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The Changing Faces of Jesus


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Geza Vermes was brought up in a Christian family, ordained a Catholic priest, and subsequently reverted to his Jewish roots. His work on the historical figure of Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls led to his appointment as Professor of Jewish Studies atOxford, where he is now Professor Emeritus. He is the author of THE COMPLETE DEAD SEA SCROLLS IN ENGLISH, which has sold in the region of half a million copies in Penguin to date.


This academic yet accessible book tackles the question of Jesus' identity by attempting to strip away theological and historical interpretations in order to reach the original, Jewish, human Jesus. Vermes, professor emeritus of Jewish studies at Oxford, begins with the Gospel of John, which he asserts was the first to ascribe divine status to Jesus, and proceeds through the Pauline letters, the Book of Acts and the Synoptic Gospels. Along the way, he dismantles any statements about Jesus' life that he feels to be inaccurate or questionable. Vermes argues instead that if one returns to the actual and indisputable words of Jesus as stated by the Synoptic Gospels, and if one also takes into account the historical and Jewish religious tenor of the time, Jesus is revealed as a "prophet-like holy man, mighty in deed and word, a charismatic healer and exorcist." Vermes's Jesus is a teacher concerned with the Kingdom of God on earth, in the tradition of other Jewish holy men. The book sometimes engages in speculative reasoning: for example, a) Luke was an associate of Paul, b) Paul's theology is missing from Acts, c) "one would have expected an associate of Paul to do better than that," so d) Luke must not have written Acts. For the most part, however, Vermes ably poses the critical questions that have characterized the "quest for the historical Jesus," adding a few of his own. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Vermes (emeritus, Jewish studies, Oxford), one of the world's great Jewish scholars on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the historical Jesus indicates that as a historian, he considers "Jesus, the primitive church and the New Testament as part and parcel of first-century Judaism." Here he sets out to illuminate Jesus' teachings as they were understood in their original Aramaic. Using these assumptions and information, Vermes takes the fascinating and unusual approach of looking for Jesus in the Gospel of John. (Most writers on the historical Jesus begin with the Synoptics; i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke). He then moves from what he thinks are less authentic portraits of Jesus to those he considers more authentic: the Gospel of John presents Jesus as a "stranger from heaven;" Paul's Jesus is the Son of God and universal Redeemer; Acts presents Jesus as Prophet, Lord, and Christ; and in the Synoptics he is a charismatic healer, teacher, and eschatological enthusiast. Finally, Vermes looks for the real Jesus beneath the Gospels and deals with what he finds at the "dawn of the third millennium." Vermes's vast knowledge of first century Judaism ensures that this work will become one of the most important works in historical Jesus studies, and his readable style makes it useful for both public and academic library patrons. Highly recommended. David Bourquin, California State Univ., San Bernardino Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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