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A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (4 vols.)
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A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (4 vols.)

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Yale University Press 1991–2009

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Overview

Who was Jesus? This has been the perennial question of Christians and non-Christians alike for two thousand years. In this massive 4-volume exposition of the historical Jesus, noted scholar John P. Meier pursues the historical Jesus and his impact for today’s world. His well-reasoned account of the life of Jesus is nothing less than startling, as though almost 2,000 years later we were seeing Jesus for the first time as his contemporaries would have seen him—“a marginal Jew”—with all the implications and questions raised by this deliberately provocative title. Indeed, the author has here sketched out for us the portrait of Jesus for our times.

Volume 1 lays out the method to be used in pursuing a critical quest for the historical Jesus and sketches Jesus’ cultural, political, and familial background. Volume 2 focuses on John the Baptist; Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God, and his startling works and teaching. Volume 3 widens the spotlight from Jesus himself to various groups around him, including his followers—the crowds, disciples, and circle of the Twelve—and his competitors—Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Qumranites, Samaritans, the scribes, Herodians, and Zealots. Volume 4 addresses the teachings of Jesus on major legal topics like divorce, oaths, the Sabbath, purity rules, and the various love commandments in the Gospels. What emerges from Meier’s research is a profile of a complicated first-century Palestinian Jew who, far from seeking to abolish the Law, was deeply engaged in debates about its observance.

Save more when you purchase this title as part of the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library (29 Vols.)!

Key Features

  • Detailed account of Jesus’ life and work
  • Critical examination of the quest for the historical Jesus
  • Sketch of Jesus’ cultural, political, and familial background
  • Summary of Jesus’ teaching on significant issues

Praise for the Print Edition

Future scholars are certain to judge John Meier's book as one of the foremost studies ever written on the historical Jesus. . . . A brilliant accomplishment!

—Jack Dean Kingsbury, editor, Interpretation, Union Theological Seminary, Virginia

This book is about the Jesus of history, a 'marginal Jew,' but it is no marginal book. . . . Meier asks all the right questions, discusses all the pertinent aspects of them, and invariably comes out with the right answers. It will be a boon to the educated general reader who seeks to know what we can find out about the founder of Christianity.

—Joseph A. Fitzmyer, author of commentaries on Luke, Acts, Romans, First Corinthians, and Philemon in the Anchor Yale Bible

By his painstaking research, his balanced presentation, and his sane conclusions, Meier has set a new standard against which all future studies of this kind will have to be measured.

—Paul J. Achtemeier, author of the commentary on 1 Peter in Hermeneia

Product Details

  • Title: A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus
  • Author: John P. Meier
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Volumes: 4
  • Pages: 3,102

Individual Titles

A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person

  • Author: John P. Meier
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication Date: 1991
  • Pages: 496

Sample Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

This book grapples with the greatest puzzle of modern religious scholarship: Who was Jesus? To answer the question, author John P. Meier imagines the following scenario: "Suppose that a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, and an agnostic—all honest historians cognizant of first-century religious movements—were locked up in the bowels of the Harvard Divinity School library, and not allowed to emerge until they had hammered out a consensus on who Jesus of Nazareth was and what he intended. . ." A Marginal Jew is what Meier thinks that document would reveal.

A Marginal Jew represents the first time an American Catholic biblical scholar has attempted a full-scale, rigorously scientific treatment of the "historical Jesus." By the "historical Jesus," Meier means the Jesus whom we can recover and reconstruct by using the tools of modern historical research. Granted the fragmentary state of the sources and the indirect nature of the arguments, the resulting portrait is incomplete and at times speculative. Still, Meier argues, something precious is gained. The "consensus statement" that emerges is open to probing and debate by all interested parties—Catholics, Protestants, Jews, believers, and agnostics alike. It can serve as common ground for ecumenical dialogue and further research. Among the difficult questions Meier confronts: Was Jesus virginally conceived? Did he have brothers and sisters? Was he married or single? Was he illiterate? Did he know Hebrew and Greek as well as Aramaic?

A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 2: Mentor, Message, and Miracles

  • Author: John P. Meier
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication Date: 1994
  • Pages: 1,134

Sample Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Here is the celebrated second volume in John P. Meier's series on the life of Jesus, in which he continues his quest for the answer to the greatest puzzle of modern scholarship: Who was Jesus? Volume 1 concluded with Jesus approaching adulthood. In this second volume, the author grapples with the words and deeds of Jesus during his public ministry. A vivid portrait of Jesus emerges through Meier's careful examination of Jesus' mentor, his message, and his miracles.

