978-0-7139-9193-2 / 9780713991932

The Changing Faces of Jesus





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About the book:

In 1926, the Protestant scholar Rudolph Bultmann wrote, "I do indeed think that we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus." Modern Biblical criticism had turned the gospels from solid rock to quicksand and suddenly the attempt to glimpse the real Jesus seemed pointless. Then Geza Vermes published Jesus the Jew, in which he presented Jesus as a charismatic Jewish teacher. In his latest book, The Changing Faces of Jesus, Vermes consolidates his thesis by trying to show how the divine Jesus was a later invention of the Christian Church. To do this he dissects the New Testament, picking out the later "divine Jesus" traditions from the earlier "Jewish teacher" traditions. There are two problems with this kind of scholarship. First the temptation is to reject as "later" the bits of the New Testament which don't fit your thesis. Secondly, all the evidence is so tenuous that as soon as one scholar comes up with a convincing thesis another argues just as convincingly for the opposite view. Vermes writes well in an accessible style and it's good to have readable religious history, but the general reader may not realise this is just one portrait of the historical Jesus among many. If this is the only book one reads on the topic the picture is distorted. However, if Vermes' portrait of Jesus is taken with all the others, a fascinating mosaic portrait of Jesus can be assembled. In that respect, Vermes' work is a valuable piece in the puzzle. --Dwight Longenecker

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