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Beginning with the Gospels, interpretations of the life of Jesus have flourished for nearly two millennia, yet a clear and coherent picture of Jesus as a man has remained elusive. In Rabbi Jesus, the noted biblical scholar Bruce Chilton places Jesus within the context of his times to present a fresh, historically accurate, and revolutionary examination of the man who found Beginning with the Gospels, interpretations of the life of Jesus have flourished for nearly two millennia, yet a clear and coherent picture of Jesus as a man has remained elusive. In Rabbi Jesus, the noted biblical scholar Bruce Chilton places Jesus within the context of his times to present a fresh, historically accurate, and revolutionary examination of the man who founded Christianity. Drawing on recent archaeological findings and new translations and interpretations of ancient texts, Chilton discusses in enlightening detail the philosophical and psychological foundations of Jesus’ ideas and beliefs. His in-depth investigation also provides evidence that contradicts long-held beliefs about Jesus and the movement he led. Chilton shows, for example, that the High Priest Caiaphas, as well as Pontius Pilate, played a central role in Jesus’ execution. It is, however, Chilton’s description of Jesus’ role as a rabbi, or "master," of Jewish oral traditions, as a teacher of the Cabala, and as a practitioner of a Galilean form of Judaism that emphasized direct communication with God that casts an entirely new light on the origins of Christianity. Seamlessly merging history and biography, this penetrating, highly readable book uncovers truths lost to the passage of time and reveals a new Jesus for the new millennium.


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Beginning with the Gospels, interpretations of the life of Jesus have flourished for nearly two millennia, yet a clear and coherent picture of Jesus as a man has remained elusive. In Rabbi Jesus, the noted biblical scholar Bruce Chilton places Jesus within the context of his times to present a fresh, historically accurate, and revolutionary examination of the man who found Beginning with the Gospels, interpretations of the life of Jesus have flourished for nearly two millennia, yet a clear and coherent picture of Jesus as a man has remained elusive. In Rabbi Jesus, the noted biblical scholar Bruce Chilton places Jesus within the context of his times to present a fresh, historically accurate, and revolutionary examination of the man who founded Christianity. Drawing on recent archaeological findings and new translations and interpretations of ancient texts, Chilton discusses in enlightening detail the philosophical and psychological foundations of Jesus’ ideas and beliefs. His in-depth investigation also provides evidence that contradicts long-held beliefs about Jesus and the movement he led. Chilton shows, for example, that the High Priest Caiaphas, as well as Pontius Pilate, played a central role in Jesus’ execution. It is, however, Chilton’s description of Jesus’ role as a rabbi, or "master," of Jewish oral traditions, as a teacher of the Cabala, and as a practitioner of a Galilean form of Judaism that emphasized direct communication with God that casts an entirely new light on the origins of Christianity. Seamlessly merging history and biography, this penetrating, highly readable book uncovers truths lost to the passage of time and reveals a new Jesus for the new millennium.

30 review for Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    I read this on the heels of Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and it was great fun to consider Chilton's account next to Aslan's. Chilton paints Jesus as a Jewish mystic, an Old Testament prophet who is deeply disturbed by the corruption wrought by the high priest of the Temple and his Roman overlords. The importance of the Temple and the law cannot be overestimated in either account. But Chilton argues that the means by which Jesus intends to reform the establishment I read this on the heels of Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and it was great fun to consider Chilton's account next to Aslan's. Chilton paints Jesus as a Jewish mystic, an Old Testament prophet who is deeply disturbed by the corruption wrought by the high priest of the Temple and his Roman overlords. The importance of the Temple and the law cannot be overestimated in either account. But Chilton argues that the means by which Jesus intends to reform the establishment are much different: for Chilton, Jesus is the most conservative of spiritual leaders, not a lestes, not a bandit or a rebel; he is a prophet focused almost entirely on the Kingdom of God. By virtue of this intense spiritual focus alone, and not by any overt conspiracy, is Jesus able to attract a loyal following and threaten both Temple and Roman authorities. Chilton's argument is better supported than Aslan's -- his knowledge of the historical sources, including the Aramaic Targums, makes his account resonate. But his writing is not exactly compelling. It is thoughtful, but difficult, perhaps intentionally so. His translations from the Gospels are so unwieldy and awkward that they prove the old adage that a faithful translation cannot be beautiful. (He insists on translating "Peter" as "Rock" at every turn, which is literal but sounds ridiculous.) On the other hand, the difficulty of interpreting υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (via Hebrew prophetic scripture) is highlighted every time he translates "the one like a person" instead of the traditional "son of man." Rabbi Jesus was written for the lay community, but it is clear that it springs from much more advanced scholarship. It's a book to wrestle with, and a gateway to further study.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    This book is fascinating. The author explores the Biblical and other historical evidence of Jesus' life and posits the theory that many of his sayings need to be interpreted more closely in light of rabbinical teachings at the time, especially those of the charismatic leader John the Baptist. I hope I do not mischaracterize the book in saying that what I took away from it was that Jesus was indeed a transformative figure, but not necessarily in the way that Christians typically understand. I lik This book is fascinating. The author explores the Biblical and other historical evidence of Jesus' life and posits the theory that many of his sayings need to be interpreted more closely in light of rabbinical teachings at the time, especially those of the charismatic leader John the Baptist. I hope I do not mischaracterize the book in saying that what I took away from it was that Jesus was indeed a transformative figure, but not necessarily in the way that Christians typically understand. I liked the tone of historical inquiry, from the point of view of one schooled in both history and Christianity (the author is a priest), and found it very well written. The author's telling of the events of the Passion (in the context of tenuous Roman rule) was absolutely riveting. I almost doubted the outcome at moments, and the tragedy was fully conveyed.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jay B.

