Most Christians will find it new and possibly uncomfortable to adopt a historical (and archaeological) perspective of Jesus.
This book is readable by someone (or a church discussion group) who is seeking to learn; it is not a devotional or inspirational book.
The presentation is an engaging survey of what is known about the Historical Jesus; history and archaeology and the full range of ancient texts are all gleaned for reliable information.
This is not a book of apologetics, but Charlesworth probably has done more than any scholar to substantiate the historicity of the core historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth, and especially the historical elements of the Gospel of John.
Since at least 1980, the burden of Charlesworth's world-class ministry of scholarship has been to locate Jesus within Judaism, which he labels Jesus Research.
It contains a lot of interesting and relevant information, more fully appreciated by careful reading of what he has to say, and will wonderfully enhance any (serious) Bible student's comprehension of the canonical gospel accounts.
Who is Jesus? Christians affirming the risen Lord cannot answer this question without asking its corollary: Who was Jesus? In the concrete particularity of a human being, God took on flesh. This book is about the Jesus of history. I approach this book as a Christian, but readers claiming any or no religious faith will find it helpful and illuminating without being propagandistic or doctrinaire.
James Charlesworth, professor at Princeton Seminary and veteran in the fields of Early Judaism and historical Jesus research, frames his book around a series of twenty-seven questions ranging from "Why is Jesus Research necessary?" to "Was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene?", from "Do reports about Jesus exist outside the New Testament?" to "Did Jesus rise from the dead?" He offers more possibilities then platforms; it is not his purpose to push agendas. Rather, he aims to ask honest questions and suggest helpful methodologies for seeking sound answers. I found the book refreshingly well-balanced. I suspect more conservative readers might find offensive Charlesworth's higher-critical stance toward Scripture and his leaving open some less conventional possibilities, but he treats traditional readings with great respect.
This book is an invitation to conversation. I suspect readers of varying faiths, of varying stripes of "liberal" or "conservative," can gather around this book in coffee shops or Sunday School classes or campus small groups to consider these questions and more.
Charlesworth writes for a lay audience. Some scholarly jargon slips through, and readers uninitiated in critical Biblical studies may gaze askance at his citations of Early Jewish sources, but the book really is accessible and will reward any diligent reader. It will certainly prove a helpful resource in college and seminary courses.
Bought this book for a class, but it's a fabulous book and highly recommended. Very balanced look at how to objectively read the Gospels taking into account who the author was, who they were writing to, what truth they were attempting to proclaim, etc. when interpreting scripture.
I'm not a Christian but I've read many Christian apologetics on Jesus and the Gospels. This is easily one of the best. While I do not subscribe to every point Charlesworth attempts to make, I find him very fair, balanced and persuasive.
The author answers 27 questions he asks of "Jesus Research" with insight and new research. He has a better handle on ancient Jewish writing, apocrypha & pseudopigrapha than many other scholars. Among the points he emphasizes are: 1) one must give honest answers, even if unpalatable; 2) Jesus was a devout Jew and not the first Christian; 3) archaeology helps us understand Jesus' cultural and geographic context; 4) we can know quite a bit with confidence about the man Jesus if we use good methodology; 5) Jesus probably started as a follower of John the Baptist; 6) Jesus was apocalyptic in focus, announcing the coming of God's rule, though he may have waffled on whether that was going to be accomplished in toto soon or at some unspecified future date and 7) historians can report what early Jesus followers claimed and believed, not whether it was true or false empirically. This is obviously just a small sampling of the book's content.
All in all, this is a well written book full of scholarly insight, yet written for a broad audience. Charlesworth has admirably walked a tightrope between being a Believer and a scholar, something few can do well. It certainly would be among the books I would recommend to anyone wanting to know more about Jesus: what and how we know about him.
Although the language was a bit textbook-like making the reading slower for me than my usual pleasure read material, I found Charlesworth's book to be a very thorough overview of Jesus research. He does a good job of covering both the faith side as well as the archeological side.
I used this book for background research for a class I taught at my church on the quest for the historical Jesus. It is very well balanced between careful, scholarly arguments and accessible brevity. Charlesworth has chosen carefully the particular topics that probably are in fact the essentials. There is good background, not only on the history of the quest, but also on the kinds of questions that are essential and the ways of answering with academic and intellectual integrity. The book helped give me a sense of personal scholarship, a deeper appreciation for the professional scholars in the field, and a clearer view of Jesus and his world.
I would recommend this for anyone who wants to know more about Jesus, his world, and how he fit in it than you'll find in a wiki entry or the first couple pages in your internet search, but who don't have the time or desire for Meier's 5-volume masterwork. That should be a lot of people.
I found this book useful in its own right as well a a background reference to other works discussing the Jesus of Nazarth and the Jesus Christ. It gave depth to more superficial surveys and grounding for more detailed references. I found myself returning to this book, as a tether, in order to both check and keep my orientation as I read alternative less objective and more opinionated approaches.