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The Historical Figure of Jesus Paperback – January 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What, if anything, can be known with certainty about the life and work of a first-century itinerant preacher named Jesus of Nazareth? Since the 19th century, scholars have attempted to answer that question; and out of their studies, Jesus has emerged variously as a Cynic philosopher (Crossan), a "marginal Jew" (Maier), an apocalyptic preacher (Schweitzer), a teacher (Robbins) and a magician (Smith). Sanders (Jesus and Judaism) portrays Jesus as a miracle worker and eschatological prophet whose deeds point to a coming Kingdom of God where good will reign over evil. Sanders's book is a masterful historical reconstruction of the political, social and theological context of the life of the enigmatic Nazarene. The first half of the book provides a detached examination of late Judaism and the Hellenic world into which Jesus came, as well as an exploration of the authenticity of the gospel accounts of Jesus's life. Following such introductory matters, Sanders recounts the gospel narratives in an attempt to separate myth from history and to determine how much we can actually "know about the historical figure of Jesus." The result is a thorough, accessible and conservative study that should have a wider appeal than other recent work on the historical Jesus.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Sanders neither pronounces on the Jesus of faith nor sets his view against later Christian dogma in this study of "Jesus the human being." Thus he closes the door at the outset to the polemic passion such agendas can inspire (as in Uta Ranke-Heinemann's Putting Away Childish Things, LJ 6/1/94). Beginning with a brief look at Jesus' life and its religious/historical context, Sanders next evaluates source materials and then-in the bulk of the book-explores what he thinks we can confidently say about Jesus' miracles, for instance, or his attitudes on the kingdom of God. Regarding the latter, Sanders believes (unlike John Dominic Crossan in Jesus, LJ 12/93) that "picking and choosing among the sayings" is misguided and opts instead to "calmly survey all sayings," seeking apparent convergence. Highly readable, this is a key addition to literature on the historical Jesus. For academic, theological, and larger public libraries.
Elise Chase, Forbes Lib., Northampton, Mass.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140144994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140144994
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #123,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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152 of 161 people found the following review helpful By Wyote VINE VOICE on December 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
The Jesus Seminar (Crossan, Borg, etc...) has attracted a lot of press coverage and given historical research a bad name. Their scholarship is poor, their motivations clearly political and their conclusions as biased and unfounded as any faith-perspective has been.
But quality reserach has been done in the search for the historical Jesus, and E. P. Sanders is in the front of the march. Sanders is most famous for his "Paul and Palestinian Judaism" which is the most significant study of Paul in the last fifty years. He is a scholar of the highest caliber, even if his publicity is not as great as the JS. Certainly, no one is more qualified to write on this topic.
"The Historical Figure of Jesus" is a lay-level introduction to the topic. Sanders does not cover all the issues in the greatest detail, but he economically makes his case in 281 pages. He does neglect some evidence in order to keep it brief. But he does not neglect evidence that would seem challenging to his view, only that which would make his points stronger. In other words, he is a confident scholar, not overly concerned to press an agenda.
Sanders' view is that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, originally a follower of John the Baptist, who was executed because of Caiaphas' fear that he could cause an uprising. This (and the preceeding discussion) may be his only (relatively) direct reference to the Jesus Seminar: "Jesus the thoughtful social and economic planner, who has again become popular, simply cannot be found in the gospels."
Sanders spends several chapters introducing the setting of Jesus' life, and several introducing the sources. About half the book is directly concerned with Jesus' life and teaching.
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67 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Reed Nunnelee on October 25, 2005
Format: Paperback

E.P. Sanders is a biblical scholar of the highest order. After receiving two baccalaureate degrees from his home state, Texas, he pursued graduate studies in Gottingen, Jerusalem, Oxford and New York, and earned a Th.D. from Union Theological Seminary. He has recently obtained two other doctoral degrees, Doctor of Letters from the University of Oxford and Doctor of Theology (honoris causa) from the University of Helsinki. In 1966, he began teaching at McMaster University in Ontario, and in 1984 he was elected Dean Ireland's Professor of Exegesis at the University of Oxford as well as Fellow of Queen's College. In 1990, Sanders joined the Faculty at Duke University where he currently serves as Arts and Sciences Professor of Religion. He has also held visiting professorships and lectureships at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland and Cambridge University.

Sanders' primary area of research involves interpreting the relationship between first-century Judaism and Christianity, and his works have been translated into nine different languages. Some of these works include: Paul and Palestinian Judaism (received several national awards), Jesus and Judaism (won the Grawemeyer Award in Religion, denoting the best book on religion), The Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (co-authored with Margaret Davies), Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah, Paul: Past Master, and Judaism: Practice and Belief 63 BCE-66 CE. Touting this impressive résumé, Sanders presents The Historical Figure of Jesus.
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64 of 66 people found the following review helpful By peculiar on December 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
E.P. Sanders is without doubt one of the most pre-eminent scholars of the New Testament and of historical, that is, Second Temple, Judaism alive today. His expertise and breadth of knowledge are acclaimed by all quarters of biblical scholarship as often as his work is seen in print, which is it to say that this is often. Particularly he has made key entries into the current round of the academic Quest of the historical Jesus. The first was with his 1985 book "Jesus and Judaism", a technical and academic study in which Sanders outlined his position vis-a-vis Jesus as an historical personage about whom we could know a number of things with a substantial degree of certainty. Amongst these were that Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed, that he confined his activity to Israel and that he was baptised by John the Baptist. All in all he stated 8 "almost indisputable facts" in that book which any reasoned and reasonable account of the historical Jesus should be able to account for.
With "The Historical Figure of Jesus" Sanders presents a much more reader-friendly (and appreciably less technical though still academically formulated) account of Jesus of Nazareth in which he ups the statements he now considers as "almost beyond dispute" to 15 and attempts to draw his picture of Jesus around these chosen static points. Clearly, then, the things Sanders considers as fixed are crucial here. These demonstrate some modification of Sanders' position from his earlier book and the addition of some "equally secure facts" about "the aftermath of Jesus' life". They are not things which scholars or general readers would find particularly controversial. But then the devil is always in the detail.
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