by John P Meier Book : Biography  |  1st ed
A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol.1   (2006-06-03)
“A Marginal Jew; Rethinking the Historical Jesus” is the first of a multi-volume set on the historical study of Jesus. Meier begins with a detailed discussion and critical analysis of historical sources for Jesus’ life including Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Lucian, the Mishna, Josephus and others. Meier dismisses all of these sources except Josephus, saying that they did not contribute directly to knowledge of the historical Jesus. Meier concludes that the four canonical Gospels were the only significant sources of information for the study of the historical Jesus (56-166).According to Meier, the problem is to distinguish the part of the biblical text that goes back to Jesus, from that which was created by oral tradition or by the redaction of the Evangelists (167). Meier proposes five primary criteria by which to make the distinction. When Meier applied the criteria to Jesus, the following picture emerged: Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great, probably near the end of his reign. Jesus’ mother was named Mary and his father was named Joseph (214). He was probably born in Nazareth, though a birth in Bethlehem could not positively be ruled out (216). There was “…an early and widely attested belief in Jesus’ Davidic descent…,” but this did not mean that Jesus literally descended from David (219). Historical research could not confirm or deny the testimony about the virgin birth, but the counter tradition that Jesus was illegitimate was of later origin (229-230). Jesus may have been literate (278), was a woodworker (281), and was a “…charismatic wonder-worker in conflict with priests.…” who were concerned about the status quo (347-348). Jesus was born in 7 or 6 B.C., his ministry lasted a little over two years and came to an end by crucifixion in April of AD 30 ( 407).In all three volumes produced so far, Meier seeks to determine, from a strictly historical perspective, what is the minimum we can reasonably know about Jesus of Nazareth. His work is well written, extremely well documented, and characterized by meticulous scholarship. “A Marginal Jew” is possibly one of the most significant works on the historical study Jesus ever written. All three volumes are extensively footnoted and indexed.
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