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A Marginal Jew: Volume 1 [Hardcover]

John P. Meier
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 1 1991 Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (Book 1)
The book on Jesus for the last decade of the 20th century, offering a groundbreaking new look at the central figure of Western civilization. This book grapples with the greatest puzzle of modern religious scholarship: Who was Jesus?

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Product Description

From Library Journal

This study inaugurates a new series that seeks to examine various topics (e.g., anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy, theology) as they relate to the Bible. The series is intended for the general reader as well as for scholars. Here, Meier (New Testament studies, Catholic Univ. of America) adopts a two-tier approach: he delineates up-to-date research on the Jesus of history with discussions geared toward well-read general readers, and in his extensive notes he discusses technical matters of interest to doctoral students and scholars. Meier explains issues of method, definitions and sources, and then turns to the birth, years of development, and cultural background of Jesus. He distinguishes between "what I know about Jesus by research and what I hold by faith." His study is a necessary purchase for academic libraries.
- Cynthia Widmer, Downingtown, Pa.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

Meier (Religion/Catholic Univ. of America), a Catholic priest, offers a vigorously honest, skeptical, and scholarly attempt to discover the historical Jesus. The author poses an intriguing hypothetical: ``suppose that a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, and an agnostic...hammered out a consensus document on who Jesus of Nazareth was.'' Meier tries to create such a ``consensus document'' by examining the fundamental facts of Jesus' life (while excluding those aspects of Jesus' biography that are premised on tenets of Christian belief, like the Resurrection). In this, the first volume of a two-part work, Meier carefully conducts an exegesis of the ``Roots of the Problem'' (the New Testament texts, which are not primarily historical works; the apocryphal gospels; and the fleeting references in the works of Josephus, Tacitus, and other pagan and Jewish writers that constitute the entire historical record of Jesus), and an analysis of the ``Roots of the Person'' (in which Meier brings hermeneutic tools to bear on the birth, development, and early years of Jesus). Meier points out Jesus' historical ``marginality''--his peripheral involvement in the society, history, and culture of his age--that ironically underscores the central position he has occupied in Western culture in the centuries since he died. Rife with scholarly terminology, and thus slow going for the nonspecialist--but, still, a superb examination of a fascinating historical problem. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good scholarship, dry delivery April 17 2004
By A Customer
John Meier's 1st book in a series of what is currently at three volumes is a good scholarly look at the Historical roots of Jesus. The scholarship in the book is impeccable. Meier gives an excellent survey and sketch of scholarship on each of the issue he addresses and then ends each point with his personal conclusions. The annotated footnotes problem make up at least a third of the length of the book. The biggest problem I had with this book is the overall delievery of the information, it reads like an encyclopedia. I would say easily that more than half of the book, particularly the first half, drones on and on about topics that really do nothing to advance the subject at hand. It is on this fact that I must first recommend Wright or Witherington over Meier, but at no offense to the scholarship. I'm a history/theology major and I have to read material presented like this all the time, though I can't lay that on a more general reader. This aside though, there are some gems in the book. The introduction and overall set up of the series found in chapter one are very good. His chapter on Josephus is good as well. For me the most interesting chapter in the book is chapter nine that looks at the languages, education and society that Jesus grew up and lived in; an often ignored piece in the history of Jesus. This book is great if one is seriously interested in deep scholarship on Jesus, Meier notes in his introduction that he's really writing it for the college graduate. But unfortunately this is also a huge fault of the book as far as reaching the general reader to whom I recommend Wright or Witherington first.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Fascinating Truth Nov. 13 2003
John Meier's "A Marginal Jew" is the leading study of the historical Jesus of our time. Notwithstanding three sizeable volumes the work is still incomplete, but this reputation is clearly well-deserved. The first volume only deals with the basic contours of his life, but it is the most intelligent discussion of these questions available. Meier, a Catholic priest, reminds us that the historical Jesus is not the real Jesus. For a start we have a radical shortage of information of information about all but a few people in classical times, and Jesus is not one of those lucky few. What he has presented is what a spectrum of theologians and historians would conclude about Jesus if they were forced to provide a basic consensus.
So Meier starts with the sources for Jesus' life, which basically consists of the Gospels. There is a long, thorough discussion of the reference to Jesus in Josephus, from which Meier agrees with most scholars is mostly genuine, with several obvious Christian interpolations. He then discusses other sources, which reveal a very meagre crop. There is Tacitus' reference to Christians, nothing of value in the Talmud, as well as a thorough deflation of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas. Thomas consists of sayings, many of which resemble those in the Gospels. But Thomas' sayings are simpler, and many have concluded that they are more primitive and therefore earlier than the canonical gospels. Meier disagrees. He points that one reason Thomas' order of sayings does not resemble the synoptic gospels is because many of them were remembered orally, not because they proceeded them.
