Saturday, November 27, 2010

Historical Jesus Pick List

Post updated here.

11 Comments:

Blogger Sam Norton said...

Excellently helpful post, thanks (if only those top recommendations weren't so expensive!!)

11/27/2010  
Anonymous Ian said...

Excellent post, thanks. I agree with most of the books here. Casey's being the main exception - you point out its shortcomings, which for me were more than marginal problems, they undermined its arguments.

I'm half-way through constructing Jesus, and it is awesome. I also have a soft spot for Crossan's Historical Jesus. He is unusual in being so very specific and internally consistent about his method. And although the method might be suspect, and therefore the conclusions also, that deserves credit for the level of explicitness alone.

11/28/2010  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Hi Ian,

Casey's book frankly surprised me; I was expecting to be underwhelmed but turns out his work is a solid achievement; certainly the best HJ treatment from a secular scholar.

Regarding his shortcomings: I can't help but wonder if they're over-compensations for his end result which could be taken as playing into the "anti-Jewish" Jesus he's so careful to distance himself from. Unlike and Sanders and Meier (and more like someone like Herzog), Casey thinks Jesus' legal disputes with Pharisees, scribes, and elders resulted in them seeking lethal punishment -- yet he bends over backwards in playing the legalist to find Jesus completely innocent of Torah violations. There's an odd tension here. On top of this, Casey devotes considerable attention to Nazi scholarship at the beginning of the book -- another over-compensation?

But aside from this business, Casey is persuasive about a lot, and he's certainly light years ahead of someone like Crossan. Crossan not only has atrocious methodology, he misuses social models in order to draw conclusions which contradict the direction they lead. You're right, he's thoroughly consistent in his wacky approach, but this isn't an accolade!

11/28/2010  
Anonymous Mark D. Letteney said...

Great list Loren! All worthwhile reads, although I share concerns about Casey's book (certainly not enough to replace it with Crossan's questionable monograph, however, as suggested by Ian). The only book which I would add to this list, and near the top, would be Brant Pitre's "Jesus, the Resurrection, and the End of the Exile."

11/30/2010  
Anonymous Mark D. Letteney said...

Looks like my computer went a bit nuts during my post, as well as I made a mistake in the title. Pitre's book is "Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile". Sorry for the confusion. Definitely a worthwhile read for anyone working in HJ research.

11/30/2010  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Thanks the recommendation of Pitre. I'd been meaning to read it, and then it fell completely off my radar somehow.

11/30/2010  
Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

Pitre? Interesting looking work, though Preterists seem to love it. Preterism, just another form of inerrancy.

12/01/2010  
Blogger David Clark said...

I just finished The Symbolic Jesus on the recommendation of it being on this list. Could you be a little more specific about what you feel are the books strengths?

I have to admit, I was completely underwhelmed. Chapter 1 seemed like filler, bizarre filler at that.

The core of the arguments/observations are in Chapters 2-4. The author does make a couple of important points which revolve around the basic idea that one's Jewish identity need not be the Jewish identity of a hypothetical common Judaism of Judea. I think that's an important point to make, but to accuse those who advocate for a certain type of Jesus as making that mistake is a straw man at best. Every historical Jesus author I have read goes to great pains to point out the great varieties of 1st century Judaism. And the best historical Jesus reconstructions settle on an apocalyptic Jesus which is not the hypothetical common Judaism of Judea.

Moreover, I don't see how any knowledgeable scholar who sees Jesus as a Jewish apocalypticist could possibly see that type of Judaism as having much, if anything, in common with rabbinic and post-rabbinic Judaism. I think Neusner agues persuasively that rabbinic Judaism completely rejected that approach to Judaism. Nor have I ever heard of apocalypticism as being a feature of early 20th century East European Jewry (a frequently used example in the book). Thus I don't see those scholars as attempting to make some sort of subconscious attempt to associate the Judaism of Jesus with modern forms of Judaism in an attempt to insulate Christianity from culpability in the Holocaust or from latter day charges of anti-Judaism.

However even more bizarrely, chapter 5 seems to negate everything that comes before. He explicitly tells the reader to look at argumentation and evidence of Jesus questers, and not at any biases they surely have. If so, what was the point of chapters 2-4 which spent much of the time identifying biases and studiously avoiding extended engagement with argument and evidence? I get that he prefers Crossan and Mack to Sanders, Meier, and Fredriksen. But, wouldn't the best course of action be to follow his own advice and engage their arguments and evidence, ignoring any biases he thinks may have? Or, after engaging the arguments and evidence show that misuse of evidence and bad arguments point towards a specific kind of bias? At least then one would have something to analyze and weigh.

4/03/2011  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

David, I think the best way to explain specifically how I feel about the book is to direct you to my lengthy review. I agree that chapter 1 is a sort of filler, and that 3 is easily the book's weakest. But chapters 2 and 4, especially the latter, are worth their weight in gold -- and I say that as an advocate of the "Jewish" Jesus Arnal comes down hard on. I think post-Holocaust biases are far more evident than you grant, but it's harder to spot them precisely because apocalyptic Judaism has so many features alien to modern Judaism. That's why these agendas are more oblique.

Of course, it is entirely possible to be right about something despite one's possible agendas, as I think advocates of the "Jewish" Jesus (Sanders, Fredriksen, Vermes) largely are. But I until I read Arnal's book, I wasn't aware of the their (possible) biases, or perhaps even my own.

4/03/2011  
Blogger David Clark said...

Now that I have read the length review I think I understand better why you consider the book important. I agreed with most of your lengthy review, yet I still feel underwhelmed by the book. I agree that it seems to be the only book attempting to identify biases on the side advocated by Meier, Allison, et al. Perhaps that alone makes the book important.

For me the most baffling part of the book is the final conclusion, that the historical Jesus is unimportant. He poses the false dichotomy that one studies historical persons because they make direct impact on the world through their action or because of their obvious celebrity. It's curious that he fails to recognize that many persons are of historical interest because of their ideas, and that's why Jesus is important. In fact, one can even posit that Jesus' ideas were instantly warped by his followers, that we only see Jesus "through a glass, darkly," and still recognize the importance of the historical person.

4/03/2011  
Blogger David Clark said...

Thanks for the recommendation on The Life of a Galilean Shaman. I really appreciate the emphasis on viewing Jesus as a foreign other, in a cultural matrix so unlike our own. So many authors acknowledge that Jesus's context would be very different from our own, but then pay it scant attention when analyzing Jesus.

5/31/2011  

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