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The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions

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Was Jesus born of a virgin? Did he know he was the Messiah? Was he bodily resurrected from the dead? Did he intentionally die to redeem humankind? Was Jesus God? Two leading Jesus scholars with widely divergent views go right to the heart of these questions and others, presenting the opposing visions of Jesus that shape our faith today.

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The Meaning of Jesus

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Overview

Was Jesus born of a virgin? Did he know he was the Messiah? Was he bodily resurrected from the dead? Did he intentionally die to redeem humankind? Was Jesus God? Two leading Jesus scholars with widely divergent views go right to the heart of these questions and others, presenting the opposing visions of Jesus that shape our faith today.

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Editorial Reviews

Biblical Archaeology Review
“...Strongly argued and well-written.”
Daniel Harrington
Marcus Borg and N. T. Wright, two of the most prominent figures in recent debates about the historical Jesus, have joined forces to produce a book taht is a model of scholarly dialogue.
Morning News Dallas
This book...is a not-to-be-missed gateway into the current debates about Jesus.
Library Journal
Borg and Wright, both noted Jesus scholars, present a slow-motion dialog to illustrate their somewhat contrasting views of the nature of the historical Jesus and the consequences of their views for modern-day Christian belief. They share the goal of "a life full of God" but differ on the importance of different aspects of Jesus' life. This clear, accessible book ought to prove thought-provoking to sincere Christians. For most religious studies collections.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061285547
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/4/2007
  • Series: Plus Series
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 242,637
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Marcus J. Borg is canon theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, and was Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University. Described by the New York Times as "a leading figure in his generation of Jesus scholars," he has appeared on NBC's The Today Show and Dateline, ABC's World News, and NPR's Fresh Air. He is the author of the bestselling books Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, The Heart of Christianity, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, The God We Never Knew, Jesus, Speaking Christian, and The Evolution of the Word. His blog appears on the Progressive Christian Channel of Patheos.com.

N. T. Wright is the former bishop of Durham in the Church of England and one of the world's leading Bible scholars. He is now severing as the Chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews; he has been featured on ABC News, Dateline, The Colbert Report, and Fresh Air. Wright is the award-winning author of The Case for the Psalms, How God Became King, Simply Jesus, After You Believe, Surprised by Hope, Simply Christian, Scripture and the Authority of God, and The Meaning of Jesus (coauthored with Marcus Borg), as well as translator for The Kingdom New Testament.

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Read an Excerpt

The Meaning of Jesus
Two Visions

Chapter One

Seeing Jesus: Sources, Lenses, and Method

Marcus Borg

How do we know about Jesus? What are our sources, what are they like, and how do we use them?1 For most of the Christian centuries, the answers to these questions seemed obvious. Our sources? The New Testament as a whole, and the four gospels in particular. What are they like? The gospels were seen as historical narratives, reporting what Jesus said and did, based on eyewitness testimony. How do we use them? By collecting together what they say about Jesus and combining them into a whole. Importantly, it did not require faith to see the gospels in this way; there was as yet no reason to think otherwise.

This way of seeing the gospels led to a common Christian image of who Jesus was and why he mattered. Who was he? The only Son of God, born of the virgin Mary. His purpose? To die for the sins of the world. His message? About many things, but most centrally about the importance of believing in him, for what was at stake was eternal life.

But over the last two hundred years among historical scholars, both within and outside of the church, this common image of Jesus has dissolved. Its central elements are seen no longer as going back to the historical Jesus, but as the product of the early Christian movement in the decades after his death. Jesus as a historical figure was not very much like the most common image of him.

As I write these words, I am sitting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I am here with a group of thirty Christians assisting my wife, Marianne, an Episcopal priest who leadseducational-spiritual pilgrimages to Israel. My role is to provide historical background and commentary. As I do so, I often feel like the designated debunker. Again and again I find myself saying about holy sites associated with Jesus, "Well, it probably didn't happen here," or, "Well, it probably didn't happen at all." Of course, I have more to say than that, but it is a frequent refrain.

For example, today as we drove past Cana, I told the group that the story of Jesus changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana is most probably not a historical report but a symbolic narrative. At the site marking the Sermon on the Mount, I said that it was unlikely that Jesus ever delivered the Sermon on the Mount as a connected whole, even though many of the individual sayings probably go back to him. In Nazareth, I said Jesus probably was born here, and not in Bethlehem.

I sometimes feel like a debunker in my writing as well. A significant portion of what I have to say is, "This story is probably not historically factual," or, "Jesus probably didn't say that." And yet, for reasons I will explain later, I also find the nonhistorical material to be very important and meaningful. I am not among the relatively few scholars who think that only that which is historically factual matters.

The Nature of the Gospels

But for now I want to explain why the issue comes up so often, whether on pilgrimage to the Holy Land or in my work as a Jesus scholar. The issue arises because of the nature of the Christian gospels, our primary sources for knowing about Jesus. Two statements about the nature of the gospels are crucial for grasping the historical task: (1) They are a developing tradition. (2) They are a mixture of history remembered and history metaphorized. Both statements are foundational to the historical study of Jesus and Christian origins, and both need explaining.

