C.S. Lewis once noted that nowhere do the Gospels say, "Jesus laughed." He's probably laughing now, if he's got access to Bart Ehrman's Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium
. The title doesn't even hint at the yuks that Ehrman's prose delivers, but from its very first page, Jesus
will tickle your funny bone and stimulate your brain. "At last count," Ehrman begins, "there were something like 8 zillion books written about Jesus .... It's not there aren't enough
books about Jesus out there. It's that there aren't enough of the right kind
of book. Very, very few, in fact. I'd say about one and a half."
The right kind of book, according to Ehrman, is one that portrays Jesus roughly as Albert Schweitzer did, as a first-century Jewish apocalypticist: "This is a shorthand way of saying that Jesus fully expected that the history of the world as we know it (well, as he knew it) was going to come to a screeching halt, that God was soon going to intervene in the affairs of this world, overthrow the forces of evil in a cosmic act of judgment, destroy huge masses of humanity, and abolish existing human political and religious institutions. All this would be a prelude to the arrival of a new order on earth, the Kingdom of God." Ehrman's is a historical-Jesus book, a very smart, humble, and humorous popular summary of Christian and secular evidence of Jesus' life, work, and legacy. He believes that apocalypticism is the true core of Jesus' message, and that comfortable middle-class complacency among scholars, clergy, and laypeople has forged a counterfeit, domesticated, "ethical" Jesus to cover up their befuddlement about his misprediction of the apocalypse. The book will frustrate many readers because it offers no real guidance regarding what one should do with Jesus' apocalypticism. Its project--to prove that Jesus was wrong about the apocalypse--may even appear destructive to some. Yet the argument is convincing enough to induce among careful readers a constructive experience of confusion. Jesus makes readers ask the very question it appears to ignore, in a newly humble way: how, then, should we live? A serious matter, but considering humanity's endless string of wrong answers and infinite capacity for self-delusion, worthy of some good belly laughs, as well. --Michael Joseph Gross
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From Publishers Weekly
At the end of the millennium, there are as many views of the historical Jesus as there are scholars who writing about him. In his engaging study, Ehrman, associate professor of religious studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, argues that Jesus can be best understood as a "first-century Jewish apocalypticist...who fully expected that the history of the world as he knew it was going to come to a screeching halt and that God was going to overthrow the forces of evil in a cosmic act of judgment." The author contends that this portrait of Jesus, first proclaimed by Albert Schweitzer in The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), has been overlooked in the rush to draw Jesus in the images of whatever scholarly or popular movement is painting Him. Ehrman examines carefully noncanonical and canonical sources as he reconstructs the life of Jesus. He uses already established critical criteriaAindependent attestation, dissimilarity, contextual credibilityAto determine what elements of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life can be considered authentic. For example, according to the evidence, he asserts that we can seriously doubt that the virgin conception, Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and the story of wise men following a star are historical events. Ehrman then proceeds to provide a lucid overview of the turbulent political and religious times in which Jesus lived and worked. Finally, the author provides a detailed examination of Jesus' words and deeds to show that they present the work of a Jewish apocalyptic prophet who expected universal judgment and the coming Kingdom of God to occur within his own lifetime and that of his disciples. While Ehrman's provocative thesis will stir up controversy among scholars, his warm, inviting prose style and his easy-to-read historical and critical overviews make this the single best introduction to the study of the historical Jesus. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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