Cover image for Jesus Christ : the Jesus of history, the Christ of faith
Jesus Christ : the Jesus of history, the Christ of faith
Porter, J. R. (Joshua Roy), 1921-2006.
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
240 pages : color illustrations, color maps ; 29 cm
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BT198 .P675 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

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Illuminating the life of Jesus--his historical context, his religious teachings, and the changing perceptions of him over the centuries--this lavishly illustrated volume offers one of the most comprehensive and authoritative accounts available of this great and charismatic man.
Featuring some 180 illustrations (including 20 full-color maps) and numerous boxed and sidebar features that shed light on interesting facets of the story, Jesus Christ paints a vivid portrait of Christ's life from the Nativity to the Ascension. Drawing on the Gospels and other evidence, J. R. Porter disentangles many of the mysteries and confusions surrounding the life of the historical Jesus--such as the role of women in his career and the political issues surrounding his trial--and paints a detailed background portrait of all aspects of society in first-century Palestine, from the fishing communities of Lake Galilee to life under Roman rule. Porter also explores the teachings of Christ, looking at his use of parable, his view of Hebrew Scriptures and his attitude toward the law, and his thinking about the Kingdom of God. And the book assesses the many interpretations of Christ down through the ages, from his immediate impact on the early Church, to the changing image of Jesus in art and illustration, to his perceived role as apocalyptic preacher, revolutionary, mystic, and prophet.
A marvelous gift at Easter time or for a child's confirmation, this attractive, informative volume gives us an inspiring portrait of one of the most complex figures in world history.

Author Notes

J. R. Porter is Professor Emeritus of Theology at the University of Exeter, England and former Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In The Quest for the Historical Jesus, Albert Schweitzer tried to end scholarly digging for the supposed facts about Jesus of Nazareth. That was in 1906 and seemed effective for several decades. But especially with the advent of the Jesus Seminar and its balloting on the probable authenticity of the sayings of Jesus, the quest has been the biggest show of the 1990s for Christian scholars ranging from distinguished professors to Sunday school students. English professor emeritus Porter provides a marvelously involving reference on the quest, its procedures and rationales, and what its participants, old and new, have found. It is an ace browsing book, an oversize volume bedecked with color reproductions of Byzantine, medieval, and Renaissance Christian artwork as well as modern photographs of historic sites and artifacts, including such astonishing things as the nail-impaled heel of a crucified man's remains. The text is divided into five sections--"The Setting," "The Life," "The Teachings," "Interpretations," and "Jesus in Art" --and subdivided into two-page spreads on particular topics. Sidebars on yet more particular information abound, and picture captions are about the subjects depicted rather than about the art. Cross-referencing is virtually constant, so one can begin reading anywhere and be drawn in deeper and deeper. An absolutely first-class production. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

Porter, Professor Emeritus of Theology at Exeter University, uses a combination of art, photography, visually interesting page layout and well-written narrative to tell the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Potter's account unfolds in traditional order. The author begins with a discussion of the geographical, religious, political and social background and then proceeds to reconstruct Jesus' life following the gospel stories of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Porter's book is filled with the type of details that will fascinate many people interested in the everyday life of Jesus. The author, for example, notes that the term carpenter, which was applied to Jesus, did not necessarily imply that he was poor. At the time, a carpenter usually owned considerable property, including an expensive set of tools. In "Interpretations," Porter explores the diverse ways in which Jesus' life has been interpreted. These include short discussions of how Jesus saw his own ministry, the various ways in which the early Christians interpreted Jesus' life and teachings and some valuable discussions of such matters as "Jesus and Feminism" and "Jesus and Islam." The last section of the book, "Jesus in Art," written by Jennifer Stokes, a well-known English writer on art, discusses the various ways in which artists have represented events in Christ's life. The average educated reader, who knows little about current New Testament research, will find the book to be an insightful, thought-provoking introduction to a complex subject. