San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2000. Pp. xi + 288. Paper. $15.95. ISBN 0060608765
This is a great book for those who are interested in the field of Christian origins and the historical study of Jesus. This is particularly true for those new to the field, since in it two preeminent scholars from differing perspectives lay out their views in a succinct and accessible way. In this respect they accomplished their goal (ix). Perhaps the most useful section is where they directly engage each other’s work, noting the differences between them, and why they disagree.
The charitable tone allows one to feel the force of each thinker’s critiques of each other. Wright’s accusation that Borg has allowed modern sensibilities to filter out aspects of Jesus that make perfect historical sense within his first century Judaic context appears reasonable after reading several chapters where Borg asserts that much of the gospel material isn’t actually Jesus’ thoughts or deeds (227). Likewise, Marcus’ concern that Wright’s refusal to subvert faith to historical inquiry may lead him at times to be generous to the gospel’s portrayals of Jesus looks like a serious criticism after Wright occasionally works backward from his convictions toward historicity, as in his reading of the birth narratives of Jesus (232-234; cf 175-178).
Each reader must make his own judgment as to who has a more satisfactory understanding of who Jesus was. The value in Wright and Borg’s work is that they have laid out two common options, along with their accompanying methodology, in which to approach this perennial subject of interest. This book can serve as a guide to the beginning of one’s journey to answer the question “who was Jesus?”