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The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David Hardcover – International Edition, April 12, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0465085774 ISBN-10: 0465085776 Edition: export ed

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; export ed edition (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465085776
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465085774
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #360,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Were David and Jesus fictional or historical figures? Do their stories actually report history, or are they simply tales that use familiar mythic elements about heroic figures to turn David and Jesus into heroes for a new generation? Thompson, who challenged conventional understandings of the history of Israel in The Mythic Past, answers these and other questions in this provocative but often pedantic study. Drawing on the wealth of tales of kings and saviors in Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman literature, he demonstrates that the biblical stories of David's military successes and Jesus' moral teaching are simply fictions weaving these earlier traditions into new hero stories. In addition, he reveals that the story of Jesus' resurrection was fashioned almost exclusively from the story of the dying and rising god, Dionysus. For Thompson, Jesus and David emerge merely as characters in stories that reveal the value of the good king. Although Thompson provides a valuable service by situating the Jesus and David tales in the context of other ancient Near Eastern literature, his argument that the biblical writers used such literature to write their fictions of David and Jesus is neither new nor startling. In addition, the lack of a coherent structure and a definitive conclusion lessens the effectiveness of Thompson's book. (Apr. 12)

Review

"An important work... For those of us interested in the Bible, there are innumerable insights and understandings" -- Peter Burnett Scotsman "Stimulating, controversial" The Good Book Guide "Thompson transforms the way we see the Bible" Observer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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82 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Michael Turton on April 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The Historical Jesus Quest is really composed of two quests. One involves sifting through the texts and developing methodologies for dealing with the data. The other involves situating the figure of Jesus in the proper historical context.

The battle over the proper context for Jesus has been one of least-recognized but most profound of the various struggles among New Testament exegetes. After WWII exegetes began to strongly emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus. Laudably, this was partly in response to the "Aryan Jesus" of 19th century scholarship, that eventually found its apotheosis in Nazi doctrines. However, it was also in response to the arguments of scholars from the schools of myth and comparative religions, who had argued in the period prior to the Second World War that Jesus resembled similar figures of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean. By reinforcing the Jewishness of Jesus and delinking him from the surrounding cultures, New Testament scholars sought to protect him from the assaults of the comparative religions school.

At first glance it is easy to mistake Thomas L. Thompson's The Messiah Myth for a revival of this school. Don't. The Messiah Myth does not attempt, as the comparative religions school did, to seek out parallels to Jesus and then link Jesus to them. Rather, Thompson attempts to recover the Greater Context: an enormous toolkit of ideas, themes, and observations that dominate the literature of the Near East, and find expression in all of its major texts, including the Bible, and in all of its major heroes, including Jesus and David.

Despite the subtitle The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David, Thompson's book does not focus strongly on Jesus.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By David E. Blair on July 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you wish to read four hundred pages of detailed, well worked out, and adventurous exegisis of the Old Testatment as it applies to David and Jesus as myth fulfilling figures or fantasies, this should be your cup of tea. However, with an occassional tip of the hat to other ancient Near Eastern literary sources, this is what Thompson's book boils down to. Even in his essay on "The Myth of the Dying and Rising God" where one would expect a world of pagan material, Thompson's concerns are almost exclusively centered on the exegisis of OT material.

It is at this interface between OT material and the prior mythic traditions and literature of the Near East where Thompson is at his weakest. Considering his academic specialty, this is no surprise. However, his sub-title, "The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David," does not read Old Testament roots. Therefore, his project is a questionable success at best for the open minded. To his credit, he never actually indicates that it his intention to disprove a historical grounding of the figures of David and Jesus. This book should be read as massive cautionary to reading too much history into the Bible.

Other than general cranky dismissals of academics that do not agree with him, Thompson launches forth assuming that you, the reader, agree with his methodology and are up to assessing the validity of his exegisis. To fully assess and appreciate this work, the reader must be nearly as accomplished in OT exegetics as Thompson. That is a tall order. No alternative readings are supplied. Moments of crystal clarity are rare. Expect to put in a great deal of work for what you get. And what you get out of this book is directly dependent on the level of knowledge you bring to the task.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By S A Moran on March 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Thomas L Thompson, biblical scholar of the 'minimalist' school, here turns his attention the commonality of tropes in the stories of Jesus and David as Messiahs. Never clearly defining Jesus as never existing, he, nevertheless, raises some pertinant criticisms of the quest for a historical Jesus, arguing that the gospels are a coherent whole; that Jesus' teachings cannot be separated from the miracles etc to construct a scholars' historical version of the man from Galilee.

Thompson underpins this critique by highlighting the dependence of texts on each other for tropes and metaphors; his treatment of the temple cleansing is very enlightening, how his saying conflates Isaiah and Jeremiah to contrast and show who the true pure of Israel are. He also demonstrates that the use of 'OT' texts by the gospel writers are not just for prophetic proofs of Jesus' messiahship, but to construct a theology consistent with both Judaism and other Near Eastern thought.

Very insightful, and a useful book to reference whether for or against Thompson's argument.
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18 of 47 people found the following review helpful By James J. Omeara on August 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I picked this up as a $0.95 proof copy, because Freke & Gandy reference Prof. Thompson extensively in the chapter on Christianity in their new book, The Laughing Jesus: Religious Lies and Gnostic Wisdom. I'm glad I only paid $0.95, however, and will be donating this to the Housing Works charity bookstore soon. It shares two traits with most academic writing: it's atrociously written, and almost willfully obtuse about the deeper implications of its subject.

As for the writing: apart from the usual dreary academic prose, Thompson at no time bothers to formulate what his thesis is, or tell you how what he's analyzing supports it. Instead, one example after another from the New or Old Testament is selected, apparently at random, discussed a bit, and then dropped. So I am not at all sure if I have succeeded in "getting" his point, and so other reviewers may take me to task for "missing it." Tough; life is short, and I can't waste all my time on this book.

As far as I can tell, the thesis is that the writings of the OT and NT are literature, and need to be analyzed as such, not used as clues to determine the existence and nature of some historical figure. Thus (with my attempts to straighten out the syntax in brackets):

"It is especially difficult to determine whether we are in fact dealing with the story of a particular man's life, [in other words] a biography illustrating values we hold because of him. We may [instead] be dealing with a narrative figure, whose function is to illustrate universal or eternal values." [p. 136]

Thus while Schweitzer found a "historical Jesus" who was a failed apocalyptic prophet, the scholars of the Jesus Seminar (Crossan, Borg, etc.
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