This book comes from a scholarly symposium commemorating the 2,000th anniversary of Jesus’ birth that was held at Oregon State University on Feb. 8-10, 1996. It’s a look at who Jesus was from differing scholarly perspectives. The book is a series of essays given by the scholars at these lectures. Just to note the essays may not entirely match the lectures they gave in person at the symposium. Each essay is also followed by some questions from audience members at the time the lectures were given, along with answers. I will simply present each essay’s author, title and a very brief synopsis.
Borg: From Galilean Jew to the Face of God: The Pre-Easter and Post-Easter Jesus – Borg tries to answer the question of how Jesus came to be perceived as God, even though (as Borg believes) he was only a social sage who wanted to reform Judaism? Borg asserts his usual beliefs – that Jesus is somehow at the right hand of God and able to be experienced today, the evolution of the church’s beliefs about Jesus, his focus on what he perceives to be radical differences in the gospel narratives, etc. He tries to trace the development of pre-Easter to post-Easter through his presuppositions.
John Dominic Crossan: Jesus and the Kingdom: Itinerants and Householders in Earliest Christianity – Crossan tells us first his own historical methodology, summarizes who Jesus is according to this method and zooms in on the relationship between Jesus’ itinerant followers and householders who became a part of the early Christian movement. Without going into minute detail (which a good synopsis of this article would take), this was probably one of the most revealing and interesting essays in the book.
Alan F. Segal – Jesus and First-Century Judaism – writes from a Jewish perspective on what we can know about Jesus. Here, he discusses the history of the criterion of dissimilarity and its own usefulness in extrapolating what can be known about the “historical” Jesus. He attempts to take to task the CoD and its hardliners, arguing that it eliminates too much about the Jewishness of Jesus.
Karen Jo Torjesen – ‘You are the Christ’: Five Portraits of Jesus from the Early Church – seeks to form a cohesive picture of articulations of Jesus for the first three centuries of church history, specifically the motifs of Divine Wisdom, Jesus as Victor over Death, Divine Teacher, Cosmic Reason and World Ruler. She draws together how people in the ANE would’ve weaved their past religious traditions with their Christian faith and put forward a picture of Jesus.
Harvey Cox – Jesus and Generation X – he examines Generation X’ers and how they approach spiritual issues in general and Jesus in particular.
Huston Smith – Jesus and the World’s Religions – pulls his experience of teaching world religions and describes how he sees Jesus.
Borg – The Historical Study of Jesus and Christian Origins – handles four areas. First, a historical introduction traces the “historical” Jesus search for the past 200 years or so. Second, a general sketch of Jesus scholarship is presented. Third, he uses specific case studies to observe factors affecting the Gospel’s development. Finally, he comments on “how scholars move ‘back to Jesus’” (122).
This isn’t a bad work. I don’t think it’s anything that will blow your socks off, but it’s an interesting introduction into how mostly liberal scholars (my opinion) see Jesus (or did see at 2000, anyway). I suppose if that’s something you’re looking for this would be worth a shot.
Editor Borg wrote in the Preface to this 1997 book, "This book is one of the results of 'Jesus at 2000,' the first nationwide scholarly symposium commemorating the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus... 'Jesus at 2000' not only featured six internationally known scholars in dialogue with a capacity crowd at Oregon State [University] but was also telecast live by satellite to over three hundred downlink sites across the continent. It was a record-setting event: Never before have so many people at one time taken part of a scholarly discussion of Jesus and his significance... Although this book had its origin in the lectures given at 'Jesus at 2000,' it is not a transcript of what was said on that occasion... the authors were free to revise their lectures... Each lecture was followed by approximately thirty minutes of questions..." (Pg. ix) The six scholars are Marcus Borg; John Dominic Crossan ]; Alan F. Segal ]; Karen Jo Torjesen ]; Harvey Cox ]; and Huston Smith ].
Borg was asked, "You said that the stories of Jesus' birth are powerfully true and yet not historical fact. How can that be?" and he replied, "I don't equate truth with historical truth. In this respect, I am like the Native American storyteller who begins his tribe's story of creation by saying, 'Now I don't know if it happened this way or not, but I know this story is true.'" (Pg. 17) Later, Borg says, "I mention that I am a Christian in part to inform the reader about my own religious stance, but also to emphasize that I have no difficulty reconciling this way of seeing the Gospels and Jesus with being a Christian." (Pg. 122)
Crossan states, "I give one example of what happens when historical Jesus research is undertaken with neither criteria nor methodology. Ben Witherington III has recently written a review ] of about twenty scholarly studies of the historical Jesus. They all fail, he says, because they see a PART rather than the WHOLE. But the whole, for Witherington, is the full Jesus of the complete canonical tradition. In one sense, of course, that is absolutely correct... That is the WHOLE, but it is also not the question, which is, What of all that whole goes back to the historical Jesus?... Witherington ... has to reconcile a message from Jesus that says the Kingdom is present, the Kingdom is future, the Kingdom is imminent, and the Kingdom comes I know not when..." (Pg. 32)
Torjesen was asked about a possible Jesus/India connection, and replied, "I'm intrigued with the India connection, but I don't see any reason to connect it particularly with Jesus. There is an India connection in Alexandria in Egypt. Pantinius, the head of the first Christian catechetical school in Alexandria, was a missionary to India... intellectual exchange might have gone on between India and the Christian and philosophical schools in Alexandria." (Pg. 86) Smith suggests, "fundamentalism would not have arisen had it not been provoked by secular excesses that... overlook the fact that truth is the whole. It is not true that the earliest accounts of Jesus are the most reliable; even the latest can present Jesus in a more reflective manner." (Pg. 115)
This is an interesting collection of somewhat diverse views, that will be of considerable interest to anyone studying the historical Jesus, and his implications for modern Christianity.
The historical study of Jesus and Christion origins is discussed by six well-known scholars. In two succinct essays and the book's introduction Marcus Borg gives us some basic tenets of modern Jesus scholarship. There is, for instance, no such thing as a wholly objective perspective on Jesus. The Bible is the human product of two ancient societies. The gospels are products of early Christian communities and they reflect a developing tradition within those groups of people. Jesus' public life took place in the first third of the first century while the canonical gospels were written during the last third of the same century. In between the newly emerging faith was sustained largely by oral tradition. Most of the other contributors to this book are probably in agreement with the above statements even though they come to this discussion from widely different backgrounds.
For anyone interested in learning more about the work of the Jesus Seminar and contemporary Jesus scholarship this is as good a place as any to begin the journey. The diverse essays are mainly excellent. Most chapters are accompanied by questions and responses recorded during the actual scholarly symposium commemorating the 2000 anniversary of the birth of Jesus held at Oregon State University in 1996. The notes for each chapter are extensive and I find the list of resources at the end of the book to be very helpful for someone who is just beginning to become curious about the study of the historical Jesus.
I was a Theology major in college - this book was required reading material. As a more conservative Christian, I have a lot of respect for Marcus Borg. He is a widely respected theologian, but he also truly believes in Jesus Christ. This book shows how Jesus is viewed as we approach Y2K. Since it is now 2001, I find that Borg to be accurate in his predictions and views. Although other theological book I read in college were "scholastic" then Christian, I find Borg has written a refreshing book to which all can relate.
Marcus Borg has written the introduction and two of the book's eight essays. I found it useful to read Borg's contributions first mainly because he describes with such clarity the basics of modern Jesus scholarship. Allan Segal is a leading Jewish scholar and Huston Smith is a well-known philosopher and historian of religions. All of the book's six contributors seem to approach the subject from different vantage points. The result is a very stimulating reading experience.