    This compact book is filled with an extraordinary set of insights, engagingly told & supported by inspired scholarship. When the traditional Gospel accounts are supplemented with their missing Judaic context, a fresh Jesus emerges - he is a 1st century Palestinian, a devout Jew, steeped in the Torah. As one Catholic priest told a mutual friend: After giving an informed sermon, the priest was approached by a disturbed parishoner who exclaimed, "Father, are you telling me that Jesus had a Jewish m This compact book is filled with an extraordinary set of insights, engagingly told & supported by inspired scholarship. When the traditional Gospel accounts are supplemented with their missing Judaic context, a fresh Jesus emerges - he is a 1st century Palestinian, a devout Jew, steeped in the Torah. As one Catholic priest told a mutual friend: After giving an informed sermon, the priest was approached by a disturbed parishoner who exclaimed, "Father, are you telling me that Jesus had a Jewish mother!" No kidding. Chilton, who began this project as a Christian scholar fluent in Aramaic and Hebrew, is a gifted storyteller. Whatever your theological and cultural perspective, this book is a classic, a never out-of-print. It's a must-read (& re-read)for everyone who wants to understand more about that First Century spiritual earthquake the reverberations of which still shape current events. Jay B Gaskill

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brian Griffith

    Chilton possibly outdoes the whole host of Jesus Seminar scholars in his quest to uncover the real Jesus. His account is learned, sensitive, and viscerally dramatic. The tension and excitement are palpable, and the questions are arresting. For example: "What Jew would tell another to drink blood, even symbolic blood?" The Torah, Chilton notes, forbids it in several places such as Genesis 9:4. The Mishnah records an ancient Jewish abhorrence at the very thought, stating that the most heinous dese Chilton possibly outdoes the whole host of Jesus Seminar scholars in his quest to uncover the real Jesus. His account is learned, sensitive, and viscerally dramatic. The tension and excitement are palpable, and the questions are arresting. For example: "What Jew would tell another to drink blood, even symbolic blood?" The Torah, Chilton notes, forbids it in several places such as Genesis 9:4. The Mishnah records an ancient Jewish abhorrence at the very thought, stating that the most heinous desecration of sacrificial ritual possible for a priest was, "if he slaughters in order to eat from its flesh and drink from its blood" (p. 252). At Chilton's hands a whole set of challenging alternatives arise as to what Jesus meant. This is the most thought provoking biography of Jesus I've seen.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dna

    I love love loved this book. For the history, the detail, the perspective, the picture of Jesus that Chilton painted that is unlike anything I’ve ever read about the big JC. It took a couple of months to pore over this slim volume, but there were so many notes to take and questions to note for later, but I enjoyed every second of it. Reading Chilton was an experience! I will definitely look for more of his books, after I read this one more time. HUGELY recommended to lovers of history, Biblical I love love loved this book. For the history, the detail, the perspective, the picture of Jesus that Chilton painted that is unlike anything I’ve ever read about the big JC. It took a couple of months to pore over this slim volume, but there were so many notes to take and questions to note for later, but I enjoyed every second of it. Reading Chilton was an experience! I will definitely look for more of his books, after I read this one more time. HUGELY recommended to lovers of history, Biblical or otherwise, and to biography lovers across the board, whether you are religious, Christian, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, or whatever. Great book!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mary-Ellen

    I enjoyed Chilton's book on Mary Magdalene so much that I immediately bought and read Rabbi Jesus. Another interesting read. Much political context is included, basically adding an element that was not given to me in my Catholic education. On some level, the book on Mary was easier to read, but noone ever said Jesus of Nazareth was easy to understand. Certainly a portrait of a man, someone you could have met, was made. For anyone who likes to read about history and people, this is provocative. N I enjoyed Chilton's book on Mary Magdalene so much that I immediately bought and read Rabbi Jesus. Another interesting read. Much political context is included, basically adding an element that was not given to me in my Catholic education. On some level, the book on Mary was easier to read, but noone ever said Jesus of Nazareth was easy to understand. Certainly a portrait of a man, someone you could have met, was made. For anyone who likes to read about history and people, this is provocative. Not preachy.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jon Stout

