Meier (Religion/Catholic Univ. of America), a Catholic priest, offers a vigorously honest, skeptical, and scholarly attempt to discover the historical Jesus. The author poses an intriguing hypothetical: ""suppose that a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, and an agnostic...hammered out a consensus document on who Jesus of Nazareth was."" Meier tries to create such a ""consensus document"" by examining the fundamental facts of Jesus' life (while excluding those aspects of Jesus' biography that are premised on tenets of Christian belief, like the Resurrection). In this, the first volume of a two-part work, Meier carefully conducts an exegesis of the ""Roots of the Problem"" (the New Testament texts, which are not primarily historical works; the apocryphal gospels; and the fleeting references in the works of Josephus, Tacitus, and other pagan and Jewish writers that constitute the entire historical record of Jesus), and an analysis of the ""Roots of the Person"" (in which Meier brings hermeneutic tools to bear on the birth, development, and early years of Jesus). Meier points out Jesus' historical ""marginality""--his peripheral involvement in the society, history, and culture of his age--that ironically underscores the central position he has occupied in Western culture in the centuries since he died. Rife with scholarly terminology, and thus slow going for the nonspecialist--but, still, a superb examination of a fascinating historical problem.