Familiar Stranger: An Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth ( The Bible in its World Series)

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Familiar Stranger by Michael McClymond is a very readable introduction to that elusive figure known as “the historical Jesus” — his life, his world, his sayings and doings, accounts of his death and resurrection, and his followers' efforts to understand him.

Three features set Familiar Stranger apart from the many other available books on Jesus. First, it's targeted to general readers but doesn't dumb down in its attempt to inform them. Second, it's ideologically balanced, exhibiting a refreshing lack of agenda or ulterior motive beyond the desire to genuinely present what we can and cannot know about Jesus today. Third, it brings together the two most fruitful models for understanding Jesus and his mission — Jesus the “moral sage” and Jesus the “eschatological prophet.” The result is a truly well-rounded picture of Jesus.

Marked by concision, clarity, and thoroughness, McClymond's Familiar Stranger is ideal for classrooms, study groups, and individuals in search of an up-to-date, trustworthy guide to the historical Jesus. Readers familiar with Jesus may well find him becoming stranger to them through these pages, and, conversely, those to whom Jesus is a stranger may well discover a growing familiarity with him.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802826800
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 3/28/2004
  • Series: The Bible in Its World Series
  • Pages: 212
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 0.16 (d)

Meet the Author

Clarence Louis and Helen Irene Steber Professor of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri. He is also the author of the award-winning book Encounters with God: An Approach to the Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford) and coeditor (with David Noel Freedman) of The Rivers of Paradise: Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, and Muhammad as Religious Founders (Eerdmans).
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Read an Excerpt


An Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth
By Michael J. McClymond

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2004 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
All right reserved.

Chapter One


A Thumbnail Portrait

As a basis for what follows, we may begin with a brief chronological survey of Jesus' life. A few events of his life are all but indisputable, and there are some equally secure facts regarding the aftermath of his life. Together these form a solid foundation for understanding Jesus and his influence. Here are the most essential points:

Jesus was born around 4 B.C.E., before the time of the death of Herod the Great. He spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village. He was baptized by John the Baptist. He called disciples. He taught in the towns, villages, and countryside of Galilee, and apparently not in the cities. He preached "the kingdom of God." He taught in parables and was known for effecting remarkable cures, including exorcisms. He associated with the disreputable people of his society and had female as well as male followers. About the year 30 C.E. he went to Jerusalem for Passover. He created a disturbance in the Temple area. He had a final meal with his disciples. He was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest. He was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate. His disciples at first fled. They saw him again (in some sense) following his death. As a consequence, they believed that he would return to found the kingdom of God. They formed a community to await his return and sought to win others to faith in him as God's Messiah.

It is possible to expand on the above points. His family was Jewish, as is clear from the names of his parents (Joseph and Mary) and his brothers (Jacob, Joses, Judas, and Simon). (Traditionally, the brothers have been interpreted as Jesus' stepbrothers, half brothers, or kinsmen.) Jesus' father was a building artisan or a carpenter (Matt. 13:55), as Jesus himself may have been prior to his public career. Jesus' mother tongue was Galilean Aramaic, or perhaps a Hebrew dialect that had survived in Galilee. Like many of his contemporaries, Jesus presumably could speak some Greek, yet the sayings that the Gospels attribute to him in Greek derive from an Aramaic original; Aramaic was the language he used in his public discourses. No reliable information exists regarding his education, yet Jesus may have been able both to read and to write. One Gospel passage (Luke 4:16-20) speaks of him reading aloud in the synagogue.

It is possible that virtually all of Jesus' active ministry, with the exception of the last few weeks, occurred in Galilee during the reign of Herod Antipas. How often Jesus traveled to Jerusalem remains unclear, since the synoptic Gospels seem to speak of only one journey to Jerusalem and the Gospel of John speaks of multiple journeys. Jesus was apparently not an urbanite. The cities of Galilee - Sepphoris, Tiberias, and Scythopolis (Hebrew Beth-Shean)-do not figure in the Gospel accounts of Jesus' activities. Doubtless Jesus knew of Sepphoris, which was only a few miles from Nazareth, but he may have regarded his own mission as centered on the Jews of the villages and small towns in Galilee. Nazareth itself was a small village of less than two thousand tucked away in the hill country, not bordering the Sea of Galilee. Yet Jesus taught principally in the towns and villages on the sea, and fishermen were among his first followers. Rural images frequently appear in the teaching recorded in the Gospels.

