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Jesus of Nazareth Hardcover – Apr 6 2010
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• "Verhoeven turns out to be a member of the Jesus Seminar, a collection mostly of scholars devoted to reconstructing the historical Jesus, and much of what he has to say is shrewd and learned." --Adam Gopnik, New Yorker
• "Jesus goes from being a follower of John the Baptist to inspired exorcist to peace-loving proclaimer of the Kingdom of God to a messianic rebel forced by the authorities and Romans into a radicalized corner to fight for his developing and somewhat desperate beliefs. Rather than forcing himself to throw out major portions of the story to make his sense of Jesus fit a given thesis, Verhoeven manages to pull together all the major threads and make narrative sense of it all." --Christopher Napolitano, Playboy
• "Verhoeven has written an excellent book." --Paul Schrader, Film Comment
About the Author
Acclaimed as the director of such films as Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers, PAUL VERHOEVEN was born in 1938 in the Netherlands, where he took a dual degree in math and physics. After moving to Los Angeles in 1985 to pursue his film career, Verhoeven became the only non-theologian admitted into the Jesus Seminar, a group of seventy-seven eminent scholars in theology, philosophy, linguistics, and biblical history. Their activities are devoted to determining more precisely the words and actions of the historical Jesus. Verhoeven’s Jesus of Nazareth, the result of his research, was published in 2010.
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Verhoven's book fleshes out that point of view. The Jesus that he describes is a believable passionate and gifted healer particularly exorcisms. According to this book Jesus feels that the end times are immanent and that instead of being executed he felt that God would intercede. Since Verhoven dismisses the Resurrection as fiction that should be the end of the story.
But it wasn't. Jesus's life and mission are interpreted by Paul to give the Jesus that is most widely accepted. Who is right? Both Jesus and Paul expected that the end times were immanent (in their lifetimes) but that wasn't the case.
When the end times didn't come why were succeeding generations willing to accept the divinity of Jesus?
My own take away is that Jesus made an indelible impression on his followers (including Paul via a vision) that he survived death in some fashion and given their ideas about God and humankind they assumed he was divine.
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
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
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