One might think that the search for the historical Jesus--or the human Christ--is a recent phenomenon. The controversial work of the Jesus Seminar and its efforts to discover (or uncover) the "real" Jesus, the recent spate of books that include "the complete" sayings of Jesus; the ongoing efforts of theologians like John Shelby Spong to redefine the meaning of Christ for a new millennium: these are just among the latest efforts in a quest going back three hundred years to define Jesus, the man.
There is a delightfully rich cast of characters in Charlotte Allen's book The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus. Hermann Reimarus, father of German textual criticism of the Bible, who accused Jesus of deliberately deceiving his followers into thinking he was a miracle worker; Thomas Jefferson, who in 1804 decided to extract from the gospels what he considered the genuine sayings of Jesus (presaging the Jesus Seminar by some 190 years). Schweitzer, Hegel, Flaubert, Nietzsche, Scorsese--these figures and many others are shown searching for their historical Jesus, in a n informative, amiable style.
Allen argues that searchers for the "real" Jesus found what they wanted to find: liberals found a liberal Jesus; mystics a gnostic Jesus. Not surprisingly, Allen also details the passing fads over the 300-year search for the "real" Jesus--and how Jesus research usually spoke more directly to the present than the past.
If readers are interested in the ongoing premillennial controversy about Jesus the man--what he said; what he did, what it meant, and what it means--Allen's book is recommended reading. Those interested in finding out more about the men and women who quested for the human Christ will be well served by Allen's entertaining and informative volume. --Fraser Hall
From Publishers Weekly
Allen's wide-ranging survey analyzes the quest for the historical Jesus.The historical Jesus has occupied French theologian Ernest Renan, German theologians like D.F. Strauss, Rudolf Bultmann and Helmut Koester, British novelists like George Eliot and American New Testament scholars like Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar. In a breezy journalistic style, Lingua Franca contributing editor Allen blows through the last three centuries of historical Jesus scholarship to render the oft-quoted moral of the story: the Jesus-searchers of every era have found their own worldviews reflected comfortably in their portraits of Jesus. Allen opens her survey of these Jesus quests with an exploration of Jesus' Jewish world and the reception of Christianity in the Hellenic world. She then proceeds to explore the cultural contexts, from the 17th century to the 20th, in which the various Jesus quests arose. For example, in her examination of the work of the Jesus Seminar, she argues that "the non-eschatological Jesus of the New Quest is a congenial figure for many American academics who associate eschatology with snake-handling and polyester blends, or who fear that putting apocalyptic sayings into Jesus' mouth supports the political goals of the Christian coalition." In her zeal to vilify the New Quest, however, she makes insupportable generalizations such as the contention that the Jesus Seminar "implicitly claims to represent a consensus of current New Testament scholarship," a claim never made explicitly or implicitly by Funk and company. In the end, Allen prefers her Jesus as a Jew who is the divinized Christ of Catholic Christian orthodoxy. While the book might be helpful to some readers as an introduction to the quest for the historical Jesus, its superficial scholarship makes this a less than worthwhile contribution to the historical Jesus conversation.
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