This work takes up two related questions with regard to Jesus: his intention and his relationship to his contemporaries in Judaism. These questions immediately lead to two others: the reason for his death (did his intention involve an opposition to Judaism which led to death?) and the motivating force behind the rise of Christianity (did the split between the Christian movThis work takes up two related questions with regard to Jesus: his intention and his relationship to his contemporaries in Judaism. These questions immediately lead to two others: the reason for his death (did his intention involve an opposition to Judaism which led to death?) and the motivating force behind the rise of Christianity (did the split between the Christian movement and Judaism originate in opposition during Jesus' lifetime?)....
|Title||:||Jesus and Judaism|
|Number of Pages||:||444 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
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Jesus and Judaism Reviews
In this volume from 1985, E.P. Sanders attempts to elucidate, from an historical perspective, the position of Jesus Christ within first century Judaism, and to account for his execution and the subsequent divergence of the early Christian church from the Jewish tradition from which they sprang. The picture he paints is that Jesus neither strongly identified with any of the major sects thriving at that time, nor, in principle, stood in stark opposition to any of them (and particularly the Pharisees). He is portrayed as a disciple of John the Baptist who, nonetheless, split from him on a number of key issues without, however, falling into direct conflict with, or necessarily contradicting, John. Sanders views Jesus as simply one in a series of eschatological prophets, and one who was unique only in that his followers established a church which has survived (albeit in a highly sectarian fashion) down to the present day.Of particular interest in this regard is the question of why Jesus was enough of a threat to the status quo to warrant execution, while his followers were persecuted only much later. Sanders takes great pains to separate likely evidence from that which is purely conjectural, and concludes that Jesus' so-called "cleansing" action in the temple coupled with the extent of his following marked him as a target by the authorities who, nonetheless, did not consider his following large enough to foment a full-blown insurrection. In short, the authorities hoped that by removing the head, the body would wither. The question then becomes, why did the body live on?Sanders asserts that both Jesus and his followers adhered to Mosaic Law and did not consciously attempt to overhaul Judaism, but, rather intended to "fine tune" it according the widely-accepted eschatological beliefs of the day. Thus, the Law would not be discarded wholesale, only those portions of it which were incompatible with the perceived coming age. Likewise, additions and amendments, also compatible with the coming "kingdom" would also be necessitated. As to the admission of Gentiles, Sanders proposes that Jesus -- and the early church -- expected them to live according to the covenant which characterized Judaism, but without the necessity to fulfill those obligation which pertained to membership within the pre-existing covenantal community.Announcing such changes was no more than any eschatological prophet of the day would do, since it largely reiterated Old Testament prophecies. Sanders leaves open such questions as whether or not Jesus offended his contemporaries by explicitly identifying as the "king" of the coming age, or under the rather ambiguous term "Son of man." If so, Jesus would have placed his authority above that of Moses, which may have been a point of irritation, but one not worthy of death. It was, rather, the threat to the temple accompanied by his physical actions within it which, it was feared, would solidify his followers' perception that the beginning of the end was near in the person of Jesus. However, it was precisely because he did not break definitively from Jewish tradition that his followers remained unmolested following his death. And it was during this early church period that, due to conflicts between the covenantal Jews and the newly-admitted Gentiles, Paul and other early church leaders were forced to interpret, and in some cases seemingly contradict, Jesus' intent. Naturally enough, as the movement gained momentum, persecution followed suit.On the whole, this was an interesting, although a challenging, read. This is not light material, and Sanders' writing style does little to lighten the load. Apart from wondering how subsequent scholarship has responded to his assertions in the intervening 30-plus years, the two main criticism I have to make deal not with content, but with form. First of all, Sanders, in common with many scholarly writers, has a tendency to reiterate his points to death. In so doing, he actually creates the necessity for doing so, because this amounts to heavily padding what is already an extremely dense and difficult read, making it that much more challenging to hold the complete argument in mind as it unfolds. This tendency is enormously exacerbated by the huge volume of endnotes which, relegated to the back of the book, require the reader to flip back and forth almost continually, which further impedes the flow of the author's argument. Finally, the staggering number of biblical references which are embedded within both the primary text and the endnotes require the reader to crack open a (printed or online) Bible ceaselessly. The result of all of this is that one page of Sanders' book takes four or five times as long to read as an average page of an average book on almost any other subject. I suppose some of this comes with the territory. But I also suppose that the author could have saved his readers quite a bit of agony by excising the bulk of the padding, condensing and incorporating the more substantive endnotes into the body of the text, and summarizing the subjects of the biblical references when listing them (a practice which he does, mercifully, on occasion). In short, a rewarding read, if not an easy one.
It's pretty easy for works on the historical Jesus to start to run together after awhile, but what makes this especially interesting is the starting point: Jesus' disturbance of the Temple. It seems that recently most scholars in this vein start at Jesus' crucifixion and build out without a great deal of attention to Gospel texts themselves -- thus Jesus angered the Romans, thus he led a messianic movement, thus the Jewish authorities need not have been particularly involved at all, etc. By starting with the disturbance of the Temple Sanders is able to start with questions that particularly relate to Jesus' relationship to Judaism: what did he think of the Temple? What did he think of Torah? What did he think of his miracles? Focusing on this range of questions instead of simply "Why was Jesus killed, and therefore what kind of person would the Romans kill?" (I'm looking at you, Reza Aslan), Sanders is able to bring more information from our sources to bear on the question of the historical Jesus and explore Jesus' relationship to a range of Jewish institutions of his day.
I chose this book to read as one of several options from more liberal scholars on the historical Jesus as this work was named by some summaries as one of the catalysts for the third quest for the historical Jesus. Several very helpful insights within and an important read, however I found his dismissal of numerous sayings as weak without adequate discussion of criteria of authenticity. Glad to have read this book though.
Very much enjoyed that, after Sanders describes his own liberal and social-gospel church background, he says, "I am not bold enough... to suppose that Jesus came to establish it, or that the died for the sake of its principles." (334)Sanders is clear that he works as a historian, not as a theologian. The book should be read accordingly.
Sanders was actually surprisingly fun to read, and his critiques of protestant scholarship were helpful in a few key places.