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82 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Quest for the Historical Jesus Continues, August 22, 2000
This review is from: The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Paperback)
Albert Schweitzer did not initiate the academic quest for the historical Jesus, nor did he end it. Schweitzer was, however, its most famous proponent. Second only to Schweitzer, Geza Vermes has, justifiably, become the penultimate voice of scholarship in this endeavor. Schweitzer demonstrated the importance of the apocalyptic to the historical Jesus. In his 1973 tour de force, "Jesus The Jew," Vermes emphasized Jesus' existence as a Galilean, Hasidic Jew. In this work, he firmly places Jesus within first century, Palestinian Jewish religious tradition. The result of Schweitzer's and Vermes' combined works is a less romanticized, less theologized, and more believable earthly Jesus. Although this book will disturb those who are comfortable with unquestioned piety, it is an invaluable tool for serious Bible students. It digs below the theology of the early Church to get a better view of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.
Vermes describes Jesus as an observant, first century Jew, whose behavior was very much like that of other observant, first century Jews. He shows us how Jesus' teachings relied upon bibical and charismatic authority. He shows how speaking in proverbs and parables was not a way for Jesus to obscure his message from all but the elect, but was rather a way to illustrate his teachings. He describes Jesus' preaching as closely related to the work of his rabbinical contemporaries. Perhaps most striking of all, he proves that Jesus' address of God as "Abba" was not unique.
Vermes shows that the religion of Jesus, the exorcist, the preacher, and the friend of pariahs was authentically Jewish. It was the early (largely gentile) Church, as it theologically reflected upon his life and death, which transformed that faith from Judaism to Christianity. In the end, the reader is left indebted to Vermes for his scholarship, yet still responsible to make one's own decision regarding the Lordship of Jesus, the Christ.
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Know Torah, know Jesus; no Torah, no Jesus, March 28, 2001
This review is from: The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Paperback)
This fine twenty-years-after sequel to Geza Vermes's _Jesus the Jew_ is actually the third book of a series: the second -- _Jesus and the World of Judaism_ -- is not currently in print as of this writing.

That's too bad, but the present volume is entirely readable on its own terms; in fact, strictly speaking, you don't _have_ to have read _Jesus the Jew_ first either, though it's recommended that you do so.

Here Vermes is continuing his attempt to reclaim Jesus as a faithful Jew and indeed a charismatic Galilean hasid. This volume provides a more in-depth look at Jesus's own teachings and religious practices than did _Jesus the Jew_, and illustrates well that nothing Jesus said or did involved either any departure from Judaism or any attempt to found a new religion separate from Judaism. A fine closing chapter suggests that Christianity might profit by moving closer to the religion _of_ Jesus and abandoning a good deal of the religion _about_ him.

On the minus side, a few of Vermes's conclusions are puzzling and probably wrong. For example, he is the only "Jesus scholar" I know of who rejects the parable of the Good Samaritan as "probably inauthentic." Moreover, in a brief reply to critics who charged that he had provided no account of why Jesus would have been crucified, he argues that Jesus was probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time -- a reply which I find altogether unconvincing and which seems to me to point up some of the weaknesses in Vermes's account.

Nevertheless Vermes has pretty much led the way for modern Jews and Christians alike to recognize Jesus as a Jew of his own time. As I said, I'd recommend reading _Jesus the Jew_ first, but if you like Vermes, come back to this one.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jesus is a Jew, February 13, 2002
This review is from: The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Paperback)
Vermes as always is easily understandable and enjoyably readable for anyone with an interest in the bridge between Christianity and Judaism. He is exquisitely accurate in illuminating Jesus' Hasidic, Gallilian, Jewishness. He is even-handed, respectful of Christian ideals, but opens fresh vistas on the Messiah, Prophet and first Christian. Vernes' Jesus is masterfully portrayed in the warm light of his Hebrew nationality and religion and his innovative ideas about God. Vermes lovingly reveals his evidence concerning the religio-historical niche for the man most Christians believe to be God incarnate and who unbiased others believe to be a Prophet who greatly influenced Jews, Muslims, Christians and others for nearly 2000 years. He admits, as do many others that he does not know why Jesus was crucified, but I suspect that it had more to do with Jesus being seen by the Romans as a budding revolutionary rather than a prophet. His attack on the portico, temple businessmen solidified big-business, the church and the Roman state against him. He alone of his group was sent to the cross. That in itself was unusual, a normal Roman purge would have included all of his disciples.
Vermes opens the door to Hebrew acceptance and inclusion of this inspired Jew, who was at the very least, a great prophet.
If you want to know more about Jesus the Jew, his time and place in history as observed by one of his own people, read this thoroughly enjoyable book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jesus is a Jew, February 13, 2002
This review is from: The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Paperback)
Vermes as always is easily understandable and enjoyably readable for anyone with an interest in the bridge between Christianity and Judaism. He is exquisitely accurate in illuminating Jesus' Jewishness. He is even-handed, respectful of Christian ideals, but opens fresh vistas on the Messiah, Prophet and first Christian. Vernes' Jesus is masterfully portrayed in the warm light of his Hebrew nationality and religion and his innovative ideas about God. Vermes lovingly reveals his evidence concerning the religio-historical niche for the man most Christians believe to be God incarnate and who unbiased others believe to be a Prophet who greatly influenced Jews, Muslims, Christians and others for nearly 2000 years.
If you want to know more about Jesus the Jew, his time and place in history as observed by his people, then and now, read this thoroughly enjoyable book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy...", January 9, 2009
This review is from: The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Paperback)
Jesus scholarship has no more accessible author than Geza Vermes, but it helps to understand the trajectory of his life.

