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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, scholarly, meaningful, and even devotional!
I couldn't get enough of this book. Powell is a wonderful writer, and he introduces us to the perspectives of Historical Jesus scholars of the last two centuries with absolute clarity and just the right details. I just had a lot of fun reading on the different scholarly views on who that ancient man of sorrows was. Powell seemingly has no axe to grind, seems completely...
Published on July 14, 2002 by Mark A. Almlie

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for classroom sutudies
Does not flow very well. Every chapter promises a better explanation in the next chapter. It's for someone looking to study the study of Jesus, not Jesus.
Published 10 months ago by John Kerhlikar


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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, scholarly, meaningful, and even devotional!, July 14, 2002
This review is from: Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Paperback)
I couldn't get enough of this book. Powell is a wonderful writer, and he introduces us to the perspectives of Historical Jesus scholars of the last two centuries with absolute clarity and just the right details. I just had a lot of fun reading on the different scholarly views on who that ancient man of sorrows was. Powell seemingly has no axe to grind, seems completely competent to plough the terrain, and makes the whole trip worth it with the last two pages of the book....After this huge deluge of information about what Jesus did or did not say; after all of the guessing concerning Jesus message; after probing why Jesus has remained so controversial after 2000 years, Powell offers a tantalizing scenario concerning the very first Christian words ever penned on the last two pages (his only personal reflections in the book). I had to wipe the tears from my eyes after that.
This book is a 5 all the way. You won't be disappointed regardless of your view of who Jesus was (or is).
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a clear explanation of a difficult and complex subject, March 13, 2002
By 
Erick Nelson (Seattle, WA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Paperback)
Dr. Powell is head of the Historical Jesus section of the SBL. He not only is a New Testament scholar in his own right, he is also a respected colleague and friend of the Jesus Scholars he discusses. He not only has read their works, but he understands their positions from the inside.
In my experience, the study of the Historical Jesus is sometimes characterized by rhetoric, special pleading, and an unfruitful "us" vs. "them" attitude. While Powell is forthright about his own views when this is appropriate, he comes across as
surprisingly objective as he discusses the pros and cons of each position. This is aided by the fact that the Jesus scholars often disagree with each other - so he can just say "Wright would take issue with that", or "Crossan responds to this view
in this way."
Powell's writing style is refreshingly informal at times, and he obviously strives for clarity over the "scholar-speak" so often encountered. At the same time, he is obviously familiar with the technical concepts and not only throws the jargon around
but often explains it.
The book shows unusual restraint - Powell gives the reader room to formulate his/her own conclusions, while providing insight into both the issues and the scholars themselves.
I understand that this book is used in college courses as an introduction to the subject, and I can see why.
_Jesus As a Figure in History_ is a rare contribution: a clear explanation of a difficult and complex subject. I give it a 5.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars who do historians say that I am?, October 19, 2006
This review is from: Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Paperback)
Who was Jesus of Nazareth? Today, few scholars doubt that Jesus actually existed, that he was a real historical figure. But exactly who or what was he? A raving madman? A prophet? A self-proclaimed Messiah? Or...?

This book, written by Mark Allan Powell (who is incidentally a Lutheran) doesn't give an answer to the question "who was Jesus". Rather, it describes the views of various scholars on the matter. Inevitably, there are many different views on Jesus within the scholarly community.

Powell begins by giving a short historical background. He describes how scholars during the 18th and 19th centuries attempted to cast Jesus in a "naturalist" mold. His miracles were really natural occurances, misunderstood by the superstitious disciples. The "kingdom of God" preached by Jesus was an earthly, political entity, not something supernatural and divine. And so on. The eschatological, apocalyptic and messianic elements of the Gospels were rejected as later ideas, and Jesus was transformed into a figure acceptable to 19th century agnostics or atheists. During the first half of the 20th century, Albert Schweitzer decisively challenged these ideas, "rediscovering" the eschatological ideas of Jesus, placing him once again in a firm 1st century Palestinian context. However, Schweitzer also believed that Jesus had failed in his mission, and that 20th century Christians must adopt an ultra-liberal, Social Gospel stance.

