In Quest of Jesus

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Topics: Theology & Religious Education. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

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  1. Review

    Most everyone who has heard the name Jesus holds some opinion and understanding of him and therefore brings to this book a "prior perspective" on the question "Who was/is Jesus?" Some years ago, the historian Jaroslav Pelikan suggested that in the history of western culture Jesus has been viewed eighteen different ways. In his introduction, the author briefly reviews four angles from which people have understood Jesus and characterized him, "the Dying Savior," "the Example," "the Monk," and "the Troublemaker." Theologian John Douglas Hall recently suggested there are four prominent images of Jesus at work in North American culture today. They are "the "Divine Jesus," " the Conquering Jesus," "the Judging Jesus," and "the Accepting Jesus."

    Tatum suggests that since people tend to make Jesus over into their own image, our answer to the question of who Jesus was/is, will reveal as much about us as it will about Jesus. He states that "To write or to speak about Jesus inescapably involves laying bare our own knowledge and commitments as well as the understandings and values of our generation." It is his intention, in a book in print for fifteen years and republished last year in a revised and enlarged edition, to provide a guide for a more disciplined, personal quest for an answer to the question, "Who was/is Jesus?" The author, Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Greensboro College in North Carolina, hopes that his readers will benefit in two ways from their quest. They will find their understanding of Jesus broadened and deepened and they will "develop a conceptual framework for evaluating the many cultural and scholarly expressions of the Jesus story."

    In Part One, the author sets forth the literary sources for the life and ministry of Jesus, which are the foundation on which any understanding of Jesus depends. He then outlines how the four canonical gospels originated, based on two hundred years of scholarship. He then surveys the particular methods of interpretation used prior to the nineteenth century and through the late twentieth century to understand the gospels. This leads to a description of each of the canonical Gospel portrayals of Jesus and a brief introduction to several extra-canonical writings such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas and the Sayings Q Gospel.

    Part Two is devoted to a "Historical Reconstruction of the Life and Ministry of Jesus", which deals with the question, "What is the relationship between the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels and Jesus as he actually lived and died?" Tatum traces the historical search for answers to this question from the "Pre-Quest" prior to 1778 through successive "quests" to the "Third Quest" since 1985. He illustrates these "quests" which resulted in "historical portrayals" of Jesus by reviewing representative writings characteristic of each of the periods. He classifies the portrayals according to three types: ( 1) characteristic of the early quests was a biographical portrayal; (2) a non-biographical portrayal was characteristic of the "new quest" (1953-1985) and (3) a neobiographical portrayal is characteristic of the third and continuing quest.

    Part Three is devoted to "Continuing Issues in the Life and Ministry of Jesus." Using insights gained from the previous parts of his study, Tatum explores such issues as Resurrection and Virgin Birth, Titles of Honor, Kingdom Preaching (Eschatology), Torah Teaching (Ethics), Parables, Miracles and Arrest, Trial and Crucifixion. In each of the chapters, he presents a careful analysis of relevant biblical material and introduces the reader to an illuminating variety of interpretations of each issue.

    For anyone starting on the quest of the historical Jesus, this book offers a popular-level introduction to the foundations of the scholarly discussions which have become public events such as the recent Peter Jennings TV special entitled In Search of Jesus.

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