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The Historical Jesus of the Gospels Paperback – April 13, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.
-- 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."

Gerd Theissen
-- 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 S. Keener is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky. He is the author of many other books, including The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary and The Gospel of John: A Commentary
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 869 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans; Reprint edition (April 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802868886
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802868886
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeri VINE VOICE on January 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Here's the oddest thing about current biblical scholarship: even as the public laps up hilarious idiocy like 'The DaVinci Code', even as PBS and Peter Jennings' infamous documentary and the History channel cough out anti-Christian documentaries, even as the newly atheist 18 year old college student insists Christianity is based on pagan mystery religions, the orthodox scholars involved in actual biblical scholarship are beating the stuff and nonsense out of the liberals. Go figure.

Anyone who doubts that can pick up this book for proof.

Keener is calm, polite, and thorough as he demolishes the arguments of liberal scholars. Best of all, Keener writes so clearly that anyone, even someone with no background in scholarship, could pick up this book and read it.

Keener gives the background of the hunt for the historical Jesus and then sets out systematically to show how liberal theories were shown wrong.

Apocryphal gospels? "Most scholars recognize that the apocryphal gospels...bear...similarities to ancient novels...In contrast to Luke's Acts, the apocryphal acts date from the heyday of the Greek romances" (p 50). Gnostic gospels are late compared to Christian gospels and aimed at "an academic elite" (p 52), not the general public. The Gnostic gospels rely on information given in Christian documents.

Thomas, so beloved by the Jesus Seminar, has recently been shown by Perrin to bear "numerous characteristics of Syriac Christianity from the second half of the second century" (p 56).

Keener also discusses Burridge's bombshell of a book arguing that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John follow the Greco-Roman bioi. Ancient history writers aimed at finding the truth. They "harshly criticized other historians who...
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The scholarship in this book is so thorough that I don't even know where to begin. The one thing I will say: it is a must read book on the historical Jesus! There are many books that I have read on historical Jesus studies (from both sides of the fence). But rarely (with the exception of Dale Allison) have any achieved the scholarship that is contained in Keener's tome. So, what makes Keener's book so different from the others?

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.
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Keener reveals that the Jesus presented in the 4 Gospels is a more reliable, historical picture of Jesus than all the made up conjectures about Jesus that are popular today. he also says you cannot limit a description of Jesus to any one label, such as cynic, teacher, peasant, or even prophet.

Keener is suspicious of any man made theory of Jesus that denies his Jewishness or that Jesus preached about the future. he examines gospel passages, and demonstrates that they are most plausibly recognized as historical. this is a great book to have in your library. I wish the end notes were footnotes, but that is personal preference.
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What N.T. Wright did for the big picture of the historical Jesus in "Jesus and the Victory of God", Craig Keener does for the details in "The Historical Jesus of the Gospels." Wright gives one a framework to understand Jesus' aims, worldview, and mindset within the context of first-century Judaism. Keener shows, over and over again, how the little details of the text reflect the environment of first-century Palestine, thereby vindicating the substantial historicity of the Synoptic Gospels. First, however, Keener looks at the nature of the Gospels themselves. He points out, with most contemporary scholars, that the Gospels best fit the pattern of Greco-Roman biographies. This doesn't necessarily demonstrate their reliability, but it does call into question the idea that the Gospels were intending to write fiction and were only later misunderstood as historical narratives. Additionally, the Jesus tradition was transmitted in a culture and context where accurate memory was recognized and valued. One of Keener's strengths, in my view, is his willingness to use later Jewish material cautiously, instead of dismissing it out of hand. Keener thus shows that first-century Jews were expected to memorize their Teacher's instruction, and that many of them took notes during their Teacher's lifetime.

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.
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