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Porter (theology, emeritus, Univ. of Exeter) gives us an exquisite book that does two things very well. First, it summarizes in clear, interesting, nontechnical writing many of the results of scholarly research on the historical Jesus. Second, it offers a feast for the eyes and mind through lavish reproductions of art work, primarily paintings, illustrating events from Jesus' life. Porter begins with what he calls "The Setting," covering the geographical, political, religious, economic, and societal background of Palestine in the first century. In the second chapter, "The Life," he reviews the main events of Jesus' life, beginning with the discussion of the sources, including the Gospels. Chapter 3, "The Teachings," covers how Jesus taught (parables and sayings) and what his ethics were, including material on the Kingdom of God. In "Interpretations," Porter deals with the way Jesus saw himself and how he has been interpreted through the centuries. The final chapter, "Jesus in Art," is done by Jennifer Speake (M.Phil, Oxford), who gives a lucid overview of various artistic portrayals of Jesus. A glossary, index, list of abbreviations, and wonderful, on-target bibliography makes the book even more useful. Highly recommended as the perfect introduction for lay readers to scholarship on the historical Jesus.ÄDavid Bourquin, California State Univ., San Bernadino (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One INTRODUCTION It need hardly be said that Jesus has always been a figure of great fascination and interest, and by no means only for Christian believers. Over the centuries, a vast amount of literature has been produced about him, and the flow shows no sign of abating. Contemporary research into Jesus is largely conditioned by the developments of the last two centuries, which have tended to detach the historical Jesus--the man who lived and acted in the Palestine of the first century CE--from the Christ of Christian faith. The question "Who really was Jesus?" has produced a bewildering variety of answers. It has been variously claimed that Jesus was essentially, to quote just a few examples, a Pharisaic rabbi; a charismatic Jewish wonder-worker; an apocalyptic prophet; a philosopher similar to one of the ancient Cynics; a social reformer; and a political revolutionary.     The present volume considers several of the more plausible and suggestive theories concerning the "real" Jesus. Its aim is not primarily to present another biography of Jesus, but rather to highlight some of the factors that have inspired the continued quest, among present-day New Testament scholars and others, to discover the man Jesus of Nazareth.     One of these factors is our greatly improved--and growing--understanding of the world and society in which Jesus lived. Archaeology in particular, but also sociological studies and the work of historians specializing in the Roman empire, have shown how deeply Jesus' life and teaching were affected by his environment. Thus, the first section of this book (The Setting) deals with the general geographical, political, religious, economic, and social contexts in which Jesus operated. Here and throughout, there is a special emphasis on the Judaism of Jesus' day, which is now much more fully appreciated than was often the case in the past.     The following section (The Life) deals with the career of Jesus from the Nativity to the Ascension, as presented in the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Again, the object is not to construct a biography of Jesus in the modern sense but to provide some evaluation of his life and deeds as recorded by the evangelists. How the birth narratives, trials of Jesus, Resurrection, and other episodes are to be assessed remains the subject of intense scholarly debate, as does the value of the gospels as sources. Nevertheless, it does seem possible to provide at least an outline of the course of Jesus' earthly life which would be accepted by a majority of scholars and historians today.     As important as what Jesus did is what he taught and this is the subject of section three (The Teachings). This begins with a survey of Jesus' distinctive teaching methods, as seen in his parables and sayings, which are closely linked to his Palestinian setting, and in the use he made of sources such as the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish law. Here, again, Jesus' background in Judaism is highly significant. The rest of this section is devoted to the main themes of Jesus' message, as these are presented in the four gospels. Overall, the third section raises one of the main areas of contention in New Testament studies: the extent to which it is possible to recover the actual words of Jesus, as opposed to those utterances which--although attributed to Jesus in the gospels--really derive from the early Church. This vital question will also be considered below.     