When Jesus was a young man, perhaps in his late twenties, John the Baptist began to preach a message of repentance in light of the coming judgment by God. John's message was "apocalyptic" or "eschatological"- two terms that refer to the whole constellation of beliefs about the end of history and the transformation of the world, including the afterlife, judgment, the resurrection of the dead, the Messiah's reign, and the final states of heaven and hell. (These words are defined and characterized more precisely in the chapter entitled "The Central Message.") Jesus heard John and felt called to accept baptism at his hands. All four Gospels point to Jesus' baptism as a decisive and life-changing event. Jesus "saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him," and he also heard a voice saying "You are my Son, the Beloved" (Mark 1:9-11). Herod Antipas had John the Baptist arrested because he had criticized his marriage to Herodias (so say the Gospels) and/or because he feared that John's preaching might lead to insurrection (so says the Jewish historian Josephus). At about this time Jesus began his public ministry. While John had worked outside of the settled areas, Jesus went from town to town and usually preached in synagogues on Sabbath days. He called a small number of people to be his disciples, including a group that became known as "the Twelve." Unlike John, Jesus not only preached but also healed the sick. The crowds may have gathered to see miraculous healings, yet they stayed to hear Jesus teach in parables and explain the "kingdom of God."

Jesus was known among his contemporaries for exorcism or the casting out of demons. Yet this activity on Jesus' part does not imply that his special authority came from his psychological ability or supernatural power. On the contrary, the sayings connected with the exorcisms indicate that Jesus viewed them as the visible sign of a victory over Satan and the beginning of the rule or kingdom of God. "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you" (Matt. 12:28). This suggests that Jesus viewed himself as the mediator of God's rule.

The announcement of God's kingdom was one of the most important aspects of Jesus' career, one that he took over from his kinsman and predecessor John the Baptist. Yet Jesus' emphasis seems to have been different from John's. Unlike John, Jesus did not stress a future coming of God for judgment but rather a call to participate here and now in the kingdom of God. The difference between Jesus and John is shown in that John's disciples fasted while Jesus' did not (at least during his lifetime; Mark 2:18-20). The parables of Jesus were central to his proclamation of God's rule, in that each parable expressed a particular aspect of God's rule. They were not illustrations of timeless truths but statements through which God's kingdom became a living message for Jesus' hearers.

In Jesus' parables it becomes clear that the coming of God's rule is God's own act and that human action does not determine how or when it arrives (Mark 4:26-29). Moreover, God's kingdom contradicts human notions of right and wrong (Luke 16:1-9), religious standards of value (Luke 18:9-14), and the idea of just rewards (Matt. 20:1-16). God's love exceeds all expectations, as in the famous parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). Characteristically the parables of Jesus involve an element of surprise. The stories begin within the framework of customary ideas but often conclude with a twist in the plotline and an assertion of unconventional wisdom. What kind of farmer would do nothing during the entire growing season, allowing the weeds to sprout up with the crops (Matt. 13:30)? Or when did a rich man ever invite hooligans and street people to his lavish party after the distinguished guests declined the invitations (Matt. 22:10)? Or what father would be so undignified as to run down the street to embrace an unworthy son who just squandered his entire inheritance (Luke 15:20)? Jesus' parables underscore the mystery and incalculability of God's kingdom.

Jesus affirmed and emphasized the command to love one's neighbor (Mark 12:31), which already held a central place within Judaism (Lev. 19:18). Yet he rejected a practice of loving others because they love you, or loving only the people of one's own family, social, or ethnic groups. Indeed Jesus commanded love for one's enemies (Matt. 5:44). Thus he taught that power and force are not the way that God's kingdom will be established (Matt. 26:52-54). What is more, the person who wants to follow Jesus must be prepared to suffer, and even to lose his or her life (Mark 8:34-35). Discipleship means to give up one's security (Luke 9:62), one's possessions (Luke 14:33), and one's identification with family and kin (Luke 14:26).

Jesus' itinerant ministry probably lasted from one to three years, and was concluded by his visit to Jerusalem during Passover (Matt. 21-27; Mark 11-15; Luke 19-23). Jesus rode into the city on a donkey, and some people hailed him at that time as the "son of David." When he went into the Temple precincts, he confronted the moneychangers and those who sold doves to be used in Temple sacrifice. The high priest and his advisers decided that Jesus was dangerous and had to die. After Jesus shared a final meal with his followers, he went apart to pray, and was then betrayed by one of his followers to the high priest's guards. He was tried in some fashion, and was then turned over to the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, with the recommendation that he be executed. After a hearing to consider the case, the prefect ordered the execution, and Jesus was put to death by crucifixion for treason against the government, along with two others.

He died after a relatively brief period of suffering on the cross. A few of his followers placed him in a tomb. According to reports that circulated among his early followers, some of the disciples returned to the tomb about two days following his burial to find an empty tomb. Then his followers saw him again in some fashion, and became convinced that Jesus was alive again, that God had acted in his death to bring salvation, and that he would return again in glory and power. The early community used titles to describe Jesus, such as "Anointed" ("Messiah" in Hebrew or "Christ" in Greek), "Lord," and "Son of God." As the decades passed, the followers of Jesus became more and more distinct from Judaism at large, and finally emerged as a largely Gentile Christian church. Yet at the time the Gospels were written, this parting of the ways between Jewish and Gentile Christians, on the one hand, and all other Jews, on the other hand, was still occurring.