The main bulk of the book is devoted to contemporary scholars and their views of the historical Jesus. Powell does a good job in describing the various positions, the criticism levelled against them, and the often tricky methodological issues involved. For instance, how do we know which parts of the Gospels give the most trustworthy historical information about Jesus? How should apocryphal texts like "the Gospel of Thomas" be evaluated? What about the Talmud? Etc.

A particularly tricky criterion is the one called Dissimilarity. If a statement purported to be by Jesus is very different from 1st century Jewish conceptions, while also being potentially embarrasing to the early Church, it's usually deemed authentic. However, the Dissimilarity criterion gets problematic if taken to far. If the historical Jesus was neither "Jewish" nor "Christian", its difficult to explain why he recruited Jewish disciples who eventually founded the Christian Church! Dissimilarity risk turning Jesus into an inexplicable anomaly. In reality, there must have been at least some continuity between John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul. Why else would Jesus become a follower of John? And why else would Paul claim to act in Jesus name? Powell also points out another very common problem: those who attempt to reconstruct the "real" ideas of Jesus often end up with a Jesus whose ideas are similiar to their own! Leftist radicals end up with a leftist radical Jesus, Catholics with a Catholic Jesus, vegeterians with a vegetarian Jesus... Indeed, one of the things that made Schweitzer so remarkable was precisely that he came up with a Jesus he couldn't agree with.

The scholarly opinions described by Powell include those of John Dominic Crossan, Marcus J. Borg, E.P. Sanders, John P. Meier and N.T. Wright. Crossan and Borg are members of the Jesus Seminar and represent the "liberal" part of the spectrum, with Crossan speculating that Jesus was a kind of Cynic antinomian philosopher, more Hellenistic than Jewish, indeed, something of a 1st century hippie. By contrast, N.T. Wright openly defends the Biblical position, claiming that Jesus might very well have believed himself to be the God of Israel in the flesh. Of course, it's difficult to escape the suspiscion that Crossan is a hippie of sorts himself, while Wright is, of course, the bishop of Durham!

As already noted, the author of "Jesus as a figure in history" never answers that Question of Questions Jesus put to his disciples: "Who do you say that I am?". But at least, he has made it possible for the rest of us to contemplate the scholarly responses.

Five stars!
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Jesus, January 28, 2006
By 
William Byrd (Sitting in the Pope's office) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Paperback)
Powell's book might not be for everyone. If you are a hardend Christian then you may want to gloss over this book because you may become so irate that you will go medieval witch hunting for all atheists.

With that being said, Powell presents this book as a way for the reader to see the best and brightest in the field of historical studies on Jesus. From the Jesus Seminar, E.P Sanders, N.T. Wright, and more, the reader will find theirselve emersed in a book that doesn't stop delivering. Was Jesus Hellenistic or was his movement a social or political one? The numerous historians in this book will offer their expert opinions on these questions.

Another note about the book, you will notice that each chapter begins with quotes, these quotes will lead you into each chapter and should help you understand what the chapter is about. Powell provides a background for each historian so that the reader will know what and why the historian is saying what he is saying, coupled with an excellent bibliography and note source for further reference. In addition, the reader will find a critique after each historian has been presented. These critiques are from the other leading scholars on the historical Jesus.

FYI, this is not a book of theology, so do not make it one. The reader needs to keep in mind that this is a book on the historical Jesus not the Church Jesus, although, many of the concepts of the Church Jesus are mentioned, such as the pre-Easter vs. the post-Easter Jesus. Also, many things will be mentioned that run contrary to the official doctrine of the Church, such as Jesus having political motives and the apocolypse that Jesus was teaching about was really just the return of the Jewish people from what "HE" saw as a still existing exile.

