37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
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It is not everyday that a Hollywood movie director writes a serious book on the life of Jesus. Odder still is when the filmmaker in question is responsible for a string of edgy, violent, and sexually provocative films like Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and Showgirls. Many people will have an understandable propensity to prejudge and dismiss Verhoeven's work if they are aware of his film background. But as it turns out, Verhoeven has an impressive command of the New Testament materials. He is well-versed in the theories of academia, and is as qualified as anyone to write an informed interpretation of Jesus. And he brings to the task the refreshing perspective of an observer unconcerned with the career ramifications of his proposals. He writes with an interpretive freedom that few professional scholars dare to risk. And this, in itself, makes his work unique and well worth the time to read.
Verhoeven is a rational pragmatist. He starts with the premise that Jesus was a human being who lived under the same laws of nature we are all familiar with. Accordingly, it is not within Verhoeven's world view to allow the possibility that Jesus walked on water, or raised the dead, or miraculously fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. When he encounters stories of the miraculous in the gospels, his instinct is to ask how the stories could have originated, and what historical reality might lie behind them. This line of inquiry invariably leads to speculations that cannot be proven one way or another. But in my view, Verhoeven proposes original solutions to a number of textual problems. Some of his proposals are quite viable. Others might best be described as not entirely implausible. But regardless of where they fall on the credibility spectrum, his speculations are entertaining, intriguing, and worthy of thoughtful consideration.
Among the strengths of Verhoeven's work is his willingness to embrace the Gospel of John as an important historical source. Unfortunately, John is widely rejected by Jesus scholars as a viable historical source due to its presumed late authorship, and its mythologized interpretation of Jesus as an eternal being who descended from heaven. But characterizing John as a late theological work of little historical consequence is far too simplistic. John is a two-layered work at minimum, appearing to be a primitive narrative that was subsequently expanded with overlays of theologically advanced material at the end of the first century. The fact is, if we did not have preconceived notions about the composition dates of the gospels, and simply looked at John and the synoptics side by side, we would conclude that much of the narrative material in John seems to pre-date the synoptic tradition. John often has greater historical credibility than the synoptics when the two traditions disagree.
While Verhoeven does not discuss John's texual evolution, he often taps into the Fourth Gospel to find nuggets of apparent historical fact that have been obliterated by the synoptic writers. Exhibit A in this regard is Verhoeven's embracing of John's account of the direct competition for followers between Jesus and John the Baptist. This competition, which is theologically embarrassing for the church, stands out in bold relief in John, but it has been eliminated completely in the synoptic gospels. Here John records actual history, and the synoptics give a whitewashed version of it. In my view, Verhoeven is often on solid ground in locating reliable historical references in the Gospel of John.
One weakness of Verhoeven's reconstruction is that it relies too extensively on the credibility of Mark. This is common in modern scholarship. Mark is conventionally regarded as the earliest of the four NT gospels. As such it is granted more historical credibility than it deserves. Mark was written in the late 60s, three decades after Jesus' death, during the time of the first Jewish revolt which ultimately led to the destruction of Jerusalem. The author of Mark was determined to make the story of Jesus as politically inoffensive to Roman authorities as possible.
Thus, Mark depicts Jesus as an itinerant exorcist and teacher operating in the rural backcountry of Galilee, unconcerned with politics, rulers, and urban power centers. He intentionally keeps his role as Messiah under wraps, forbidding people to declare it. Mark's Jesus never visits Tiberias, the capital of Galilee at the time of Jesus, and he never sets foot in Jerusalem until the last week of his life. Since the Markan Jesus never bothers himself with the urban centers, and instead concerns himself with the casting out of demons and the teaching of parables in rural Galilee, it is extremely difficult to interpret him as a political rebel of any sort. Mark's caricature of Jesus is carefully crafted to present no offense to the Romans.
The Gospel of John, of course, tells a completely different story--Jesus is seen in Jerusalem on numerous occasions including at least three Passovers. At the very outset of his mission he creates the famous Temple disturbance. He appears to use Galilee as a place of retreat when the political heat from his adversaries is too intense in Judea. John's Jesus never performs an exorcism, never speaks in parables, and he proclaims his Messiahship with abandon. Of the two Gospel accounts, when it comes to Jesus' travel itinerary and activities, John's has the greater sense of historical authenticity. Thus, though Mark is without question earlier than Matthew and Luke, its priority in the synoptic tradition does not ipso facto imbue it with historical validity.
