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The Historical Jesus in Context (Princeton Readings in Religions)
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68 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
It should first be noted that this book is not "by Amy-Jill Levine." It is introduced by her and jointly edited by Levine, Allison, and Crossan. The 28 contributions that follow combine a valuable assembly of primary sources and comments. The book is well worth buying for the sources, but the comments are not only very uneven in quality but also at times misleading.

For example, Talbert's "Miraculous Conceptions and Births in Mediterranean Antiquity" is a masterpiece of conciseness and logical arrangement.

Witherington's "Isaiah 53:1-12 (Septuagint)" contains parallel translations of the Hebrew Version and LXX and points out some significant differences between the two. He should have stopped there. Somehow the use of "good news" supports Witherington's belief that Jesus was influenced by the Servant Songs. Likewise, a quotation from Isaiah 61:1-2 (which is from Third Isaiah while the songs come from Second Isaiah). Witherington also refers to "another Servant Song found in Isaiah 43:3-4." Has he just found a fifth song which everyone else has missed? (Universally recognized are the four songs in 42:1-4 [or 1-6], 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12.) I am completely unable to follow his logic, "The historical likelihood that Jesus spoke of shedding his blood in the place of many seems high, not least because Maccabean martyrs had conceptualized their roles like this before Jesus." The contemporary availability of a concept makes it likely that one uses it? Witherington chooses to believe "these later Christian texts are developing further a trend that Jesus himself set in motion." It is just as easy to believe that the later Christian texts themselves set this trend in motion. The second part of Witherington's contribution is long on assertion and weak attempts at proofs but woefully short on proving anything to a reader not already convinced of what he asserts.

The articles which concentrate on rabbinic literature may well illustrate the authors' expertise in that area, but the applications to Jesus are sometimes appaling. One example: Jonathan Klawans' "Moral and Ritual Purity" provides several relevant citations from this literature, but his interpretation of Mark 7:15a is incomprehensible to me. "Many also recognize that the 'not . . . but . . .' formulation, when properly understood, implies not a rejection of what follows the 'not' but the prioritization of what follows the 'but' (cf. Mark 2:17) I looked repeatedly at both Mark 2:17 and Mark 7:15a in the Greek and can make no sense of what he is saying. "Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick" is going to need more than his assertion to turn it into "Those who are well have some need of a physician, but those who are sick have a lot more." Where's the evidence? Likewise, "There is nothing outside the man going into him which can defile him, but the things which come out of the man are the things which defile the man" cannot--without a great deal more evidence--be twisted into "The things going into a man defile him a little, but the things coming out of a man defile him a lot." Yet when Klawans moves away from Jesus to a discussion of purity in the Old Testament, the Rabbinic literature, and Qumran, he provides many helpful insights.

On the other hand, Alan J. Avery-Peck's "The Galilean Charismatic and Rabbinic Piety: The Holy Man in the Talmudic Literature" is a model of explanation of the texts involved without bringing in unwarranted baggage. Would that all contributors emulated him instead of acting as advocates for extraneous positions.

When using this volume, the reader is strongly advised to keep the primary sources primary and the comments secondary. For instance, Joseph L. Trafton tells us that "the psalmist [author of the Psalms of Solomon] does not see the Messiah as a military figure." Yet I read in 17:21-24, "Look, O Lord, and raise up for them their king the son of David . . . That he might humble the rulers of lawlessness, That he might purify Jerusalem from the nations that trample her to destruction, To cast out the lawless from your inheritance, To shatter the pride of the sinners like a potter's vessel, To shatter their whole essence with a rod of iron." Does Trafton see these activities as diplomacy?

My recommendation is to buy the book by all means, use it for its excellent set of primary sources, and ignore the few introductions and comments which are more apologetics than exegesis.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is not a stand-alone book. It is avowedly an anthology of new translations of two dozen or so non-canonical texts or textual clusters intended to place the hisotircal Jesus of the Gospel narratives in "their full literary, social, and archaeological contexts." Because of the editorially limited scope, the anthology necessarily doesn't include the whole documentary story.
I don't see anything that makes this book more integrated than an anthology of selected sources. Prof. Levine's forty-page introduction to the search for the historical Jesus provides a general historical framework. But each documentary chapter seems to stand on it own. What some readers will want is a parallel textbook tying the anthologized documents to framework.
That said, the volume abounds in latent insights to the writings to be discovered and integrated by a diligent reader who brings his own framework to the book.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
The Historical Jesus in Context begins with brilliant Introduction by Amy-Jill Levine, in which she catalogs and categorizes the Old, New and No Quests of the Historical Jesus and their respective fates; and then introduces the chapters to follow. Those chapters, each by a leading scholar, review all that is presently known, possibly knowable or plausible about the knowledge and culture that was extant in Palestine at the time of Jesus.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
As a Christian and adult Christian education teacher at my church, I am always interested in learning more about the language, setting and culture of the times the events in the Bible took place. I believe that understanding how the first hearers would have reacted and understood what was going on makes it at least as, if not more, relevant to understanding it in today's culture. This book sheds light on this kind of understanding. Dr Levine, as an orthodox Jewess, brings new meaning to the stories of the 1st century AD (or CE if you want to be politically correct). Sometimes the fact that Jesus was a Jew gets lost in modern thinking. This brings it back in a straightforward, easy to read way, that gives enlightenment to those who would seek a deeper understanding of Jesus in their lives.
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on September 4, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This review is for non-academics. If you've read the popular books on the historical Jesus, such as those by Ehrman and Fredriksen, and you're OK with reading academic texts as recreation -- which isn't such a stretch if you're into this particular subject -- then don't miss this book.

Seriously, if you're genuinely interested in the topic, and you know the groundwork, this book is a perfect next step.

Keep in mind, it's not a single book, it's a collection of articles regarding a bunch of specific subtopics, so there's no cohesive take-away or thesis here. But what you'll learn is astonishing, from the results of recent archaeology in 1st century Galilean digs, to descriptions of Jerusalem and the Temple, to what we can learn about the gospels from ancient Greek schoolbooks, how the Aramaic word for "father" was used and what that tells us about Jewish texts, and so forth.

There's a lot of low-information baloney about Jesus out there right now. So it's good to see a well-documented book like this being published. I wish there were more like it.
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on April 11, 2013
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Scholarly and readable research findings and essays on the social and political time frame of his life. Reading this kind of information and learning the influences that impacted the attitudes and behaviors of those in the world around Jesus helps me to move away from the "magic and mystery" that has resulted in so much abuse of what we refer to as religion. I've realized I don't need that to maintain my spirituality.
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on September 19, 2013
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This book is excellent for anyone who is interested in the historical life of Jesus. I found it very informative and enlightening.
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on March 26, 2015
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Mostly used the introduction.
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4 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
An awesome book with a wide variety of essays which give the New Testament texts a deeper historical context.
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