The Gospels as a Developing Tradition

The four gospels of the New Testament are the product of a developing tradition. During the decades between the death of Jesus around the year 30 and the writing of the gospels in the last third of the first century (roughly between 70 and 100), the traditions about Jesus developed. More than one factor was responsible. There was a need to adapt the traditions about Jesus to new settings and issues as early Christian communities moved through time and into the broader Mediterranean world. Moreover, the traditions about Jesus grew because the experience of the risen living Christ within the community shaped perceptions of Jesus' ultimate identity and significance.

As developing traditions, the gospels contain two kinds of material: some goes back to Jesus, and some is the product of early Christian communities. To use an archaeological analogy, the gospels contain earlier and later layers. To use a vocal analogy, the gospels contain more than one voice: the voice of Jesus, and the voices of the community. The quest for the historical Jesus involves the attempt to separate out these layers or voices.

History Remembered and History Metaphorized

The gospels combine history remembered with history metaphorized. By the former, I mean simply that some of the things reported in the gospels really happened. Jesus really did do and really did say some of the deeds and teachings reported about him.

By history metaphorized, I mean the use of metaphorical language and metaphorical narratives to express the meaning of the story of Jesus.2 I define metaphor broadly to include both symbol and story. Thus the category includes individual metaphors, such as Jesus is the light of the world, and metaphorical narratives, where the story as a whole functions metaphorically. Metaphorical language is intrinsically nonliteral; its central meaning is "to see as"-to see something as something else. To say Jesus is the light of the world is not to say that he is literally a light, but means to see him as the light of the world. Thus, even though metaphorical language is not literally true, it can be powerfully true in a nonliteral sense.3

As I use the phrase, history metaphorized includes a wide variety of gospel material. Sometimes a story combines both history remembered . . .

The Meaning of Jesus
Two Visions
. Copyright (c) by Marcus Borg . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Introduction
Pt. I How do we Know about Jesus?
1 Seeing Jesus: Sources, Lenses, and Method 3
2 Knowing Jesus: Faith and History 15
Pt. II What did Jesus do and Teach?
3 The Mission and Message of Jesus 31
4 Jesus Before and After Easter: Jewish Mystic and Christian Messiah 53
Pt. III The Death of Jesus
5 Why Was Jesus Killed? 79
6 The Crux of Faith 93
Pt. IV "God Raised Jesus from the Dead"
7 The Transforming Reality of the Bodily Resurrection 111
8 The Truth of Easter 129
Pt. V Was Jesus God?
9 Jesus and God 145
10 The Divinity of Jesus 157
Pt. VI The Birth of Jesus
11 Born of a Virgin? 171
12 The Meaning of the Birth Stories 179
Pt. VII "He will Come Again in Glory"
13 The Second Coming Then and Now 189
14 The Future of Jesus 197
Pt. VIII Jesus and the Christian Life
15 The Truth of the Gospel and Christian Living 207
16 A Vision of the Christian Life 229
Notes 251
Index 281
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2006

    the best intro to the jesus debate

    There are a ton of books out there dealing with the nature of Jesus. Which one to choose? This one. Here two Christians offer different understandings of what Jesus was like. Wright is pretty orthodox. He says Jesus was God and paid for humanity's sins. Wright also believes in a resurrection at the end of time. Borg, on the other hand, is a revisionist. He says Jesus wasn't God but a window through which we see God. For Borg, when we see Jesus, we see what God is like. Borg doesn't have as robust a view of resurrection and is silent on the question of the afterlife. This debate was easy to read and each topic was covered thoroughly. With all the Jesus books out there (including the books both Wright and Borg have written) I'd start with this one first. There are fringe liberals who would disagree with Borg and ultra right-wings who would disagree with Wright, but if you're looking for a 'consensus' view--a view of what most traditionalists and revisionists think of Jesus and the Christian life--this is the book.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2001

    Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions

    I read this book with a predetermined bias in favor of Borg's point of view. Borg sees the Christian life as an opportunity to have a deep relationship with God as shown in Jesus Christ. We can use Jesus as a lens through which we see God and what it is like to live a life full of God. Borg's approach is refreshing because it is not necessary to hold a lot of beliefs about Jesus in order to lead such a life.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 22, 2010

    Superbly balanced, a great read

    For anyoneinterested in an ongoing debate about Jesus, this is a must read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2001

    Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions

    This book presents an interesting debate between two men who have different views of the truth about Jesus. Both men agree that 'the gospels combine historical material with metaphorical significance' but disagree on how much of the material is history remembered. Borg emphasizes that the gospels are heavily influenced by the theology of the developing Christian tradition during the last part of the first century and consequently gives greater weight to the gospel layers he identifies as being written earlier. I am probably more sympathetic to the traditional view of Jesus as put forth by N.T. Wright. However, Borg seems to do a better job of defending his position.

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    Posted January 9, 2012

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    Posted October 19, 2008

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