The fourth section (Interpretations) focuses on how the person of Jesus has been understood over the centuries. It begins with an overview of what, according to the available evidence, appear to have been the principal elements of Jesus' own self-consciousness. There follows a series of descriptions--inevitably brief and selective--of some of the many ways in which Jesus' character and mission have been approached and interpreted down to the present time.     The fifth, and final, section (Jesus in Art) is an illustrated survey of the rich and varied traditions of Jesus in the history of Christian art.     It is important to appreciate fully the fact that the gospels constitute not one but four separate and distinctive accounts of Jesus' life and teaching. Each gospel was written to be of use to a particular early Christian community: it was produced to meet that community's needs and concerns and to give expression to what it believed to be the essential truth of the Christian faith.     The Jesus of the gospels, therefore, is a figure seen through the eyes of the early Church. Full weight must be given to the creative activity of the first Christian communities and to the possibility that they may have invented some sayings and episodes in order to bring out more clearly their own understanding of Jesus.     It has become commonplace in New Testament scholarship to distinguish between the "Jesus of history" and the "Christ of faith," and to stress that all the information about Jesus in the gospels is provided by people who were not his direct disciples and whose view of his significance was, crucially, shaped by their belief in his physical resurrection. Any attempt to discover the historical Jesus depends on whether or not the early Church preserved any material that authentically came from Jesus himself and, if so, how this can be sifted from material influenced, or even created, by his first followers. Several scholars would say that such an endeavor is largely unavailing--in fact, that we can only ever meet with the Christ of faith.     Yet it seems likely that the gospel writers worked with a body of existing traditions about Jesus that had many points in common and must, in numerous instances, have derived from the disciples who knew him. Many students of the gospels, therefore, still consider it worthwhile and highly important to look for elements in this material that may be traced back to Jesus himself. They hope thereby to discover a core of authentic sayings of Jesus that encapsulate what he really taught and how he really saw himself.     Once again, this is no easy undertaking. Over the years, scholars have adopted various criteria by means of which they have sought--often, perhaps, with a degree of overconfidence--to prove, or at least suggest, authenticity (see p.194). The most thoroughgoing and widely publicized project to identify the real sayings of Jesus, largely employing the criteria just mentioned, has been that of a group of scholars in the United States known as the "Jesus Seminar" (see sidebar, p.56). The Seminar found that only very few--sixteen percent--of Jesus' recorded words could be considered in any way authentic. It is perhaps unsurprising that, in their own presentations of the historical Jesus, some of the Seminar's individual scholars produce a somewhat minimalist picture. They find little evidence to suggest that Jesus ever thought of himself in the terms suggested by the gospels, such as Son of God, Messiah, performer of miracles or apocalyptic prophet. For them, the Jesus of history must be freed from any theological framework and seen as essentially a radical social reformer.     But many scholars would question how far the Jesus Seminar's findings can be considered definitive and would prefer to conclude simply that it will always be difficult to establish which gospel traditions really go back to Jesus. It may be objected also that the Seminar's researches focus too narrowly on a literary analysis of the gospels, at the expense of other potentially illuminating sources such as the Jewish heritage and the contributions of archaeology and sociology. Also, the contrast between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith can be exaggerated. A particular saying of Jesus in the gospels may not be formulated in his actual words, but its substance may accurately reflect his teaching--it must not be too easily assumed that the first Christians generally misunderstood their master.     