Son of God
ISBN 0 340 78646 9
Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2001, £7.99
(price at publication
This is the ‘book of the film’ – the BBC documentary series popularising recent academic research into the life of Jesus. It’s well written, easy to read, and much needed, given the gulf between University lecture rooms and church pews.
It’s worth thinking about Jesus’ first-century context. I had not realised that only four miles away from Nazareth was the large Roman town of Sepphoris, compete with forum and public baths. Joseph, the carpenter, may have worked there. And it is difficult to believe that Jesus never visited. But we don’t imagine him in that setting. One of the most controversial parts of the Son of God project was the reconstruction of a contemporary Jewish head using a first-century skull. It isn’t Jesus, but it is suggested that the broad, rectangular face, with a large hooked nose, a thick neck and a heavy, powerful jaw-line is more likely to resemble him than our traditional images.
As someone involved in Jewish-Christian relations, I was particularly interested in the depiction of first-century Judaism. Jesus is compared to other Galilean holy men with gifts of healing. And it is recognised that he shared a great deal with the Pharisees. The priestly caste, the purity system and the temple have become the villains. I am not convinced! To call the temple ‘the heart of darkness’ is going too far. If Jesus ate a Passover meal as his last supper, the centrepiece will have been a lamb slaughtered in the temple. It is too convenient for us to argue that Jesus’ main target was the purity system, given that we have not got one, or think we have not.
There are many ‘facts’ in this book which I am sure are still in dispute. And it does not, for me, quite capture what it was that made Jesus mean so much to people, then and now. Neither does it begin to resolve the issue of how we integrate the ‘Jesus of history’ with the ‘Christ of Faith’. But it is a challenging reminder of all that scholarship can contribute to our understanding of Jesus.
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