San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2000. Pp. xi + 288. Paper. $15.95. ISBN 0060608765
Turning now to Wright, with Borg he affirms the necessity for understanding Jesus within his cultural context (31). However, in contrast to Borg, Wright’s fundamental conviction is that Jesus is known through both history and faith (15). Wright asserts that all historians have theological commitments, even atheists and such commitments can’t be divorced from one’s task as a historian (15-16). Viewing the historical task as a matter of unashamedly “looking through one’s own spectacles” at historical material is the only way can properly appreciate the complexity that accompanies historical research (16-17, 22). Wright is well aware of the dangers of this approach, and argues for it by pointing out that while one must seek to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism when looking for history within religious documents, one must not let such a suspicion degenerate into “paranoia (17-18).
Wright seeks to locate the foundation of all proper understanding of who Jesus was historically within the “Jewish world of Palestine in the first century (31; cf 35, 43).” That being the case, Wright begins by examining the culture that Jesus grew up and lived in. As he examines the literature, Wright believes that the culture during the writing of the gospels was a difficult place to live in for Jesus’ people, the Jews. The Israelites of Jesus’ day had returned from their Babylonian exile to their home land, only to be under foreign rule (31-32). According to the Israelites, this continued servitude meant that theologically, they were still in exile, waiting for their God, YHWH, to deliver them. The people in Jesus’ time were looking expectantly that their God to send them a deliverer, one who could free them from their present bondage (32-35).
Wright sees the key to understanding who Jesus was as presented in the gospels in this theological and political predicament Jesus’ people found themselves in. Wright argues that although difficult for our minds to grasp at times, Jesus’ radical teachings and actions make perfect sense once one sees him within first century Judaism (42). A concrete example of this is Wright’s view that Jesus was a prophet who “critiqued from within (42).” When Jesus gave radical critiques of the injustice within his culture, when he made his announcement of the imminent arrival of God’s Kingdom, his teachings were consonant within the world of rival eschatological understandings, views dealing with how one day YHWH will right all injustices, that were prevalent in the first century (32, 43).
This view of how to understand Jesus and his message sets the stage for the rest Wright’s views of Jesus. To cite one brief example, since Jesus saw himself as proclaiming God’s coming reign, his overturning of the money changers tables was more than a social critique. In that action, Jesus was proclaiming to his Jewish contemporaries that there would be a “replacement temple” where all could come for forgiveness (44-46, 96-97). This and other actions and sayings of Jesus do not require modern dissection and sophistication to understand necessarily, but only that we try to enter into the first century Jewish world, and ask if it is possible that Jesus’ action is intelligible within it, even if it was taboo (18, 35, 97).