A number of uncertainties plague the chronology of Jesus' life-the sort of problems that plague almost all studies of ancient history. Unable to appeal to any universally accepted calendar, and often unable to gain access to archives that provided a fixed chronological reference, ancient authors often provided dates that were indefinite. Matthew seems to place Jesus' birth late in Herod's reign (6-4 B.C.E.), while Luke links the birth to the census under Quirinius, who became legate of Syria after Herod's death. (Various proposals have been made to explain the apparent discrepancy.) Yet the general time and place parameters of Jesus' birth are fairly clear. The Gospels mention Augustus Caesar (31 B.C.E.-14 C.E.) at the time of Jesus' birth and Tiberius (14-37 C.E.) later in his life. When Jesus was executed, Pontius Pilate was prefect of Judea (26-36 C.E.) and Caiaphas was high priest (18-36 C.E.). Thus the conclusion is that Jesus was killed between 26 and 36-based on three "big names" in Palestine-Tiberius, Pilate, and Caiaphas.

Taking into account this broad information, and Luke's dating (Luke 3:1) of the beginning of John's ministry in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, together with additional information from the chronology of Paul's life, most scholars are content to say that Jesus was executed sometime between 29 and 33. The exact date of Jesus' birth is not known, since there is no information in the Gospels regarding the day and the month. Concerning Jesus' death, the synoptic Gospels agree in their presentation that Jesus died on 15 Nisan. The Gospel of John might place it one day earlier, on 14 Nisan, though there are theories to account for the apparent discrepancy.

It is hard to find categories from Jesus' own cultural context by which to describe Jesus and his ministry. What we learn from the Gospels regarding Jesus only partially fits prevailing ideas regarding a religious office or mission at that time. Messianic or christological titles, such as "Messiah"/ "Christ," "Son of David," "Son of God," "Son of Man," and "Lord," were applied to Jesus by the earliest Christians, but scholars debate whether Jesus applied any such title or titles to himself. The title "priest" or "high priest" is applied to Jesus relatively late, and only in very limited circles of early Christianity (as in the Epistle to the Hebrews). Philosophical influences were present in Palestine beginning with the Hellenistic period, and yet Jesus was not in any sense a wandering philosopher or a school philosopher. Not until the time of the Christian apologists in the early second century was there an effort to combine Jesus' teachings with philosophical insights. Furthermore, Jesus does not fit the general profile of the apocalyptic seer or visionary. He did not present a specific timetable of future events, nor is there any tradition of Jesus taking a celestial journey, which are both common characteristics among ancient apocalyptic authors. There is no evidence that he ever used written communication-something very important within apocalypticism.

In many respects Jesus' words and actions reflected the earlier Israelite traditions of the prophets and wisdom teachers. Like the prophets of old, Jesus made clear and unequivocal declarations concerning God's will, rather than elaborate legal judgments regarding right and wrong in specific circumstances. Like the earlier wisdom teachers, he preferred simple sayings, proverbs, metaphors, and parables to the speculative and spiritualizing literature that had become more common in Judaism during the preceding centuries. Yet despite Jesus' recourse to prophetic and wisdom traditions that were centuries removed from his day, there is no artificial or archaic tendency in his teachings. Rather, his words and actions come across as a renewal of much earlier Israelite traditions.

At the same time, many of the typical signs of a prophet or wisdom teacher are absent from the reports about Jesus. There is no tradition recording Jesus' call to prophethood in the customary sense, nor are there reports of visions of God, voices from heaven, or other stories about his receiving a prophetic commission. (The story of Jesus' baptism bears only a partial analogy to the earlier Israelite stories of prophetic calling.) Jesus does not introduce his sayings with the common prophetic formula "Thus says the Lord." In Jesus' wisdom teaching there is no appeal to sayings given by earlier sages and teachers, or to their reliable transmission across generations. Consequently it is clear that Jesus' preaching is quite different from rabbinical instruction. As Helmut Koester notes, "The visible documentation of Jesus' authority thus remains an enigma.


Excerpted from FAMILIAR STRANGER by Michael J. McClymond Copyright © 2004 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Jesus : a thumbnail portrait 1
Piles of books : a short history of Jesus research 7
Sources and methods : what can we know? How can we know it? 26
The Palestinian context : geography, politics, economy, and religion 44
The forerunner : John the Baptist 62
The central message : the kingdom of God 67
The man of power : healings, exorcisms, and other works of wonder 82
The teacher : sayings and parables 93
The public figure : career and controversies 109
Approaching the end : the final week 120
A new beginning : the resurrection 129
Wisdom, apocalypse, and the identity of Jesus : some historical reflections 133
Thinking outside the boxes : a critique of contemporary images of Jesus 139
Notes 153
Index of subjects and names 199
Index of scripture and other ancient literature 207
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