With all that being said, this book possesses great scholary work, but in a condensed version of the originals.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good for classroom sutudies, March 28, 2014
By 
John Kerhlikar (SHINGLE SPRINGS, CA, US) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Paperback)
Does not flow very well. Every chapter promises a better explanation in the next chapter. It's for someone looking to study the study of Jesus, not Jesus.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting but overwhelming at times, November 25, 2013
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This review is from: Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Paperback)
Interesting and with a lot of content. But a tedious read. Sometimes it feels overwheling so many facts, studies, writers. Personnaly I read it NOT because I liked it but because I was compelled to do so.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Survey of Diverse Ideas, August 23, 2013
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This review is from: Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Paperback)
Emphasizing the recent (last 20 years or so) renewed interest in the Historical Jesus, the author surveys the camps and theologians and their very different ideas about who and what Jesus was. It's fascinating reading to find that the scant information in the New Testament can be used, in light of the historical context, to paint Jesus in many different ways. Everyone who is interested in the "real" Jesus should read this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A VERY HELPFUL SURVEY OF RECENT "HISTORICAL JESUS" RESEARCH, June 26, 2013
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This review is from: Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Paperback)
Mark Allan Powell is Professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, the editor of the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, and author of many other books such as Introducing the New Testament, Fortress Introduction to the Gospels, etc.

He wrote in the Introduction to this 1998 book, "the distinction between historical and theological studies is neither absolute nor clear... studying Jesus as a figure in history means studying the person who lived on this earth in the early decades of... the first century... It does not involve studying the heavenly or spiritual figure whom Christians worship... studying Jesus as a figure in history means treating all of the ancient sources regarding him as historical documents rather than as privileged or inspired literature." (Pg. 4) He includes separate chapters on the Jesus Seminar [The Five Gospels, The Acts of Jesus], John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg [Jesus: A New Vision], E.P. Sanders, John P. Meier, and N.T. Wright [Jesus and the Victory of God].

He notes, "N.T. Wright coined the term 'Third Quest' in 1992 to refer to another type of historical Jesus research that emerged in the late twentieth century, one that did regard Jesus as an eschatological prophet and did emphasize his location in first-century Judaism. In Wright's view, the Third Quest and the New Quest coexist, as two major streams of research... The lines for such categorization, however, get fuzzy... The distinction, then, between Third Quest and New Quest is simply chronological." (Pg. 22-23)

He observes, "the question has been raised as to whether Crossan's presentation [e.g., in The Historical Jesus] is really dependent upon his idiosyncratic source theories... Many scholars have noted that Crossan does not always feel obliged to follow his own system when it does not take him where he wants to go." (Pg. 96)

He states, "there are two points on which Sanders [in The Historical Figure of Jesus] is quite certain---that Jesus must be interpreted as a representative of first-century Palestinian Judaism and that he expected an imminent eschatological restoration of Israel... However, Sanders often appears to be more open to critique and to revision than any other scholar working on the historical Jesus today... He frequently admits that he is guessing with regard to certain matters and that he simply does not know what to think about other ones... All this marks his projects with a winsome humility." (pg. 129)

He points out that Meier [e.g., A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 2 - Mentor, Message, and Miracles] affirmed elsewhere that he personally does believe in the virgin birth, the miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus. These matters would belong to the large portrait of what he regards as 'the real Jesus,' but they do not necessarily belong to the smaller portrait of what he regards as 'the historical Jesus.'" (Pg. 133)

This is a very helpful overview of many recent Jesus scholars by a notable New Testament scholar, and will be very helpful to those looking for such a survey.
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5.0 out of 5 stars History from different perspectives, April 11, 2012
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This review is from: Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Paperback)
Mark Powell does a good job presenting an unbiased perspective from several historians. It reads like a Discovery Channel special with Powell doing an excellent job sticking to the script. Very educational with multiple spins.
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Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee
Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell (Paperback - November 1, 1998)
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