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Deconstructing Jesus Hardcover – March 1, 2000
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"...this is a book I can recommend. It raises many legitimate issues..." -- Internet Bookwatch, July, 2001
From the Inside Flap
In DECONSTRUCTING JESUS, author Robert M. Price argues that liberal Protestant scholars who produce reconstructions of the "historical Jesus" are, as Albert Schweitzer pointed out long ago, creating their own Jesus icons to authorize a liberal religious agenda. Christian faith, whether fundamentalist or theologically liberal, invariably tends to produce a Jesus capable of playing the role of a religious figurehead.
In this way, "Jesus Christ" functions as a symbolic cloak for several hidden agendas. This is no surprise, Price demonstrates, since the Jesus Christ of the gospels is very likely a fictional amalgam of several first-century prophets and messiahs, as well as of purely mythic Mystery Cult redeemers and Gnostic Aions. To show this, Price follows the noted scholar Burton Mack's outline of a range of "Jesus movements" and "Christ cults," showing the origins of each one's Jesus figures and how they may have finally merged into the patchwork savior of Christian dogma.
Finally, Price argues that there is good reason to believe that Jesus never existed as a historical figure, and that responsible historians must remain agnostic about a "historical Jesus" and what he stood for.
Top customer reviews
"Deconstructing Jesus" isn't an easy read. Unless you have been diligently studying in this field you will find many references to authors you have never heard about. The field is rife with people studying this question.
Bottom line, as I understand it, is that the Jesus that contemporary Christianity follows is a multi-layered construction that has evolved over time to fit the needs of the current culture and political climate. The roots of this construction are all over the first century Middle East and various philosophies. From Cynic, to Gnostic, through Zealot, and everything in between has been woven into the picture that we get of "The Man From Nazareth" (or, was he a Nasserite or Nasorean?).
For the serious student of Christology or church history this book is an excellent criticism of all the current thinking in this area of scholarship. I doubt that the average pew-sitting Christian will be overjoyed with this book but the scholarship will, eventually, be the stuff of many homilies.
Will you find the historical Jesus in this book? No. But you will find an early Church struggling with a polyglot of beliefs attempting to blend them into a cohesive fabric of faith. Perhaps it is that dynamic that has kept "The Church" alive for two millennia. Mysticism and Gnostic thinking are on the rise again and "The Church" on the eve of another evolutionary move -- here's the first map of the territory ahead.
Dr. Price will not waste your time, agree with him or disagree, but you will learn something and that is a wonderful thing in the age of spin.
He wrote in the Introduction to this 2000 book, "this book treats of the historical Jesus and whether we can know anything about him, whether even there is anyone to know about!... I intend to deconstruct 'Jesus Christ' on a deeper level, one underlying believers' imaginary relationships with their Savior... What I do not propose to do is what an increasing ocean of books endeavor, namely reconstructing a historical Jesus from what scanty evidence remains to us... Generations of Rationalists and freethinkers have held that Jesus Christ corresponds to no historical character: There never was a Jesus of Nazareth... What I am describing is someting different, a 'Jesus agnosticism.' There may have been a Jesus on earth in the past, but the state of the evidence is so ambiguous that we can never be sure what this figure was like or, indeed, whether there was such a person." (Pg. 9,12,17)
He points out, "The power of Burton Mack's case ] is such that he has managed to convince the great proponent of the Christ-Myth in our day, George A. Wells, to abandon the ground he defended for so long. Wells now significantly qualifies his own argument to the effect that, while there was a Cynic-style sage named Jesus underlying Q1, this shadowy figure did not give rise to the full-blown mythic Christ of the gospels... And Mack would agree." (Pg. 115)
He argues, "Let me hasten to point out that a multiple-root origin theory for Christianity would not automatically mean there had been no original historical Jesus. Indeed, Mack certainly holds for... at least one historical Jesus, the sage whose sayings have been collected for our edification in Q1. But I wonder if Mack's work does not set loose implications that he himself does not yet appreciate... Q1, far from allowing us access for the first time to the historical Jesus, is instead inconsistent with a historical Jesus." (Pg. 150)
He concludes, "Traditionally, Christ-Myth theorists have argued that one finds a purely mythic conception of Jesus in the epistles and that the life of Jesus the historical teacher and healer as we read it in the gospels is a later historicization. This may indeed be so, but it is important to recognize the obvious: The gospel story of Jesus is itself apparently mythic from first to last. In the gospels the degree of historicization is actually quite minimal, mainly consisting of the addition of the layer derived from contemporary messiahs and prophets... One does not need to repair to the epistles to find a mythic Jesus." (Pg. 260)
Price is an unusual figure (not many Jesus skeptics are also New Testament scholars), but his books are important reading for anyone studying the historical evidence for Jesus.