As an example of Verhoeven's unjustified reliance on Mark, he accepts the Markan tradition of the Messianic Secret as valid. In the first half of Mark, Jesus refuses to proclaim himself as the Messiah, or to allow others to acknowledge him as such. Verhoeven seems to accept this as historical fact. The question whether the author of Mark had created this artifact in order to whitewash the political implications of Jesus' claim to Messiahship under Roman rule is not raised. Accordingly, the Jesus that emerges in Verhoeven's reconstruction is one who never imagined himself in a Messianic role until very late in his ministry, and only a radical emotional event caused him to change his mind. Verhoeven explores the possible circumstances that could have led to a change in Jesus' self-perception, but this is piling up speculation upon speculation. Whether there ever was a change in Jesus' perspective on this subject is questionable.
Ultimately, whether Verhoeven is right or wrong on any given issue is beside the point. The fact is, nobody knows for sure. Modern biblical scholars and historians deal exclusively in probabilities, not objective fact, since none of us were there to witness and videotape the events. The value of Verhoeven's work is that he pushes beyond the typical limits of academic probabilities, and formulates new possibilities, many of which are indeed plausible. Having read Verhoeven's book, one will never read the gospels in quite the same way again. And that, by itself, is reason enough to read it.
The Myth of the Lost Gospel
35 of 53 people found the following review helpful
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The Jesus Seminar is a group of historical Jesus scholars that comes together to discuss and debate the authenticity of the words and deeds attributed to Jesus. Paul Verhoeven, a member of the Seminar but notably not an academic, follows in the footsteps of the general skepticism of the group. They're generally disaffected and anti-establishment, sometimes anti-church, theological liberals. The Jesus that gets formulated in their discourse can be said to have been made in their own image: with the 'dogma' stripped away, Jesus is a challenging radical who lived fast and died young. And as cynically as I am describing the Jesus Seminar, it really is a good group, academically honest and full of interesting interpretations of the socio-political aspects which form the matrix of Jesus' living situation.
Verhoeven both follows and deviates from the general approach of the Seminar. His Jesus is also demystified. But he inserts some really unprofessional snippiness about miracles being impossible, and strips away a lot of the religious aspects of Jesus' ministry because they would've been influenced by later doctrine. Which is of course true, but Verhoeven rather throws the baby out with the bathwater: in his attempt to disentangle the historical Jesus from Christian doctrine later, he inadvertently also removes Jesus' Jewish religiosity. I find this unforgivable - it was odd and such an apparent gap in scholarship for Verhoeven to write about Jesus without writing about Judaism, the Kingdom of God as it would have been conceptualized in Jewish terms, or any messianic expectations. Better scholars who work with "Jesus the Jew" (Sanders, Levine, or Crossan, to begin with) emphasize that Jesus must be read within, rather than against, Judaism. To place Jesus outside of his own religion makes him an unrealistic singularity, akin to later Christian bias, and intimates either ignorance or deliberate disregard for Judaism.
Verhoeven contradicts himself in a few instances. He cannot make up his mind whether Jesus believed that the Twelve would or would not be authorities in Heaven. Even worse, he cannot decide whether Jesus intended to die or not. Many of his points are less grounded in scholarship and more in provocative "What if?"s. Several times he alters the language or structure of a saying or parable, without textual support for his alteration, just to make a point that he feels like making. At least he acknowledges when he does this, that's nice, but it's really not the way that academia works.
He also runs counter to most Jesus scholarship with his heavy dependence on the gospel of John. Generally we don't - John is so different from the Synoptics, much later (probably a good 35-40 years later than Mark, the earliest), with a questionable authorship but probably from a fringe or sectarian Christian community. By the time John is written, Christian theology is in full swing, and the text and stories can be heavily altered to reflect the beliefs of the audience.
Therefore you get things in John like the motif of Jesus escaping death until the 'proper' time, or the time that he so chooses, rather than being at the mercy of Romans. The Last Supper (the institution of the Eucharist) and the scene at the Temple therefore get moved to earlier in the gospel, to minimize the impression that Jesus got snatched up and executed in the middle of the night for causing a scene that was disruptive to both the Romans and the Temple authorities. But Verhoeven prefers John's chronology over the Synoptics - God knows why - that the Temple scene was early. I find this to be Verhoeven's greatest error. Without the Temple scene as the climax that leads directly to Jesus' arrest, there really is no catalyst to the crucifixion - therefore no coherence to it. Now why did Jesus get executed? By Verhoeven's timeline, Jesus caused trouble early in his ministry, went around talking to people, and got crucified in Rome months if not years later because authorities were just sick of him. In historical Jesus scholarship, coherence is one of the key criteria for deciding the authenticity of a saying or action, and Verhoeven's timeline of Jesus' ministry just doesn't work.
Ultimately his 'verdict' of Jesus is disingenuous. He takes away all of the religious aspects of Jesus' ministry, he takes away most of the political and social background, and he leaves us with a few sayings deemed authentic: 'Why are you weeping?' 'Whom are you looking for?' 'Peace be with you.' He intends to sound scathing when he judges that this bare-bones historical Jesus "sounds more like an automaton than a living person."
