The latest installment (the third of a promised four) of priest-professor Meier’s monumental inquiry into the historical Jesus of Nazareth (Volume II: Mentor, Message, and Miracles, 1994, etc.).
Meier (New Testament/Notre Dame) steps back a bit to look at Jesus’ ministry in the context of his relationship with his followers and with the groups that competed with him. As before, Meier seeks a historical reconstruction that excludes faith commitments. (He recalls here his fantasy of four historians, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, and an agnostic, “locked up in the bowels of the Harvard Divinity School library . . . until they have hammered out a consensus document on Jesus of Nazareth.”) And as before, he examines the historical core of the traditions about Jesus and his milieu with objectivity, precision, sound judgment, and massive learning. Here, Meier portrays a Jesus movement with an incipient, concentric structure, from the crowds around him to the disciples called and instructed by him to the Twelve whom he sent on a symbolic mission to all Israel, and a set of distinctive practices: baptism, the Lord’s Prayer, open-table fellowship with “toll collectors and sinners.” Meier's painstaking analysis of the extant traditions about the other religious groups in first-century Palestine—Pharisees and Sadducees, Essenes and Samaritans—illuminates Jesus’ teachings on matters like the resurrection of the dead and the inclusiveness of his movement, as well as his sense of his own remarkable charismatic authority. The result is a very Jewish Jesus, a figure quite different from the Hellenized Cynic or wisdom teacher of much recent historical-Jesus speculation. Although it won't make tabloid headlines the way more fanciful books in its field sometimes do, and it may prove frustrating for those looking for theological meat among the historical bones, Meier's massive enterprise is one of the most ambitious and exciting in modern Biblical scholarship.
Like its predecessors, this volume is demanding but essential reading for anyone interested in the ever-fascinating, never-ending quest for the historical Jesus.