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The Changing Faces of Jesus (Compass) Paperback – February 26, 2002

3.6 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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The Changing Faces of Jesus is a reflection on the ways that translations of Scripture have transformed believers' understandings of Jesus. Author Geza Vermes, a biblical scholar perhaps best known for his English translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, reviews the varying portraits of Jesus in Scripture, particularly focusing on the letters of Paul and the Gospel of John. The author contends that, "by the end of the first century Christianity had lost sight of the real Jesus and of the original meaning of his message." The real Jesus, a "religious man with an irresistible charismatic charm," was replaced by "Jesus the Christ, the transcendent object of the Christian religion." Vermes avoids the polemic tone often adopted by scholars who make similar arguments. Here is an example of the modest style in which this author makes his momentous claims:
As a historian I consider Jesus, the primitive church and the New Testament as part and parcel of first-century Judaism and seek to read them as such rather than through the eyes of a theologian who may often be conditioned, and subconsciously influenced, by two millennia of Christian belief and church directives.
This tone will help readers--even those predisposed to disagree with Vermes--to understand his argument that religious belief has skewed understanding of the central figure of the Christian religion. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This academic yet accessible book tackles the question of Jesus' identity by attempting to strip away theological and historical interpretations in order to reach the original, Jewish, human Jesus. Vermes, professor emeritus of Jewish studies at Oxford, begins with the Gospel of John, which he asserts was the first to ascribe divine status to Jesus, and proceeds through the Pauline letters, the Book of Acts and the Synoptic Gospels. Along the way, he dismantles any statements about Jesus' life that he feels to be inaccurate or questionable. Vermes argues instead that if one returns to the actual and indisputable words of Jesus as stated by the Synoptic Gospels, and if one also takes into account the historical and Jewish religious tenor of the time, Jesus is revealed as a "prophet-like holy man, mighty in deed and word, a charismatic healer and exorcist." Vermes's Jesus is a teacher concerned with the Kingdom of God on earth, in the tradition of other Jewish holy men. The book sometimes engages in speculative reasoning: for example, a) Luke was an associate of Paul, b) Paul's theology is missing from Acts, c) "one would have expected an associate of Paul to do better than that," so d) Luke must not have written Acts. For the most part, however, Vermes ably poses the critical questions that have characterized the "quest for the historical Jesus," adding a few of his own.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Compass
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (February 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142196029
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142196021
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #385,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book. Although I think Ed Sanders's _The Historical Figure of Jesus_ is probably the best single volume on the "Jesus of history," Geza Vermes is perhaps my favorite writer on the subject.

In the present work he continues his project of reclaiming Jesus as a (solely) human being and a Jew of his own time. Here he tackles a topic he has not treated in his previous three volumes: the Christian New Testament's presentation of Jesus outside of the three synoptic gospels. He also gives the synoptics themselves another look after he has dealt with John and Paul.

His theme here is that Christian understanding(s) of Jesus have been colored heavily by the New Testament's portraits. Vermes wants to recover, as far as possible, the human being behind the theology. The portrait Vermes presents here will hold no surprises for readers of his other works: he regards Jesus as a charismatic Galilean holy man with an emphasis on God as father, a somewhat "individualistic" approach that decentralized the importance (though not the necessity) of the social/communal aspects of Torah observance, and the occasional touch of chauvinism.
There is much to accept in Vermes's portrait, and I am in essential agreement with most of it. My worries are about what he omits; as with his earlier work, I am simply unconvinced by his claim that Jesus was crucified simply for doing the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I also do not see that he has adequately dealt with the possible historicity of Jesus's resurrection. (I would supplement Vermes's account on these points by, respectively, Hyam Maccoby's _Revolution in Judea_ and Rabbi Pinchas Lapide's _The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish View_.
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Format: Hardcover
One of Vermes' first books, _Jesus the Jew_, was the seminal work dealing with the historical Jesus through a Jewish perspective. It was an innovative work that took a highly original approach to discovering the true figure of Jesus. Two books later (_Jesus and the World of Judaism_, _The Religion of Jesus the Jew_), Vermes has released another masterpiece. In his previous works, his analysis of the historical Jesus was based solely upon the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke). In _The Changing Faces of Jesus_, he goes a step further in attempting to unravel Jesus' true nature. He commences at the most theologically advanced Gospel (i.e. John) and works back through Paul, Acts and finally the Synoptics.
To begin with, Vermes demonstrates to the reader that the Gospel of John is significantly different to the rest of the Gospels as it elevates the figure of Jesus to a divine status that would have been quite foreign to the Jewish way of thinking (even to Jesus!). He shows how influences from Paul and the early gentile church contributed in formulating this divergent account. He illustrates that from a theological point of view, John has been tailored to omit/modify many passages (that were present in the Synoptics) that may have detracted from the portrayal of a divine Jesus. Furthermore John's portrayal of Jesus is that of a self-centred, assertive and transcendent figure which is not present in the Synoptics. In John, Jesus is shown as answering the question "Are you the Messiah?" with a firm positive answer that is unparalleled in the earlier Gospels. Vermes adds that the metaphoric title of "Son of God", that is so prominent in biblical and post-biblical Jewish literature, is taken literally in the fourth Gospel.
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Format: Paperback
This is a clear, approachable and instructive work that wears its learning quite lightly, wastes few words and keeps within comfortable bounds of length - very English. Penguin provides a useful description of it by Vermes himself, at [...] . The following assumes you have read this.
First, some dates to keep in mind. Jesus died about 30. The authentic epistles of Paul begin early in the 50s and end in the mid-60s. Outside the Pauline domain, all we know of Christianity at the time was centered in Jerusalem and led first by Peter, then by James, Jesus's brother, who was killed in 62. Peter and Paul were executed in Rome in the mid-60s. In 66 an uprising began in Judea which led to the razing of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, in 70. The three synoptic Gospels were written in the 80s and early 90s, Mark first, then Matthew and Luke in debatable order. Around 100 were written the Acts of the Apostles, perhaps by the same hand as Luke. The gospel of John comes later, about 110, and the Revelation later still. All of the NT (New Testament) was written in Greek. Despite the traditional attributions, none of the authors had met Jesus. The author of Luke was not Jewish, and that of John may well not have been. The other writers generally were. All of this is a moderate stretch from, say, the notes in the pre-Vatican-2 Catholic Bible of Jerusalem. Only fundamentalists should be shocked (and they will not read Vermes).
"The changing faces of Jesus", then, are the earlier and earlier pictures of him that emerge when we begin scraping away layers of scriptural overpaint. The Jesus in question is the Galilean charismatic who, according to the synoptics, first acknowledged John the Baptist and probably joined him, then lived for less than a year after John was arrested.
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