolutions. Despite the depth of the scholarship, this is never a difficult read. Clearly, Vermes has brought a lifetime of knowledge to his work (he has written three previous books on Jesus and Judaism). The engaging way in which he shapes the familiar story makes this a definite buy for religion shelves, even if you think you've got a full complement on the subject. REVWR
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


The Changing Faces of Jesus says some fascinating things about the religiosity of Jesus's time... -- The Washington Post, April 11, 2001

Comprehensive, definitive and sympathetic...a magnificent achievement. -- The Independent (London)

Vermes makes readers think in a new way about today's Christianity and its evolutions. -- Booklist, April 15, 2001

About the Author

Geza Vermes, professor emeritus of Jewish studies at Wolfson College, Oxford, is the author of a series of seminal books on the historical Jesus and of The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English.
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