Top Shelf: Jesus the Man (Review)

Paul Barnett’s ‘top shelf’ books on Jesus.

Books about the historical Jesus tend to come out of a ‘position’ about him, depending on whether or not the authors have accepted the Gospels’ presentation of the Man.

If that ‘position’ is not to accept the Gospels, their books tend to fall into two classes:

  • Those seeking a straightforward explanation of Jesus’ historical impact. This group tends to see Jesus as a ‘charismatic’ rabbi (e.g. G Vermes, Jesus the Jew), or as an apocalyptic prophet (e.g. EP Sanders, Jesus and Judaism).
  • Those seeking a quirky explanation of his impact. This group sees him wherever their flights of fancy take them (e.g. Thiering, Jesus the Man).

Amongst those on the ‘Gospels’ side of the fence, the following are noted. NT Wright, in Who Was Jesus? gives pungent criticism of Thiering, Wilson and Spong, while commenting helpfully on Jesus’ true identity. Also helpful on Jesus’ identity is S Kim in The Son of Man as Son of God.

Published posthumously, JAT Robinson in The Priority of John gives a helpful chronology of Jesus’ ministry, arguing for the recoverability of the Jesus of history. The Roman Catholic, Ben Meyer’s The Aims of Jesus is perceptive, but technical in style. P Barnett’s The Two Faces of Jesus attempts to face head-on the challenge of the New Quest for Jesus.

Older books of interest include I Howard Marshall’s I Believe in the Historical Jesus, RT France’s The Man They Crucified, CH Dodd’s The Founder of Christianity, HEW Turner’s Jesus, Master and Lord and Vincent Taylor’s The Names of Jesus.

It is noticeable that evangelicals are not in the forefront of Jesus studies (though I haven’t yet read newly published Jesus books by H Bockmuehl and Leon Morris). Are evangelicals not at home with Jesus in history studies, finding Paul and doctrine more congenial?

Top shelf: Jesus the man

  • The Two Faces of Jesus by P Barnett
  • The Founder of Christianity by CH Dodd
  • The Man They Crucified by RT France
  • The Son of Man as Son of God by S Kim
  • I Believe in the Historical Jesus by I Howard Marshall
  • The Aims of Jesus by Ben Meyer
  • The Priority of John by JAT Robinson
  • The Names of Jesus by Vincent Taylor
  • Jesus, Master and Lord by HEW Turner
  • Who Was Jesus? by NT Wright

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