Volume 2 definitely resolves the long-standing debate about the relationship between Jesus and his mentor, John the Baptist. Meier concludes that John was the person who had the greatest single influence on Jesus; "in a sense, Jesus never was without John." John's prophetic ministry, message of repentance, warning of a coming judgment, and ritual of baptism flowed into the ministry of Jesus. The Baptist's fiery announcement of the end of time strongly shaped Jesus' conviction that God was coming to save his people. Meier's insightful analysis of the Gospels reveals that Jesus' proclamation of the "kingdom of God" moved beyond the threat of judgment to the promise that God's saving, healing kingdom was at hand. Consciously imitating the prophet Elijah, Jesus showed the crowds the present reality of God's kingly power by performing many might deeds—miracles.

The author confounds modern skeptics by arguing convincingly that measured by historical criteria, the miracle tradition was not invented by the early church. Instead, the stories about Jesus performing miracles go back to the historical Jesus himself. "If the miracle tradition from Jesus' public ministry were to be rejected in toto as unhistorical, so should every other Gospel tradition about him." Contradicting scholars like the controversial J. D. Crossan, the book demonstrates that Jesus was a miracle worker, not a "magician," because he did not try to coerce God by secret spells. Meier shows that Jesus' miracles aimed "at bringing people to faith, repentance, and discipleship." As we proceed step-by-step through Jesus' practices of exorcism, healing, and other miracles, we grasp the relationship between his message and his miracles. "Thus, in both word and deed," Meier claims, "Jesus made God's future kingdom a present reality."

In this volume, Jesus of Nazareth comes to life as he seldom has on the printed page—as charismatic prophet, herald of God's kingdom, miracle worker.

A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 3: Companions and Competitors

  • Author: John P. Meier
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication Date: 2001
  • Pages: 720

Sample Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Companions and Competitors is the third volume of John Meier's monumental series, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. A detailed and critical treatment of all the main questions surrounding the historical Jesus, A Marginal Jew serves as a healthy antidote to the many superficial and trendy treatments of Jesus that have flooded the market.

Volume 1 laid out the method to be used in pursuing a critical quest for the historical Jesus and sketched his cultural, political, and familial background. Volume 2 focused on John the Baptist; Jesus' message of the kingdom of God; and his startling deeds, believed by himself and his followers to be miracles. Volume 3 widens the spotlight from Jesus himself to the various groups around him, including his followers (the crowds, disciples, the circle of the Twelve) and his competitors (the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes and Qumranites, the Samaritans, the scribes, the Herodians, and the Zealots).

In the process, important insights into how Jesus contoured his ministry emerge. Contrary to the popular idea that he was some egalitarian Cynic philosopher with no concern for structures, Jesus clearly provided his movement with shape and structure. His followers roughly comprised three concentric circles. In the outer circle were the curious crowds who came and went. In the middle circle were disciples whom Jesus himself chose to share his journeys. The innermost circle was made up of the Twelve, i.e. twelve disciples whom Jesus selected to symbolize and begin the great regathering of the twelve tribes of Israel in the end time. Jesus made sure that the disciples in his movement were marked off by distinctive behavior and prayer. His movement was anything but an amorphous egalitarian mob. One reason why Jesus was so intent on creating structures and identity badges was that he was consciously competing against rival religious and political movements, all vying for influence. Jesus presented one vision of what it meant to be Israel. The Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc., all offered sharply contrasting visions for Israel to preserve its identity and fulfill its destiny.

Perhaps the greatest mistake of some recent portraits of the historical Jesus, notably that of the Jesus Seminar, has been to downplay the Jewish nature of Jesus in favor of a vaguer and sometimes dubious setting in Greco-Roman culture. In the face of such distortions this volume hammers home the oft-mentioned but rarely fathomed slogan "Jesus the Jew."

A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 4: Law and Love

  • Author: John P. Meier
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication Date: 2009
  • Pages: 752

Sample Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

John Meier’s previous volumes in the acclaimed series, A Marginal Jew are founded upon the notion that while solid historical information about Jesus is quite limited, people of different faiths can nevertheless arrive at a consensus on fundamental historical facts of his life. In this eagerly anticipated fourth volume in the series, Meier approaches a fresh topic—the teachings of the historical Jesus concerning Mosaic Law and morality—with the same rigor, thoroughness, accuracy, and insightfulness on display in his earlier works.

After correcting misconceptions about Mosaic Law in Jesus’ time, this volume addresses the teachings of Jesus on major legal topics like divorce, oaths, the Sabbath, purity rules, and the various love commandments in the Gospels. What emerges from Meier’s research is a profile of a complicated first-century Palestinian Jew who, far from seeking to abolish the Law, was deeply engaged in debates about its observance. Only by embracing this portrait of the historical Jesus grappling with questions of the Torah do we avoid the common mistake of constructing Christian moral theology under the guise of studying “Jesus and the Law,” the author concludes.

About the Editors

John P. Meier is a Catholic priest and professor of New Testament at the University of Notre Dame. He has been both president of the Catholic Biblical Association and the general editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly. He lives in South Bend, Indiana.