In the end, anyone who attempts a reconstruction, however tentative, of the life and intentions of Jesus cannot avoid a degree of subjectivity. Every idea about Jesus has to be tested by the wide range of criteria and sound historical methods that present-day biblical scholarship has at its disposal. THE SETTING THE LAND OF PALESTINE The main events of Jesus' life took place in Palestine, a region that may conveniently be understood as the land west of the river Jordan, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south--the traditional "land of Israel" as defined in the Hebrew Scriptures (for example, Judg. 20.1)--and the territory immediately to the east of the Jordan. Ironically, perhaps, the name "Palestine" comes from the Philistines, Israel's great enemies, who in fact occupied only the southwestern coastal area. The term was first used of the wider region by the Greek historian Herodotus (fifth century BCE). In spite of its small size, Palestine's strategic position as a bridge between two continents gave it a pivotal role in the international politics, commerce and culture of the ancient Near East. However, there is little awareness of this wider context in the gospels as compared with the Hebrew Scriptures.     The region is delimited by the natural boundaries of the Mediterranean to the west, Mount Hermon to the north, and the Syrian and Negeb deserts to the east and south. Within these bounds, Palestine falls into four natural regions, each running roughly from north to south. First, the coastal plain stretches from the Phoenician city of Sidon (just north of Palestine as defined here) down to Gaza, interrupted only by the highlands of Mount Carmel and the Ladder of Tyre. There are brief mentions of a visit by Jesus to the region of Sidon and its southerly neighbour, Tyre (Mark 3.8 and parallels), but generally speaking the Mediterranean seaboard lay outside the sphere of his activities.     To the east of the coastal plain, the central mountain range runs from Galilee to Judea. In ancient times this was the heart of the country. It was the center of its trade and agriculture--although some parts were more fertile than others--and the setting for almost the whole of Jesus' ministry. At the southern end of the range lie the hill country and wilderness of Judea. The hill country encompasses Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and other sites associated with Jesus. The wilderness, to the east of the city, is where John the Baptist began his ministry (see pp.82-3) and Jesus was tempted by Satan (pp.86-7). Adjoining the lower Jordan and Dead Sea region, it is not true desert, but rather uncultivated pastureland, which could provide the Baptist with a sparse diet of locusts and wild honey (Matt. 3.4 and parallels). It was well enough watered to allow some basic agriculture.     The third region is the Palestinian section of the Afro-Asiatic great Rift Valley, through which the Jordan pursues a meandering course from north of Lake Huleh via the sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea. The Jordan valley--which is below sea level for most of its length--is arid terrain except for the verdant margins of the river and freshwater lakes. The Baptist's main activity took place on one or both banks of the lower Jordan, in an area that includes the unlocated sites of "Aenon and Salim" (John 3.23), "Bethany cross the Jordan" (John 1.28), and of Jesus' own baptism (see pp.84-5).     Transjordan is the name given to the fourth broad region of Palestine, the hilly terrain lying east of the Jordan and the Dead Sea. In the north of this region, which is physically quite similar to the central mountain range, the snow-capped heights of Mount Hermon may have been the scene of the Transfiguration (see p.106). It was in Transjordan that Jesus drove an army of demons into a herd of swine, in the region of the Decapolis (Matt. 8.28-33; Mark 5.1-13; Luke 8.26-33; see sidebar, left). The gospel accounts suggest that on his final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus went over the Jordan (Matt. 19.1; Mark 10.1) into the area called Perea ("Land Beyond [the Jordan]"), where he attracted large crowds and performed healings, before crossing the river once more to enter Judea at Jericho (Mark 10.46).     There were two main types of settlement in first-century Palestine: the "town" or "city" (Greek polis ) and the "village" ( kome ). They were not sharply distinguished in terms of size. A kome could have a larger population than a polis and perhaps the only real distinction was that "villages" were usually unwalled while "towns" were walled, such as Nain in Galilee, at the gate of which Jesus restored a young man to life (Luke 7.11-17). Archaeological evidence suggests that most settlements were quite small and inhabited mainly by Jews, while the bigger cities were more cosmopolitan, with large non-Jewish populations.     Towns and villages had a simple ground plan. Narrow streets and alleyways lined with modest houses converged on a large open marketplace, the hub of social and commercial life, which lay just inside the town gate if the place was walled. Mark 6.56 records that the sick were regularly brought into the marketplaces for Jesus to heal. The gospels frequently mention the presence of a synagogue in the towns Jesus visited, but otherwise there seem to have been few, if any, public buildings.     