28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
A superb overview of recent "Jesus scholarship",
This review is from: The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (Paperback)
Ben Witherington III, himself a highly competent "Jesus scholar," here provides an extremely helpful overview of recent "Jesus scholarship" as of 1995. His exposition and critique will help the newcomer to sort through a bewildering array of theories and sources.
I have read almost all of the authors he discusses, and I can say that his presentations of their views are accurate and fair. Frankly, I have never been able to take the "Jesus seminar," John Dominic Crossan, or Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza very seriously, but Witherington manages to do so for just long enough to decimate their theories and methods. And he doesn't seem to be snickering behind his hand while he does it (which is more than I would have been able to manage). Ever the gentleman, the only jest he allows himself at their expense is in the title of his chapter on the "Jesus seminar": "Jesus the Talking Head."
The other reviews have already listed some of the major scholars whose views he presents. Again, his summaries are thorough and accurate and his criticisms usually well-founded, from the noneschatological, compassion-mongering "spirit person" of Marcus Borg to the slightly-too-eschatological "God's viceroy" of E.P. Sanders, from the Galilean hasid of Geza Vermes to the marginal Jew of John P. Meier. In most cases he finds something (sometimes a very great deal) worth keeping in each scholar's account but takes pains not to _reduce_ the historical Jesus to any one of his aspects.
Moreover, he helpfully includes several lesser-known scholars in his overview -- Graham Twelftree, Richard Horsley, R. David Kaylor, and Maurice Casey, for example. Of course it is simply not possible for a single volume to be complete in this respect (and I especially wish he had been able to deal with Stevan Davies's _Jesus the Healer_), but Witherington has managed to compress a great deal of scholarship into a single book.
His own view, also presented here, is that Jesus is best viewed as (primarily but not exclusively or reductively) an embodiment of "Wisdom" (chochmah). The reader should refer to Witherington's _Jesus the Sage_ for a more complete presentation of this view (which, to my own admittedly non-Christian mind, has the twin advantages of (a) not rendering Jesus different in kind from other human beings and (b) placing him somewhat correctly within his Jewish context although I personally suspect the nearly-equivalent "embodiment of Torah" might have made slightly better historical-contextual sense).
Of course there have been books published since 1995 that are not included here either -- by, for example, Bart Ehrman, Dale Allison, and Paula Fredriksen (whose earlier _From Jesus to Christ_ is also not discussed). However, the reader who has assimilated all of Witherington's material will be well-equipped to deal with these further volumes as well.