Here Verhoeven's Jesus Seminar background also shines through. When they voted upon the authenticity of the statements of Jesus, they came up with a figure of 30% undoubtedly authentic material. Most of these were very short and pithy statements - i.e. 'Peace be with you' - since they would have to be remembered over the 30-50 year timespan between Jesus' death and the composition of the gospels. However, this figure is the absolute bare minimum. Rigid adherence to these short statements would be misleading because Jesus didn't go around speaking in witty sound bites. Again, the criterion of coherence - that Jesus was a person and not an automaton - should flesh out historical Jesus studies.
So Verhoeven's unrelenting skepticism undermines his own portrait of the historical Jesus. As he carved away pretty much everything unusual and distinct about Jesus' ministry for fear of contamination by later Christian thought, he's left with a Jesus who is...nothing. I can't even characterize who Verhoeven might think that Jesus was, as he only wrote about who he was not. Skepticism and a critical eye for historicity is absolutely essential for historical Jesus studies - but a mere snarky close reading of the gospels is intellectually unsatisfying. Instead, the other component of honest scholarship is a building up and a definition of who the historical Jesus really was. Verhoeven failed to accomplish this, and as such, his book has neither direction nor any real reason to read it.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
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Question: What happens when an accomplished film maker delves into the realm of historical Jesus scholarship?
Answer: Fresh insight.
Paul Verhoeven is the only non-theologian admitted to the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars dedicated to uncovering the historical Jesus. While his book will not be recognized for the depth of research that goes into the books of more noted scholars, it's still an interesting read.
Verhoeven digs into the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist, the sin of riches, exorcisms, and much more to paint Jesus in human terms. Jesus is not an ideal for Verhoeven, but a living, breathing person, with fears and failures alongside his accomplishments. Jesus is a hunted criminal who masterfully escapes the long arm of the law...until an apostate disciple masquerading as a Zealot (not likely one of the twelve, nor even named Judas, according to Verhoeven) leads the authorities to him.
After Jesus' crucifixion, his disciples believed he returned from the dead. But if the whole of the Jesus story were wrapped up in this miracle of overcoming death, Christianity could not have survived for 2,000 years. Jesus created powerful parables and devised a new code of ethics; regardless of his false understanding that the kingdom of God was imminent, he indeed transformed the world. Verhoeven closes his book with this paradox: Jesus' mistaken view of reality led to the most significant ethical revival in the past two thousand years.
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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A truism: "Reason itself has finally led us to see the inadequacy of reason."
It is my hope to draw you into the intellectual, imaginative biblical conversation and debate with Paul Verhoeven and others in the Western World now taking place about the divinelessness of Jesus and its consequences for a secular/religious pluralistic global civilization in the making. Paul Verhoeven has neatly pulled together the esteem scholars of the Twentieth and Ninetieth Centuries to make his self assessment that Jesus needs no supernatural authority or extrahuman power to compel our attention.
We remain free to choose other ways to orient our lives. We must now live freely with the secular/religious framework for a global E Pluribus Unum. So, at the expense of being out of the loop I highly recommend the human JESUS OF NAZARETH by Paul Verhoeven for either those who need biblical training wheels or those gliding into the human Jesus-stream of humaneness in human mercy, human justice and human kindness.
Paul Verhoeven explodes out of the box on page 2 and 3 without a moment of hesitation that Jesus lived, executed by the Romans, and the rest is open to debate. The Gospels were formed between A.D 70 and 200 and no more than ten percent of the Gospels are about the historical Jesus, and we inflated that ten percent into a divine being that created a nonexistent person. And, with an emphatic regret he states, "I cannot believe in Jesus' divinity."
Verhoeven therefore sets us up for the adventure into Jesus the man in all his human proportions.
I noted that Verhoeven's book is dedicated to Robert W. Funk. I can see why. Robert Funk had been his friend and trusted mentor. Robert Funk's book HONEST TO JESUS (1996 edition) is the illuminating forerunner to JESUS OF NAZARETH (2008 edition in Dutch and 2010 edition in English). On page 306 in Funk's book he states in proposition number 8 the Herculean Call, "Give Jesus a Demotion." As Funk says and sums it up therein, "We must return Jesus from an icon to an iconoclast."