Apart from Jerusalem and its environs (see pp.18-21), Jesus is associated with several other towns in Palestine that were very different from those he frequented in Galilee (see pp.16-17). All the gospels relate an important episode that Matthew and Mark locate in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16.13; Mark 8.27), in which Jesus is acknowledged as Messiah (see pp. 106-7). It was a major city at the foot of Mount Hermon in the far north of Palestine, in the tetrarchy of Philip (4BCE-34CE; see pp.24-5). A typical Greco-Roman settlement, Caesarea Philippi was the site of a sanctuary to the god Pan (hence the city's older name of Paneas, modern Banias) and most of its inhabitants would have been pagans. Jesus may have felt able to move freely in this environment, away from his Jewish detractors. But there is no evidence that he visited the town itself.     The gospels attest to a strong tradition that Jesus went to the non-Jewish region of Tyre and Sidon in Syria-Phoenicia, and even visited the latter city. But he is only said to have gone "by way of Sidon" (Mark 7.31) on his way back to Galilee and it would appear that he made a comparatively brief stay in the region, perhaps in an attempt to extend his influence there--the gospels relate that some of the inhabitants had been attracted to his teaching in Galilee (Matt. 4.24; compare Mark 7.26).     On his final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (see pp.108-9), Jesus is said to have passed through Jericho, from where a direct road led through the Judean hill country to the capital. New Testament Jericho--situated in a fertile oasis just south of the site of the city of the Hebrew Scriptures--was granted ca. 30BCE by the Roman emperor Augustus to Herod the Great, who adorned it with splendid palaces. Luke records that Jesus spent the night there at the house of Zacchaeus, "a chief tax collector" (Luke 19.2)--a title indicating that Jericho was a regional administrative center. GALILEE Galilee, a region in the north of Palestine, was the principal setting for the ministry of Jesus, especially the area around its lake, commonly known as the Sea of Galilee or Lake Galilee. In Jesus' lifetime Galilee was governed by King Herod the Great (37-4BCE) and then his son, the tetrarch Herod Antipas (4BCE-39CE), both clients of Rome (see pp.24-5). It had long had a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles and was described in the Hebrew Bible as "Galilee of the Nations" (Isa. 9.1). According to one theory, this may have been the original name of the region--Galilee simply means "district" (Hebrew galil ). The non-Jewish population increased around the beginning of the Common Era as Galilee's rulers founded new Hellenistic cities. Galileans were distinguished by their accent (Matt. 26.73), and the Pharisees (see pp.34-6) apparently looked down on them as lax in their observance of the Jewish law and incapable of producing the Messiah (John 7.52). The area was also known as a source of political unrest (see p.103).     Galilee includes the most northerly section of the central Palestinian mountain range (see pp.12-13) and is divided into Lower Galilee, the principal area of settlement and main focus of Jesus' ministry, and the largely mountainous Upper Galilee. In the gospels the most important feature of Galilee is the lake and its environs. The Hebrew Scriptures suggest that its earliest name was Lake Chinnereth ("lyre") which derived either from its shape or the name of a town at its northwest corner. In New Testament times, it was sometimes called Lake Tiberias or Lake Gennesaret after two other towns. It is below sea level and surrounded by high hills, a combination that could produce the sudden squalls mentioned several times in the gospels. The lake was rich in fish and its shores formed a fertile agricultural area that attracted a large population.     Apart from Capernaum (see box, above), the place most frequently mentioned as the scene of Jesus' activity in the region bordering Lake Galilee is Bethsaida, just over the political frontier in the tetrarchy of Philip (ruled 4BCE-34CE), another son of Herod the Great. In Jesus' time Bethsaida would have been only a small place, and Mark calls it a "village." But the later gospels call it a polis ("town" or "city"), which may reflect its elevation by Philip in 30CE, when it was renamed Julias in honor of Livia Julia, the mother of the Roman emperor Tiberius. The name Bethsaida means "House of fishing" and archaeologists have confirmed that it was a fishing settlement. According to John's gospel, three of Jesus' original disciples--at least two of whom, Peter and Andrew, were fishermen--came from there. Jesus ultimately curses Bethsaida (Matt. 11.21; Luke 10.13) for failing to respond to the miracles he had performed there (for example, Mark 8.22-26).

