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The Historical Jesus in Context [Paperback]

Amy-Jill Levine , Dale C. Allison , John Dominic Crossan

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Book Description

Nov. 5 2006 Princeton Readings in Religions

The Historical Jesus in Context is a landmark collection that places the gospel narratives in their full literary, social, and archaeological context. More than twenty-five internationally recognized experts offer new translations and descriptions of a broad range of texts that shed new light on the Jesus of history, including pagan prayers and private inscriptions, miracle tales and martyrdoms, parables and fables, divorce decrees and imperial propaganda.

The translated materials--from Christian, Coptic, and Jewish as well as Greek, Roman, and Egyptian texts--extend beyond single phrases to encompass the full context, thus allowing readers to locate Jesus in a broader cultural setting than is usually made available. This book demonstrates that only by knowing the world in which Jesus lived and taught can we fully understand him, his message, and the spread of the Gospel.

Gathering in one place material that was previously available only in disparate sources, this formidable book provides innovative insight into matters no less grand than first-century Jewish and Gentile life, the composition of the Gospels, and Jesus himself.

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The Historical Jesus in Context + Jewish Annotated New Testament + The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus
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"The essays illuminate the social, religious, and cultural background of Jesus and the Gospels in striking ways. The book has gathered together the work of leading scholars without regard for any party line."--Paul Cavill, Church Times

"A very useful introduction to the historical background of Jesus and the Gospels...A valuable resource for historical Jesus studies."--Michael Bird, Journal for the Study of the New Testament

"It is a major research tool and an education in its own right. Highly recommended."--Robert M. Price, Religious Studies Review

"In general, this is a volume especially useful as a resource for teaching about Jesus in his historical context."--Bruce Longenecker, Theological Book Review

"This collection of essays is a very useful introduction to the historical background of Jesus and the Gospels. The translation of a number of primary texts in one volume makes it a valuable resource for historical Jesus studies."--Michael Bird, Journal for the Study of the New Testament

"The heart of the matter is in the ancient texts themselves--let the reader understand! For this reason, the student of Christian origins and/or the historical Jesus will find this book eminently worthwhile. There is, as far as I know, no other book on the market that brings the primary textual backgrounds on Jesus together in one place."--Nicholas Perrin, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"An excellent addition to any library--whether scholarly, pastoral, or devotional--this is an illuminating volume with easy to follow, concise essays that deal with a variety of subjects or aspects of the world in which Jesus lived and the gospels written. Excellent for scholars, students, those charge with pastoral responsibilities or the interested reading public, The Historical Jesus in Context provides background and insights that illumine the gospel record in delightfully unexpected ways."--Stephen Morris, European Legacy

From the Inside Flap

"An impressive volume. Levine, Allison, and Crossan have assembled a group of experts who, by generously citing and carefully analyzing primary sources, contextualize Jesus in the Jewish and wider Greco-Roman world of his time. The essays cast a wide net and collect a rich assortment of information for students of the historical Jesus and the Gospels."--James C. Vanderkam, University of Notre Dame, author of The Dead Sea Scrolls

"Textbooks are increasingly difficult to find for an introductory class on Jesus of Nazareth. The Historical Jesus in Context provides an anthology of important primary texts that are set in context so that they illuminate what Jesus and his world was like. The selections are judicious, the authors prominent, and the potential for students illuminating."--Scot McKnight, author of The Jesus Creed

"This is a source book to help all obtain their own conclusions, by emphasizing that Jesus' own message must be grounded in the original historical context. The task is not only imperative but also demanded morally. No other book does this so well. It is amazingly well done and well written."--James Charlesworth, Princeton Theological Seminary

"This is a great collection and would certainly be of interest to scholars and laypersons interested in the quest for the historical Jesus. The selection of scholars is top notch, and the notes and commentary for each source are strong."--Kathleen Corley, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
66 of 74 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent compilation of sources Jan. 5 2007
By Historical Jesus nut - Published on
It should first be noted that this book is not "by Amy-Jill Levine." It is introduced by her and jointly edited by Levine, Allison, and Crossan. The 28 contributions that follow combine a valuable assembly of primary sources and comments. The book is well worth buying for the sources, but the comments are not only very uneven in quality but also at times misleading.

For example, Talbert's "Miraculous Conceptions and Births in Mediterranean Antiquity" is a masterpiece of conciseness and logical arrangement.