Water Wink another beloved, scholarly friend of Robert Funk presented his massive and enlightening book THE HUMAN BEING (2002 edition). On page 15 Wink writes, "... Jesus requires that Jesus must have made mistakes, have flaws in his personality, sinned, and otherwise exhibited imperfect (that is, human) behavior." He goes on, "And. the Jesus it (Gospels) has to give is not the Jesus of the two natures or the second person of the Trinity, or the one who is one being (homoousios) with the Father...." page 259
And, finally in many enormous theological books of Gordon D. Kaufman, he argues that our tradition of worshiping God and Jesus have prepared us defectively to grasp God, World, Humanity, and Jesus. In his book, IN THE BEGINNNG...CREATIVITY (2004 edition)on page ix he writes an astonishing imprint on our consciousness. "By 1975, with my book AN ESSAY ON THEOLOGICAL METHOD, I had come to the conclusion that all theoligcal ideas - including the idea of God - could best be understood as products of the human imagination, when employed by men and women seeking to orient themselves in life. This freed me to experiment with a variety of ways of thinking of God, Humanity and the World...."
These forthright constructive, emerging narrative overtures and many more similar ones indicate an astounding end of a two thousand era spun by the Council of Nicaea in 325. Today the people's radical narrative that Jesus is only a human being is the colossal alternative over the Western assumptions of the clergy's overbearing, authoritative problematic dogmas and doctrines.
These changes are not made for change sake. These authors above and many of the same caliber forsee a global, pluralistic civilization emerging. They perceive the identity crisis that is imposed on Jesus as divine by Nicaea in this emerging human, pluralistic construct. It is the task of the scholars to free Jesus and us from these ancient worldviews.
Therefore, we must be about reinventing the sacred human ethic that can control the human evil of dominance. This is incubating in the minds of our time: the idea that humanity can construct on our own, without an incomprehensible God (Isa.55:9), a deliberative and self conscious global civilized "neighborly socialism."
After exploring the biblical imaginative maze of Verhoeven commentary and his massive, collaborative stream of scholars in his footnotes I sense again his hidden forcast for the future wholeness in a human world bonding into a global civilization.
This book, JESUS OF NAZARETH, is a preparatory exercise for the once and future Jesus and the last two letters in that singular name (Jesus) expresses the human pluralism - 'us.' This tidbit initiates a new trial product. Jesus is only human.
Let me put this new Veroheven prototype and us in the form of one question and see if I pencil in how the human Jesus will survive in a global, pluralistic secular/religious culture.
MY QUESTION IS: Can we be a creative paradigm for the Kingdom of God without being divine and can a divine-less Jesus join us in this quest?
It seems to me that Verhoeven is saying that the Kingdom of God is the ultimate point of experiential reference and dogmas and doctrines about God and Jesus cannot be given a higher place in the Kingdom of God without the whole project falling into idolatry.
I have never liked the phrase "Kingdom of God." It is too aloof and too unfriendly. I cannot experience this concept. The best replacement I can give to Veroheven's notion of the Kingdom of God comes from Kathy Lee Bates, famed author of America the Beautiful, from her description of her home town. "It is a friendly little village that practices a neighborly socialism."
The human Jesus is a game changer according to Verhoeven. And,there are so many others that sit around his camp fire telling the same narrative.
Verhoeven concludes on page 188, "If anything can be considered a miracle, it is this paradoxical fact: that his (Jesus) mistaken view of reality led to the most significant ethical revival in the past two thousand years. The utopia of human behavior Jesus had in mind, however, will not be imposed on us by God, as Jesus thought. It will have to come from within ourselves: by being generous to those who are less fortunate; putting aside ill-will and embracing those who admit error; and treating our enemies as fellow human beings worthy of our respect."
The creativity of Verhoeven, as I see it, is like the shell of a nut to be opened, and see inside a new truth, that we have been worshiping the human journey of Jesus rather than doing it! It is your choice to read (crack open this shell) his scholarly creativity - and think yourself into a new way of living!
My click on amazon delivered all the books in this review and you are also a click away to be a more informed person.
George Pieczonka is the author of ANN OF GREEN PASTURES, The makings of your married American Catholic Pastor
3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
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Paul Verhoeven is a film director who, however, also has a great interest in the historical Jesus. And so he eventually wrote a book sharing his thoughts on this subject. He appeals to his profession, and tells us that he will have more dramaturgic insight into the gospels than theologians/NT scholars. Is this indeed the case? Yes and no.
He can indeed often point out where it is likely the gospel authors put their "spin" on some event or another. This makes for an interesting way to view the gospel stories. And it is also clear that Verhoeven has done his research (he copiously cites scholars, while the book isn't that large).
But he also makes some dubious choices. For example, he picks the Gospel of John over the synoptic gospels when it comes to historic accuracy, while John has the most material not found in the other gospels, and is theologically the most advanced, which means it was written latest - maybe 30 years after Mark. Another thing I didn't like was that Verhoeven flatly asserts that miracles are impossible. I don't necessarily disagree, but he doesn't justify this in any way.
Overall, the book is interesting, but makes some (in my opinion) bad choices. It's worth reading, but it isn't terribly well written.