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The Historical Jesus of the Gospels Hardcover – November 3, 2009
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-- Catholic University of America
"With critical acumen, Craig Keener presents a comprehensive account of the study of the historical Jesus. It will be a boon for all readers -- inquisitive laypeople, pastors, students of the Gospels, and biblical colleagues."
James H. Charlesworth
-- Princeton Theological Seminary
"Keener proves why the Evangelists' view of Jesus is preferable to most modern constructs: the Gospels, as ancient biographies, reflect eyewitness accounts of Jesus and provide the only valid sources for reconstructing the historical Jesus. . . . This book is exceptional for its breadth and its captivating prose."
-- University of Heidelberg
"Historical Jesus research has developed in the last decades from a 'postminimalism' concerning the authenticity of Jesus traditions to a new 'moderate confidence' in the historicity of the Gospels. Craig Keener's book is both a milestone and a boundary stone in this development. By contextualizing the sources of Jesus research and Jesus himself, Keener succeeds in increasing the historical plausibility of the Gospels to a degree that is exceptional among critical exegetes. Therefore this book must be read and taken seriously -- both by those exegetes who are reluctant to support this 'historical-critical maximalism' in Jesus research and by those reluctant to contextualize Jesus in such a way. But both will enjoy reading what Keener has written with an open and critical mind."
About the Author
Craig Keener is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky. Recognized for his expertise in the early Jewish and Greco-Roman context of early Christianity, he is the author of many books, including The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary and The Gospel of John: A Commentary (two volumes). Three of his books have won awards and together have sold over half a million copies.
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This increases the probability that the Gospels preserve a reliable picture of the historical Jesus. The Jesus of the Gospels also says and does things which only make sense in first-century Palestine. One piece that was striking to me is that the name of "Bethsaida" was changed after 30 AD, but Jesus calls it Bethsaida. This doesn't make sense as a creation of the later church, but it does make sense on the lips of the historical Jesus. Why do the Evangelists record Jesus' ministry in obscure fishing villages? What was so special about them? The answer is that they weren't particularly special: such records make more sense as a record of the activities of the historical Jesus than they do as a literary creation. Why does the Lord's Prayer resemble the Jewish Kiddur? Obviously, the latter rabbis did not draw from Jesus. The simplest answer to this, and to many similar questions, is that Jesus and later Judaism drew on a common network of traditions in first-century Judaism. The thoroughgoing Jewishness of the gospels demonstrates them to be largely historical. From here, Keener looks at Jesus' self-understanding based on the gospel sayings in the light of first-century Judaism: Jesus as Prophet, Messiah, more than Messiah. There's not much here one hasn't seen before if you're acquainted with historical Jesus studies, but it's a good treatment.
Altogether, I very much recommend this book for any student interested in the historical Jesus, especially from a traditional perspective. It should be noted that the book is not actually 800 pages: it's about 400. The other 400 pages are notes, bibliography, and so on.
Well, (despite one reviewer that says otherwise) Keener is very objective in his scholarship. He seems to heed critical scholarship when it might not suit his Christian fancies. For instance, Keener thinks Jesus was an obvious Eschatological Prophet and even seems to hint that Jesus' eschatology involved apocalyptic thought (something that conservatives cringe at). Keener's tome is also thoroughly footnoted and it's obvious he has done his homework. Moreover, the one thing that makes this book so valuable is the way Keener demonstrates that the majority of Jesus tradition strands can be traced back to an early Palestinian environment. This aspect cannot be overlooked. Keener demonstrates how permeated the Gospels are with early Palestinian Jewish tradition which in turn makes the Gospel's historicity even more plausible. In fact, there was so much information to be absorbed that I plan to read the book a second time in the future just to catch up on the abundance of scholarship.
My only (small) problem with this tome was Keener's chapter on the resurrection. Not only was the chapter weak (I will be fair and assume this was due to the space constraint) but it did not flow very well and it seemed slightly thrown together. The book would've been much better if Keener left it out. However, this problem is very minor and is not substantial enough to take away from the excellent scholarship that precedes the aforementioned chapter.
Interested in Jesus studies? Do yourself a favor and read this book.
He showns an amazing familiarity and proper understanding of the broad spectrum of perspectives on contemporary scholarship about the Historical Jesus. It allows him to openly recognize, assess and criticize all the relevant views about the specific aspect of Jesus he's discussing.
As a former atheist turned into a Christian, Keener knows what is being "on the other side of the fence" and the philosophical and mental framework which supports such skepticism about Jesus. He shows that such pressupositions are wanting for a serious, objetive assessment of the evidence for Jesus.
What I really appreciated about this book is Keener's intelligent, informed, and above all very balanced and nuanced discussion of the topic. He carefully avoids bold statements and easy jumps to conclusions insufficiently unwarranted by the evidence.
This makes this book a masterpiece of contemporary scholarly discussion about the historical Jesus, plus a fine example as how scholars should argue for their case.
An essential reading.