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Meier has attempted to add context to the early life of Jesus through information derived from the Gospels, the writings of Josephus and Tacitus, early Christian leaders, and surviving Jewish texts. He also attempts to establish approximate dates for Jesus' birth, mission, and death. A substantial amount of background information regarding peasant life in Galilee, Judea, Greece, and Rome allows the author draw general conclusions regarding the topics of virgin birth, illegitimate birth, place of birth, family members, occupation, perspective, and personality.
Although the reading is at times fascinating, Meier ultimately drowns the reader in a sea of detail. Most of these details do not progress Meier's argument regarding the specific topic being addressed. In speaking of detail, I am not even including the footnotes, which comprise between 30% and 40% of the book. However, Meier is excellent in distinguishing the various perspectives of the Gospel writers and the messages they attempt to deliver.
Having said this, I look forward to reading Volume 2 of the series. With the Gospels focused primarily on the last three years of Jesus' life, Meier has much more biblical information to analyze, compare, and contemplate. My favorite "historical Jesus" book remains "Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography" by Bruce Chilton. Chilton is willing to draw more daring and insightful conclusions than Meier, who seems content with a more cautious, traditional approach (maybe as a result of his Catholic background and faith).
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When this volume was first written it was intended to be the first of three under the rubric "A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus". Eleven years on, and two more volumes later, we find that John Meier hasn't finished yet and there is now to be a fourth volume.
In this volume it all started out so professionally. Meier introduced us to his "unpapal conclave", a metaphorical, rather than actual, group consisting of a Jew, a Catholic, a Protestant and an Agnostic who, for the purposes of Meier's literary fiction, were going to try and come to some consensus on what we could say with historical-critical reasonability about Jesus. I repeat at this point for those who have not understood this: there is no real group; it is Meier's fiction that his study would be what these, in theory, would be able to agree upon about the historical Jesus if they were to meet and discuss such matters in a historical context.
This book then splits into two parts, one detailing the background questions necessary to a discussion of the historical Jesus (sources and methods and the like) and the other detailing Jesus' own boyhood, socio-political background and familial status. Also included here is a chronology of Jesus' life. Meier's work here is extremely thorough. One intention of the book is to have copious endnotes which, it is suggested, are for serious scholars and doctoral students but which need not necessarily burden the general reader. Thus, the book can, in theory, be read on two levels. One wonders, though, who Meier is kidding. When one sees a reference to a note who is going to ignore it? Surely simple curiousity would make the reader go looking for the note?
But back to Meier's "unpapal conclave".
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb introduction to the series!
This study inaugurates a new series that seeks to examine various topics (e.g., anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy, theology) as they relate to the Bible. Read more
Published on July 16 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb introduction to the series
This book is a must read for anyone who is interested in the quest for the historical Jesus. This book is an introduction to Meier's series: A Marginal Jew. Read more
Published on March 28 2002 by J. Owens
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, if you survive the Methodology
He begins what was at the time a 2 volume book (now up to 4) with a lot on Methodology, which actually helps to describe the work of the Jesus Seminar and modern christological and... Read more
Published on Feb. 9 2002 by Richard G. Wilkes
5.0 out of 5 stars Meier and THE MARGINAL JEW
John P. Meier, Catholic, theologian, writes a meticulous trilogy on the Historical Jesus in A MARGINAL JEW, Volume I is 432 pages, Volume II is 1118 pages and Vol. Read more
Published on Feb. 8 2002 by Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Historical Jesus Book Yet
I have read many books on the historical Jesus but this is by far the best historical Jesus book yet. It is very well written and contains solid scholarship. Read more
Published on June 5 2001 by "larz1"
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
This book maintains solid research and well thought out arguements, while being fun reading. Of all the modern books on the historical Jesus, this is both the most scholarly and... Read more
Published on April 27 2001 by IsleofGough
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpieces of scholarship
This book is a pleasure to read. Meier is such an extraodinary guide to what we know about (or figure out about) the historical Jesus. So when do we get volume III?
Published on Nov. 28 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, intellectually honest, well written and complete
From the beginning to the end, this book will enthrall those who are attempting to understand Jesus and his times. I could not put the book down until I completed it. Read more
Published on Oct. 16 1999 by Joseph
5.0 out of 5 stars What secular history says about this 1st century jew.
This is an objective attempt to develop what secular history has to say about Jesus, the man who lived at the start of the first century. Read more
Published on Aug. 1 1998 by PeterJCrosa@worldnet.att.net
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