Witherington's "Isaiah 53:1-12 (Septuagint)" contains parallel translations of the Hebrew Version and LXX and points out some significant differences between the two. He should have stopped there. Somehow the use of "good news" supports Witherington's belief that Jesus was influenced by the Servant Songs. Likewise, a quotation from Isaiah 61:1-2 (which is from Third Isaiah while the songs come from Second Isaiah). Witherington also refers to "another Servant Song found in Isaiah 43:3-4." Has he just found a fifth song which everyone else has missed? (Universally recognized are the four songs in 42:1-4 [or 1-6], 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12.) I am completely unable to follow his logic, "The historical likelihood that Jesus spoke of shedding his blood in the place of many seems high, not least because Maccabean martyrs had conceptualized their roles like this before Jesus." The contemporary availability of a concept makes it likely that one uses it? Witherington chooses to believe "these later Christian texts are developing further a trend that Jesus himself set in motion." It is just as easy to believe that the later Christian texts themselves set this trend in motion. The second part of Witherington's contribution is long on assertion and weak attempts at proofs but woefully short on proving anything to a reader not already convinced of what he asserts.

The articles which concentrate on rabbinic literature may well illustrate the authors' expertise in that area, but the applications to Jesus are sometimes appaling. One example: Jonathan Klawans' "Moral and Ritual Purity" provides several relevant citations from this literature, but his interpretation of Mark 7:15a is incomprehensible to me. "Many also recognize that the 'not . . . but . . .' formulation, when properly understood, implies not a rejection of what follows the 'not' but the prioritization of what follows the 'but' (cf. Mark 2:17) I looked repeatedly at both Mark 2:17 and Mark 7:15a in the Greek and can make no sense of what he is saying. "Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick" is going to need more than his assertion to turn it into "Those who are well have some need of a physician, but those who are sick have a lot more." Where's the evidence? Likewise, "There is nothing outside the man going into him which can defile him, but the things which come out of the man are the things which defile the man" cannot--without a great deal more evidence--be twisted into "The things going into a man defile him a little, but the things coming out of a man defile him a lot." Yet when Klawans moves away from Jesus to a discussion of purity in the Old Testament, the Rabbinic literature, and Qumran, he provides many helpful insights.

On the other hand, Alan J. Avery-Peck's "The Galilean Charismatic and Rabbinic Piety: The Holy Man in the Talmudic Literature" is a model of explanation of the texts involved without bringing in unwarranted baggage. Would that all contributors emulated him instead of acting as advocates for extraneous positions.

When using this volume, the reader is strongly advised to keep the primary sources primary and the comments secondary. For instance, Joseph L. Trafton tells us that "the psalmist [author of the Psalms of Solomon] does not see the Messiah as a military figure." Yet I read in 17:21-24, "Look, O Lord, and raise up for them their king the son of David . . . That he might humble the rulers of lawlessness, That he might purify Jerusalem from the nations that trample her to destruction, To cast out the lawless from your inheritance, To shatter the pride of the sinners like a potter's vessel, To shatter their whole essence with a rod of iron." Does Trafton see these activities as diplomacy?

My recommendation is to buy the book by all means, use it for its excellent set of primary sources, and ignore the few introductions and comments which are more apologetics than exegesis.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Anthology is an Anthology June 27 2009
By Old Timer - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is not a stand-alone book. It is avowedly an anthology of new translations of two dozen or so non-canonical texts or textual clusters intended to place the hisotircal Jesus of the Gospel narratives in "their full literary, social, and archaeological contexts." Because of the editorially limited scope, the anthology necessarily doesn't include the whole documentary story.
I don't see anything that makes this book more integrated than an anthology of selected sources. Prof. Levine's forty-page introduction to the search for the historical Jesus provides a general historical framework. But each documentary chapter seems to stand on it own. What some readers will want is a parallel textbook tying the anthologized documents to framework.
That said, the volume abounds in latent insights to the writings to be discovered and integrated by a diligent reader who brings his own framework to the book.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Historical Jesus in Context Dec 16 2008
By Hugo A. Lorenz - Published on
The Historical Jesus in Context begins with brilliant Introduction by Amy-Jill Levine, in which she catalogs and categorizes the Old, New and No Quests of the Historical Jesus and their respective fates; and then introduces the chapters to follow. Those chapters, each by a leading scholar, review all that is presently known, possibly knowable or plausible about the knowledge and culture that was extant in Palestine at the time of Jesus.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing insights May 24 2011
By Grateful shopper - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a Christian and adult Christian education teacher at my church, I am always interested in learning more about the language, setting and culture of the times the events in the Bible took place. I believe that understanding how the first hearers would have reacted and understood what was going on makes it at least as, if not more, relevant to understanding it in today's culture. This book sheds light on this kind of understanding. Dr Levine, as an orthodox Jewess, brings new meaning to the stories of the 1st century AD (or CE if you want to be politically correct). Sometimes the fact that Jesus was a Jew gets lost in modern thinking. This brings it back in a straightforward, easy to read way, that gives enlightenment to those who would seek a deeper understanding of Jesus in their lives.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Resource Sept. 19 2013
By Barbie Gorelick Callanan - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is excellent for anyone who is interested in the historical life of Jesus. I found it very informative and enlightening.

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