Born a Jew, he was converted to Catholicism as a child by his father, trying to save the family from the Holocaust. He served the Church for decades both as a priest and as one of the central translators of the Dead Sea Scrolls (he remains the only person to have published an independent translation of all the scrolls).

His work on the scrolls led him to question many of the Church's assumptions about Jesus, and finally to reconvert to Judaism and marry, relatively late in life.

Those who question Vermes' scholarship are usually not themselves scholars and usually show little understanding of the reasoning that leads him to his conclusions. Above all, he has looked for consistency in the teachings of Jesus, taking into account not only a deep knowledge of the age of Jesus in Judea, but also an intensive study of the internal evidence of the Gospels.

The parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, is rejected as inauthentic because it belongs with other episodes in the Synoptic Gospels which contradict the core attitudes of Jesus towards Gentiles in general (whom he described as "swine" and "dogs," unworthy to hear the word of God) and of Samaritans in particular (he made special efforts to avoid traveling through Samaria and distrusted its people). It is characteristic of parables designed to bring non-Jews into the Christian fold decades after the death of Jesus.

However, clearing away the additions and discovering who "Jesus the Jew" was is not always helpful to orthodox Christians, who can be bitterly offended by scholarship based on the assumptions that Jesus was not the Messiah, not the Christ, not the Son of God, was not resurrected and probably died because of political, not religious, considerations.

Nor is the conclusion that Christianity is based less on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth than on the theology of St John and St Paul exactly news to thinking Catholics -- 23 of our Popes have been called John, 6 were called Paul and there have been 2 John Pauls.

Readers who accept the divine nature of Jesus, and unquestioningly believe in the whole contents of the New Testament can still profit from Vermes's immense and disarming scholarship; but in my view, Vermes' great task has been to explain the nature of Jesus to fellow-Jews, and to assert that the great wrongs that have been done to Jews in his name were in no way forseen or willed by him. Vermes helps to acquit Jesus of the charges of having betrayed his faith, his people and his God, things he certainly never did.

To me, Vermes is a great thinker and a great scholar, a modern Galileo. Remember what happened to Galileo.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of G. Vermes, "The Religion of Jesus the Jew", April 11, 2009
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This review is from: The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Paperback)
Vermes' "The Religion of Jesus the Jew" reminds us that Jesus was not a Christian but a perfectly good Jew. This from a Rabbinic scholar. I, a Biblical scholar and published writer myself, was hoping to learn more about the Jewish setting in which Jesus of Nazareth lived and taught. I was not dissapointed.

Jesus' approach was similar to teachers in the 200-yr later Rabbinic tradition, but contained some unique features, such as the universality of religious principles and Halakhah (the way we apply our principles to daily life). He was addressing not just fellow Jewish males but the whole world, women, Greeks and Romans included. Also unique was that he was advocating a non-violent revolution against the oppressors of his time: "Turn the other cheek," "Love you enemies," etc. All timeless lessons for us modern Jews, Greeks, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, of whatever stripe.

I also highly recommend Geza Vermes' more recent book, "The Authentic Gospel of Jesus" (R.C. Williams, PhD)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jesus' beliefs, December 13, 2009
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This review is from: The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Paperback)
This is slow going, but if you want to know what Jesus Himself actually said, as opposed to what the Gospel writers said, this is well worth the time. It is meticulously researched. What is interesting is that it places both Jesus and John the Baptist in their cultual and religious setting. Both of them were Jews, and neither said he was starting a new religion. Instead, they were exhorting other Jews to get ready for the End Times. This is called an eschatological view of religion, and, in Jesus' time, Jews were convinced that the End Times were close. Vermes also places Jesus in the context of several other known traveling rabbis of the time, which is interesting. He also shows that Jesus was not an Essene, one of the sect that left us the Dead Sea Scrolls.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important work for understanding the historical Jesus, September 16, 2012
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Michael_in_SC (Southern California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Paperback)
The importance of this book, and others like it, is to make the case that Jesus (like his disciples) was a practicing Jew -- one who may have had his own unique take on the Law, but one who fits well within the Judaism of his time. This is a historical conclusion that is not to be heard in the vast majority of Christian churches, liberal or conservative, which for their own reasons tend to portray the situation as essentially the Christian Jesus against "the Jews". How this historical observation should affect one's view of traditional Christian theology, is up to each reader to decide.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply Informed and interesting, July 4, 2013
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This review is from: The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Paperback)
Geza Vermes homes in on the question of what Jesus actually thought and taught about God's Kingdom, and he illuminates the transformation that Jesus tried to make in this idea, while firmly rooted in the Judaism of his time. The book deftly dissects the Synoptic Gospels' representation (and likely misrepresentations) of Jesus' fundamental religious commitments, and shows to what extent these commitments reflect historical currents of religious teaching. The book benefits from Geza Vermes' lifetime of scholarship (he passed away in 2013) on the ancient roots of Judaism, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many footnotes are as fascinating as the main text. All the documents quoted or referenced are listed in an appendix. The text is authoritative, clear, and, in many places, entertaining, as the author writes to satisfy his, and the reader's curiosity, rather than to overwhelm. This is not a book to satisfy a reader whose curiosity may be dulled by steadfast adherence to Christian doctrine. I have read other books that purported to discover Jesus as a religious man, starting with Schweitzer's, but this is by far the best.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great book, January 3, 2013
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This review is from: The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Paperback)
It is fascinating to see a book of scholarship by a Jewish scholar that puts Jesus in the context of his time
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The Religion of Jesus the Jew
The Religion of Jesus the Jew by Geza Vermes (Paperback - November 1, 1993)
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