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A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology)

4.6 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801027109
ISBN-10: 0801027101
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

James D. G. Dunn (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is Emeritus Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham. He is the author of numerous books, including commentaries on Romans, Galatians, Colossians/Philemon, and 1 Corinthians, as well as The Theology of Paul the Apostle and Jesus Remembered.
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Product Details

  • Series: Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology
  • Paperback: 136 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (March 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801027101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801027109
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #566,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
James Dunn's small book on the origin of the synoptic gospels (Matt, Mark, Luke) is apparently a slice of his other work titled "Remembering Jesus." This is a helpful introduction to issues related to the character of, and indirectly the historicity of, the gospels. Dunn argues, against more liberal/skeptical scholarship, that the similarities and differences in the synoptic gospels are best explained by oral transmission of these events and teachings in the early church.

While not arguing against documentary theories (e.g. "Q"), he feels many avenues have not been suffiently explored in explaining the gospels. Specifically, he argues that scholars have not sufficiently reflected on the nature of a largely oral (as opposed to literate) society; also that Jesus' positive influence on his hearers has been likewise overlooked.

His view seems to honor the gospels as accurate, historical pictures of Jesus. This small book is useful for apologetics and for better appreciating the world of the New Testament.
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Format: Paperback
In this brief book (125 pages) James Dunn argues that the quest for the historical Jesus has been incorrectly operating out of a default literary paradigm rather than an oral one. Dunn accepts the Q hypothesis, but argues that the gospel writers would have also relied heavily on the oral traditions of their respective communities. Even after the gospels were written this oral tradition would have remained primary due to high illiteracy in the first century. Oral tradition by nature had both stability and variation; it would not change dramatically within a community due to the commitment of its members to the ideas, but at the same time there would have been flexibility over details that were not considered essential.

Dunn explains a number of implications of an oral paradigm. For example, the "Christ of faith" and the "historical Jesus" cannot be separated, because the oral tradition was faith based from the beginning. An "excavation" method of trying to uncover the historical Jesus is doomed to failure because there is no single account to go back to. There would have been multiple faith based accounts right from the beginning, because different followers would have heard or understood various sayings differently. Also, to determine historicity scholars have tended to focus on what was unique within the first-century Jewish or early Christian contexts, but Dunn argues that emphasis should go onto what is characteristic of the oral tradition, and the events that could have given rise to it.

This book left me with a sense of the gospels as a snapshot of a dynamic oral tradition. My impression after reading this book is that the gospels are historically reliable providing one comes to them with expectations appropriate to this tradition. This book is highly readable, but those without any knowledge of the historical quests may prefer to begin with an introductory text, perhaps something like NT Wright's "The Contemporary Quest for Jesus."
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Format: Paperback
"A New Perspective on Jesus" dares to ask the big questions. What if the entire long quest to find the historical Jesus was fundamentally flawed from the beginning? What if all those scholars, all those books, starting in 1832, had missed the very obvious?

This is a revolutionary book of biblical scholarship. Yet it is a mere 125 pages long. And it's written in Dunn's usual clear style, so that it's accessible to anyone interested in the subject.

For almost 200 years, scholars have been trying to find a different, more 'historical' Jesus from the Jesus of faith presented in the gospels. Their assumption was that the historical Jesus must be different from the Jesus of the New Testament, and that, with enough research, they'd be able to tease out this other Jesus.

But as Dunn points out, the quest was flawed. Where could they find this other Jesus? "The only Jesus available to us...is Jesus as he was seen and heard by those who first formulated the traditions we have--the Jesus of faith, Jesus seen through the eyes and heard through the ears of the faith that he evoked by what he said and did" (p 31). Yet there is an entire industry of alternatives to the actual gospels, suggesting all sorts of dark conspiracies. Jesus as a mushroom! Jesus as Caesar! Jesus as the hippie Cynic sage! Alll of them based on hot air and a vivid fantasy life.

The problem for all these desperate alternatives to the gospels is that "to discount the influence that Jesus actually had, to strip away the impact that Jesus actually made, is to strip away everything and to leave an empty stage waiting to be filled by...the historian's own imagination. If we are unsatisfied with the Jesus of the Synoptic tradition, then we will simply have to lump it; there is no other" (p 34).

This would make a terrific Christmas present to any biblical scholars you know.
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This is a look at historical Jesus research with fresh eyes which is much appreciated. Dunn questions much of the assumptions of the field and offers suggestions for the future direction of scholarship. He makes the obvious observation that separating the "Jesus of history" from the "Jesus of faith" is a false dichotomy in that Jesus from the very beginning was the kind of person that provoked faith in people. It wasn't just post-Easter faith that affects the tradition but it is that pre-Easter faith of his disciples that colors the Jesus tradition through and through.

Dunn's next point is to attack the overly literary mindset of historical Jesus scholars in their primary focus on getting to the written sources behind the gospels like Ur-Markus or Q. Dunn is not claiming that such investigation is useless but that at best it partly tackles the issue because the earliest tradition was transmitted orally before it was committed to writing. Dunn offers some interesting views about how this was done though an "uncontrolled authoritative" means rather than the "controlled authoritative" rabbinical tradition or the "uncontrolled un-authoritative" of a contemporary game of telephone. Dunn rightly emphasizes that 1st century culture was very much orally based even when things were written down like the gospels or the letters of Paul. It is a whole different paradigm of thought as compared to the literary mindset.

Dunn's last main point is that instead of using the criterion of dissimilarity like a bludgeon to produce a strange Jesus wholly different from his Jewish background and the Christianity that followed him, historians should look for the `characteristic' Jesus who was both influenced by his Jewish background and also in turn influenced the early church.
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