What Have They Done with Jesus?

What Have They Done with Jesus?

by Ben, III Witherington III

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Strange theories about Jesus seem to ooze from our culture with increasing regularity. Ben Witherington, one of the top Jesus scholars, will have none of it. There were no secret Gnostic teachings in the first century. With leading scholars and popular purveyors of bad history in his crosshairs, Witherington reveals what we can—and cannot—claim to know

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Strange theories about Jesus seem to ooze from our culture with increasing regularity. Ben Witherington, one of the top Jesus scholars, will have none of it. There were no secret Gnostic teachings in the first century. With leading scholars and popular purveyors of bad history in his crosshairs, Witherington reveals what we can—and cannot—claim to know about the real Jesus. The Bible, not outside sources, is still the most trustworthy historical record we have today.

Utilizing a fresh "personality profile" approach, Witherington highlights core Christian claims by investigating the major figures in Jesus’s inner circle of followers: Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Peter, James the brother of Jesus, Paul, and the mysterious "beloved disciple." In each chapter Witherington satisfies our curiosities and answers the full range of questions about these key figures and what each of them can teach us about the historical Jesus. What Have They Done with Jesus? is a vigorous defense of traditional Christianity that offers a compelling portrait of Jesus’s core message according to those who knew him best.

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Philip Jenkins
“Admirably learned, shrewdly argued, and thoroughly readable - exactly what we have come to expect from Ben Witherington!”

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Meet the Author

Ben Witherington III is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. The author of more than thirty books, including The Brother of Jesus, he has twice won the Christianity Today award for one of the best biblical studies books of the year, and he has presented seminars for churches, colleges, and biblical meetings not only in the United States but also in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Witherington writes for many church and scholarly publications, is a regular contributor to Christianity Today and Beliefnet.com, and has been featured widely in the national media.

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What Have They Done with Jesus?

Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History--Why We Can Trust the Bible
By Ben Witherington III

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Ben Witherington III
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061120022

Chapter One

Joanna and Mary Magdalene:
Female Disciples from the Seashore of Galilee

It cannot have been easy for women of Jesus's locale and time. The Maccabean struggles had led to only a brief period of independence, and then once more Jews were thrust under the onerous system of corrupt client kings or, as was the case in Judea, the even greater indignity of direct rule by Rome. Furthermore, the rulers were both literally and figuratively taxing the people. Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, of Idumean or Edomite descent, was not really a Jew. He was an Idumean—that is, a descendent of the Edomites, Israel's bitter rivals for many centuries. He modeled himself on Hellenistic rulers. Due to that background and to his sly and predatory character, Jesus called him "that fox" (Luke 13:31-32). A ruler so insensitive to Jewish religious ardor that he would build a capital city, Tiberias, on a Jewish graveyard and then try to cajole people into living in that unclean spot cannot have been well thought of by Torah-true Jews.8

Furthermore, people growing up in the region of Galilee, by theshores of its large lake, would have encountered commerce and traffic from various directions and various neighboring cultures, most of it not very (or not at all) Jewish. The fishing trade, the economic foundation of the region, took the men away for days at a time, leaving the women behind to hold things together, keep the family going, cultivate the garden, and keep so busy that they could not cultivate their minds or spirits to their full potential.

So far as we can tell, women were not disciples of early Jewish teachers before Jesus's time. Prophetesses such as Miriam were distant memories, even though our Mary Magdalene was likely named after her. It is not a surprise that deeply spiritual and bright women might have leaped at the chance to dabble in foreign religions from nearby Gentile territory or jump on the bandwagon of a radical rabbi from Nazareth when he offered them a chance to fish for followers. This must have seemed like a big step up from gutting fish and sweeping dirt floors, though these women continued to serve the traveling band of disciples either by patronage or by actually provisioning and cooking for them ("helping to support them out of their own means," Luke 8:3). What then can we say about these remarkable women who seem to have dropped everything to follow Jesus? We will examine the stories of two of the more prominent female disciples, Joanna and Mary Magdalene, and see what their tales reveal.

Joanna/Junia: Follower of Jesus, Apostle of Christ

Jesus, it can be said, had an entourage, and that entourage, according to the Gospel of Luke, included several women of substance. Luke tells us that as Jesus traveled through the cities and villages of Galilee, "proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God," he was accompanied by the Twelve as well as by "some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna and many others, who provided for them out of their resources" (Luke 8:1-3). We will focus first on the second-named woman: the wife of Herod Antipas's steward.

Herod Antipas, a son of King Herod the Great, ruled over Galilee and Perea (the desert region south of Galilee and east of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea). As the wife of his steward, Joanna was no peasant. Rather, she would have been a middle- or even high-status woman apparently able to travel on her own or with friends without fear of reprisal. Her traveling, then, is no surprise. What is surprising is who she traveled with. Women in early Jewish culture were not supposed to fraternize with men they weren't related to, never mind travel around Galilee with them.

And yet Joanna not only followed a controversial man named Jesus around Galilee; she supported him financially. Joanna apparently had access to her husband's material wealth and used it, as the earlier quote tells us, to become one of Jesus's patronesses.9 Her funds helped Jesus, the Twelve, and the women disciples travel, eat, and minister together.

Joanna's support of Jesus is especially surprising because of her husband's employment. After all, Herod Antipas was the infamous beheader of John the Baptist. He cannot have been pleased that his steward's wife was running after Jesus, a radical sage and a relative of John the Baptist. It surely didn't help Chuza's situation that Jesus, as noted earlier, had called Herod "that fox." That Joanna would nevertheless leave her home and put her husband's career at risk to follow Jesus shows how very attractive the ministry of Jesus must have been to women and how brave (or foolhardy) Joanna was. But there were good reasons to follow Jesus. He did not treat women as if they were made unclean periodically by menstruation; he saw God's grace as having overruled such conditions and the rules they entailed. This open attitude allowed women to become his close and constant disciples without fear of contaminating others in the circle. Second, Jesus apparently dismissed contemporary taboos against men talking with women who were not their relatives (cf., e.g., John 4:27).10 This was a radical step in a highly patriarchal culture like that of Galilee. Indeed, it would be a radical step in most Middle Eastern cultures today.

When Jesus traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover festival, his unusual entourage of women and men accompanied him. This, too, is extraordinary. Normally women went to such festivals with their own families, but Joanna and several other Galilean women broke the cultural norm to be with Jesus. These women were likewise present at the crucifixion. Luke tells us, "All his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things" (23:49). According to Luke, Joanna and other women . . .


Excerpted from What Have They Done with Jesus? by Ben Witherington III Copyright © 2007 by Ben Witherington III. Excerpted by permission.
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