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on June 28, 2001
The subtitle 'A Comprehensive Guide' is well-earned. Amazon.com incorrectly lists its length as 624 pages; in actuality, it is 642 pages long, and every page is large. There is plenty of information here on almost every aspect of Jesus research. The book consists of the following sixteen chapters.
1. The Quest of the Historical Jesus
2. Christian Sources about Jesus
3. The Non-Christian Sources about Jesus
4. The Evaluation of the Sources: Historical Scepticism and the Study of Jesus
5. The Historical and Religious Framework of the Life of Jesus
6. The Chronological Framework of the Life of Jesus
7. The Geographical and Social Framework of the Life of Jesus
8. Jesus as Charismatic: Jesus and his Social Relationships
9. Jesus as Prophet: Jesus' Eschatology
10. Jesus as Healer: The Miracles of Jesus
11. Jesus as Poet: The Parables of Jesus
12. Jesus as Teacher: The Ethics of Jesus
13. Jesus as the Founder of a Cult: The Last Supper and the Primitive Christian Eucharist
14. Jesus as Martyr: The Passion of Jesus
15. The Risen Jesus: Easter and its Interpretations
16. The Historical Jesus and the Beginnings of Christology
Finally, there is a retrospect in which a short life of Jesus is presented.
This work was created with use as a textbook in mind. At the end of each chapter, there are 'Tasks' required of the reader that encourage a direct participation in the interpretation of the primary source materials. While it is suited for use in the classroom, it is also easily adaptable to personal study. Each chapter can be easily covered in a convenient session of a couple hours. There are extensive bibliographic notes for further study in particular topics.
The following historical facts about Jesus emerge from _The Historical Jesus_:
1. Jesus was from Galilee (p. 164).
2. Jesus was baptized by John (p. 207).
3. Jesus performed exorcisms and healings (p. 301, p. 304).
4. Jesus was accused of being in league with the devil (p. 76, p. 297).
5. His family thought him to be mad (p. 570, p. 582).
6. Jesus rejected an overestimation of himself as 'good teacher' (p. 558).
7. Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God; e.g., the logion concerning 'Taking the kingdom by storm' (p. 580).
8. Jesus spoke most of the parables that have been preserved (p. 338).
9. Jesus said something against the Temple cult (p. 432).
10. The disciples of Jesus fled at his arrest (p. 428).
11. Jesus was crucified with the titulus 'The King of the Jews' (p. 458).
12. The disciples were disappointed that Jesus did not 'redeem Israel' (p. 428).
One possible weakness of the book is that it offers no over-arching explanation or model for the historical Jesus. Rather, the book investigates each aspect of Jesus ('Jesus as...') more or less individually. On the other hand, this may be considered a strength, especially given that the real Jesus himself is not a cardboard cut-out figure but rather an actual human being. This is brought out beautifully in another book by Theissen, _The Shadow of the Galilean_.
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on December 2, 2000
This book by the well-known German New Testament scholar and his research assistant aims at being a comprehensive textbook for studying the historical Jesus - and largely acheives that aim. This book is not short nor for the casual reader and anyone attempting to enter its portals must be prepared to be questioned by the text as much as expecting a thesis to be laid out before them. The book even shades into discussions of Easter and early Christology, thus transgressing recognised disciplinary boundaries in an ever more defined academic world.
It has to be said that this book is hard going. This is a million miles away from previous books by Theissen, particularly his "The Shadow of the Galilean", which was narrative. Here we have dense argumentation, tables, questions and all the things we would expect to find in an academic textbook. I believe that this will (and maybe should) limit its readership. One interesting feature is the authors' decision to go with a "Jesus as" approach to its discussions. Thus, we have "Jesus as poet", "Jesus as healer", "Jesus as prophet" and "Jesus as a charismatic", etc. Jesus is also seen as the "founder of a cult" and as a "martyr". I would say that these designations meet with greater or lesser success - both in themselves and within the argumentation of this book. But the treatments here are thorough if not also totally convincing.
In short, this book is for the committed student most of all. The casual reader will have to struggle with technical background argumentation and ancient documentation. If they feel able and willing to do that then this book is worthy of their attention. It is a full and thorough discussion of the historical Jesus.
