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Profiles of Jesus Paperback – December 2, 2002
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About the Author
Marcus J. Borg is Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University. Kathleen E. Corley is Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Professor of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. John Dominic Crossan is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, DePaul University, Chicago. Arthur J. Dewey is Professor of Theology, Xavier University, Cincinnati. Robert T. Fortna is Weyerhaeuser Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, Vassar College. Robert W. Funk is Director of the Westar Institute and founder of the Jesus Seminar. Charles W. Hedrick is Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies, Southwest Missouri State University. Roy W. Hoover is Weyerhaeuser Professor of Biblical Literature and Professor of Religion Emeritus, Whitman College. Lane C. McGaughy is the Geo. H. Atkinson Professor of Religious and Ethical Studies at Willamette University. Stephen J. Patterson is Professor of New Testament at Eden Theological Seminary. James M. Robinson is Professor Emeritus at The Claremont Graduate School. Bernard Brandon Scott is Darbeth Distinguished Professor of New Testament at the Phillips Theological Seminar, University of Tulsa. Mahlon H. Smith is Associate Professor, Department of Religion, Rutgers University. Hal Taussig is Visiting Professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
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Robert Funk ] says, "His language is concrete and specific. Jesus always talked about God's domain in everyday, mundane terms... He would not have said, 'All human beings have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.' He would not have confessed, 'I believe in God the Father Almighty.' It never occurred to him to assert that 'God is love.' Jesus did not have a doctrine of God; he had only experience of God." (Pg. 10-11) He adds, "Jesus may be described as a comic savant. He was perhaps the first standup Jewish comic. A comic savant is a sage who embeds wisdom in humor, a humorist who shuns practical advice." (Pg. 12)
Mahlon H. Smith observes, "Much has been written in recent years to challenge J. Jeremias' thesis [in The Prayers of Jesus] that the Aramaic word 'Abba' was Jesus' distinctive way of addressing God, indicating his unique sense of childlike intimacy with the Deity. Yet Jeremias' observations have not yet been disproved. Though scholars have produced many examples of Jews addressing God as '(Our or my) Father (in heaven),' it remains a fact that no example of a Jew using the Aramaic form Abba as a direct address to God has yet been found apart from primitive Jesus tradition." (Pg. 115)
Marcus Borg ] says, "for ecstatics, religious conviction is not the result of strong belief in 'secondhand religion'... Cognition is the product of firsthand religious experience... God becomes an experiential reality, and it is in this sense that an ecstatic knows God. Jesus seems to have been one of these ecstatics. He was a Jewish mystic... Moreover, such experience seems the best explanation of what else we see in the traditions about Jesus: the foundation of his subversive wisdom, the ground of his passion and courage as a social prophet, and the source of his radical social vision." (Pg. 132)
Other essays are by James M. Robinson ], Kathleen Corley ], John Dominic Crossan ], and others.
This diverse book will be of keen interest to those studying the historical Jesus---and particularly as he is interpreted by the Jesus Seminar.
What is very surprising, to me at least, is that the viewpoints within the book are not uniform as some might expect. Those familiar with the work of the Seminar will know that this traces back to the manner in which the group decided on the "authority" of various biblical passages (by voting to place the passages into a variety of different "levels"), but when you first realize that each of the chapters features a slightly different portrait (even though differences may be subtle) it comes as a bit of a surprise.
The intent of the book, I suppose, is to spark the interest of its readers to do some research of their own and form their own opions of the subject material rather than take for granted yet another book at face value. In that respect, the text succeeds remarkably for the interested and avid reader. Even those who are unwilling to accept the idea that the New Testament is anything but perfectly accurate history will find a great many things that will spark their own interest, or will give them pause to reinvestigate why they believe what they do. Overall, the text is thoroughly unchallenging in terms of radical ideas and simply posits that what is written in the New Testament is religion rather than history. From there, the possibilities are endless.
However, one of it's greatest strengths is also a great weakness. While it is certainly interesting to see multiple viewpoints of the same material, often the text can feel repetitive and, if you're not reading closely, you may miss some subtle nuance. It may be best to take this book in small bites/chunks, a few chapters at a time rather than in one sitting (which you could certainly do due to it's length) and think over each portrait individualy rather than the book as a whole.
Overall, this is a great stepping stone from some of the introductory material of the Historical Jesus field of study into the more advanced readings. Serious readers should be aware, though, that they should have a copy of "The Five Gospels" and "The Acts of Jesus" both written by the Jesus Seminar and Funk before they try to wade through this text.