Table of Contents

Jennifer Speake
Introductionp. 6
The Settingp. 11
The Geographical Background
The Land of Palestinep. 12
Galileep. 16
Jerusalemp. 18
The Political Background
Hellenismp. 22
The Herodian Dynastyp. 24
Palestine under the Romansp. 26
Jewish Internal Governmentp. 28
The Religious Background
The Law and the Templep. 30
The Synagogue and Jewish Festivalsp. 32
Sects and Partiesp. 34
Society and Economy
Trade and Commercep. 38
Farmers and Fishersp. 40
Marriage and the Familyp. 44
Languages of Palestinep. 46
The Lifep. 49
What is a "Gospel"?p. 50
The Four Evangelistsp. 52
The Gospel Evidencep. 56
Jesus in other Writingsp. 58
Jesus' Life and Timesp. 60
The Birth of Jesus
The Genealogy of Christp. 62
The Nativityp. 64
The Virgin Birthp. 68
Infancy and Youth
The First Witnessesp. 70
The Wrath of Herodp. 72
The Flight into Egyptp. 74
Rites of Childhoodp. 76
The Home Life of Jesusp. 78
The Call to Ministry
John the Baptistp. 82
The Baptism of Jesusp. 84
The Temptationp. 86
The Ministry in Galilee
The Disciplesp. 90
Jesus' Public Careerp. 92
The Healingsp. 94
The Exorcismsp. 96
The Feeding Miraclesp. 98
Conflicts and Confrontationsp. 100
The Approach of the Passion
The Fate of the Baptistp. 104
Peter's Confession and the Transfigurationp. 106
The Road to Jerusalemp. 108
The Cleansing of the Templep. 110
The Last Supperp. 112
Betrayal and Arrestp. 114
Condemnation and Crucifixion
The Trials of Jesusp. 116
Before the Councilp. 118
Jesus and Pilatep. 120
Jesus Condemnedp. 122
The Crucifixionp. 124
The Aftermath
The Risen Lordp. 128
The Ascensionp. 132
The Teachingsp. 135
How Jesus Taught
Sayings and Parablesp. 136
Jesus and Scripturep. 140
Jesus and the Jewish Lawp. 142
Gentiles and Samaritansp. 144
The Ethics of Jesus
God the Fatherp. 146
Sermons and Discoursesp. 148
The Call of the Kingdomp. 150
The Teachings in Johnp. 154
Interpretationsp. 157
How Jesus Saw Himself
The Healer of Body and Soulp. 158
The Prophetp. 160
Master, Rabbi, Lordp. 162
Messiahp. 164
Son of Godp. 166
Son of Manp. 168
The Man and the Message
The Early Churchp. 170
Jewish and Gentile Christiansp. 172
The Patristic Periodp. 174
Jesus and Gnosticismp. 176
Founder of the Church?p. 178
The Apocalyptic Jesusp. 180
The Revolutionaryp. 182
The Mysticp. 184
Jesus and Feminismp. 186
Judaism and the Churchp. 188
Jesus and Islamp. 190
In Search of the Jesus of Historyp. 192
Jesus in Artp. 197
Early Christian Artp. 198
The Nativityp. 200
Madonna and Childp. 202
Scenes from Childhoodp. 206
The Ministryp. 208
The Passionp. 212
The Resurrectionp. 218
Christ Triumphantp. 220
Glossaryp. 222
Abbreviationsp. 223
Bibliographyp. 224
Indexp. 227
Picture Creditsp. 239