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on April 28, 2000
Though being a German customer and having read the German original in the first place, I am nevertheless able to say that the English version of Theissen's and Merz' study guide (it is certainly more than that!) adds a refreshing new style and content to the quest for the historical Jesus. Following the idea of Theissen's first book 'The shade of the Galilean' the two German scholars unfold lots of material to work with, to work on and to consider. The book presents itself in chapters, whose length is just appropriate to spend a couple of hours on. The questions and suggestions for further study encourage to go further. The style (in both, English and German) is refreshing and turns the book into a really enjoyable reading experience, yet a challenging one at any time. As mentioned above, I found myself barely able to lay it down. Having encontered Theissen's books during my time in the seminary, I felt enriched and well prepared for seminars, presentations and written assignments. Now, serving a congregation as a pastoral intern, Theissen's and Merz' sophisticated material and research provides me with material for teaching as well as for preaching. Therefore, a book for students as well as for ministers and interested laity. A book, worth purchasing or giving to somebody, yet not without 'The shadow of the Galilean' as an additional great reading experience.
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on January 16, 2006
This book is very poorly translated from the original German, and consequently reads awkwardly. There are also lengthy 'study sections' at the end of each chapter, which is bothersome.

In terms of substance the book is generally sound, though far too much space is dedicated to dispelling the reader's presumed disposition towards blaming "the Jews" for Jesus' execution. Surely, the point needs to be made, but this is redundancy. The authors also go overboard in stressing their "objectivity" on the question of Jesus as the Christ, to the point where they almost come across as skeptics.

To its credit, the book is quite comprehensive, and is, overall, head and shoulders above practically every other comparable volume.
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on April 3, 2011
This is not a light read, but if you're looking for evidence relating to the historical Jesus, there's a great deal here. I particularly appreciated that the author, rather than beginning the book with a narrative of Jesus' life (as many authors in the field have done) saves his narrative for the end, and qualifies it: "The whole of the book which has gone before can be regarded as an introduction to this life with question marks, qualifications and alternatives. We give this summary with great hesitation."
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on June 8, 2016
This is an incredibly scholarly discussion of the historical Jesus. It cites many different sources.
While somewhat in textbook format (with questions at the end of chapters, etc.) this stands alone well as research and scholarly writing. Theissen and Merz are both well-read scholars of the historical Jesus, and they have a deep understanding of the different views surrounding this topic.
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on April 13, 2013
Read this textbook with a critical eye, especially re. supercessionist tendencies. It does a great job of presenting much of the context of the search for historical Jesus, and probably remains the most comprehensive textbook for approaching this field. Of course it was written before some aspects of this field of scholarship were underway, but pay attention to the lens through which the writers looked at the subject.
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on May 30, 2015
OK if you're in a class, I guess. Not a book just to read. Sorry I bought it. Shadow of the Gallilean was very good, though.
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on February 3, 2014
This book is precisely what i was looking for, with regard to Historical Jesus. It has covered most of the Topics for study and research. The authour presents a solid material yet simple to understand.
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on November 9, 2005
I am a layman with an interest in the historical Jesus and I bought this book based on reviews here. The forward states explicitly that "each topic [is] self-contained" and "it is possible to skip sections," so after reading Ch. 1 I went to Ch. 15, "The Risen Jesus" where I was quite disappointed. 1 Cor 15:3ff must play a significant role in any discussion, but Theissen woodenly declares, with emphasis, that its status "as tradition is undisputed" and "Its pre-Pauline origin is certain" (pp 487-8). To the contrary: in a 1995 "J. of Higher Criticism" article, "Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation," Robert Price explicitly addressed this question (also found as Ch 4 of "The Empty Tomb" by Price and Lowder as well as elsewhere). In addition to his own arguments, Price shows that the discordant nature of 3-11 has been noted even by those not arguing for a post-Pauline origin (including by Bultmann, Evans, Conzelmann, and Schillebeeckx). My point is not that Price is correct. It is, rather, that in at least one critical chapter in this book apologetics is being passed off as historical analysis.
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