    In preparation for hearing Bruce Chilton speak, as part of the Spong Lecture Series (which I attend every year), I read his book, which is the most detailed reconstruction of the life of Jesus that I have so far seen. The main thrust is to place Jesus squarely within the context of first century Judaism. While the book is necessarily speculative, given the limitations of the sources, Chilton takes the approach of developing as much context as possible, so that any surmises are sensible understan In preparation for hearing Bruce Chilton speak, as part of the Spong Lecture Series (which I attend every year), I read his book, which is the most detailed reconstruction of the life of Jesus that I have so far seen. The main thrust is to place Jesus squarely within the context of first century Judaism. While the book is necessarily speculative, given the limitations of the sources, Chilton takes the approach of developing as much context as possible, so that any surmises are sensible understandings of the sketchy language of the gospels. Chilton develops the extensive context in several ways, for example, by becoming conversant in Aramaic and Syriac, in addition to Hebrew and Greek, so that he can get a better feel for the actual language than Jesus used. Chilton argues that Jesus was illiterate, and knew the Torah and prophets through Aramaic oral tradition (Targums). On the basis of this, he is able to suggest that the Lord’s Prayer started out as a piece of the Jewish Kaddish in Aramaic. The phrases “Hallowed be thy name” and “Thy kingdom come” have a clear similarity to “May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified” and “May He give reign to His kingship” (excerpted from an on-line Kaddish). What is thought of as a distinctively Christian prayer has a clear continuity with Jewish tradition. Another way that Chilton develops context is by making use of extensive non-Biblical sources, such as Talmud and Midrash (in Hebrew of course), as well as contemporaneous historical sources such as the Jewish historian Josephus. I had known that Josephus had written very little about Jesus, but it turns out that he wrote quite a bit more about John the Baptist, and James, the brother of Jesus, in the context of Jewish history. Both were noteworthy figures integral to first century Judaism, John as a wilderness reformer, and James as an unusually observant ascetic in the Temple at Jerusalem. The insight gained helps to flesh out Jesus’ own experience. Occasionally the speculations conflict with each other. For example, Chilton makes clear that Jesus shared the widespread first century belief that an apocalyptic upheaval would usher in “the Kingdom of God” at any moment. This was not surprising in a religious culture oppressed by Roman power. I had known this ever since I read Albert Schweitzer’s autobiography years ago. But Jesus also says (what I remember as) “The Kingdom of God is within you.” Chilton argues, through his linguistic expertise, that this ought to be translated as “The Kingdom of God is in your midst.” that is, that the Kingdom of God is immediate and communal. These two concepts of the Kingdom of God are inconsistent. One cannot both speculate that Jesus hoped to usher in the Kingdom of God and also speculate that he held that it was already here. This is an area in which too much context doesn’t help. These are snippets, but there is much to be valued in Chilton’s work. While eschewing magical explanations, Chilton describes a detailed fabric for Jesus’ life, placed squarely within Jewish tradition, which could plausibly inspire two millennia worth of followers.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mary Gail O'Dea

    Wonderful book by Bruce Chilton about the historical Jesus. It is so exciting that fairly recent archaeology and cultural anthropology studies have made Jesus so much more accessible. No, he was not born in Bethlehem; no he did not arrive via Virgin Birth; yes, he was illiterate; no he did not die for our sins; yes, he was a Jew who hoped to change the rituals of sacrifice for the Temple and had no intention of forming a new religion; yes, he and Mary Magdalene, his primary disciple, and he may Wonderful book by Bruce Chilton about the historical Jesus. It is so exciting that fairly recent archaeology and cultural anthropology studies have made Jesus so much more accessible. No, he was not born in Bethlehem; no he did not arrive via Virgin Birth; yes, he was illiterate; no he did not die for our sins; yes, he was a Jew who hoped to change the rituals of sacrifice for the Temple and had no intention of forming a new religion; yes, he and Mary Magdalene, his primary disciple, and he may have loved each other in every sense of that word (pre-marital sex was no big deal in first century Judaism); no, he never said the bread and wine were literally his Body and Blood, a statement that would have been blashpemous to him. But, he was an incredible prophet so very close to God, a visionary whose mysticism deepened during the course of his life until he occupied the spiritual realm as much as the earthly one and could bring others into that realm with him. And he was radically, insistently inclusive -- there could be no one termed "other" by this rabbi -- not Samaritans, Syro-Phoenicians, women, adulteresses, tax collectors. The challenge to every one of us who call ourselves "Christians" is to demand of ourselves that no is "other" -- not gays, not Muslims, not liberals, not conservatives, not illegal aliens, not blacks. The Christ is a man-made metaphor too often devoid of passion, humor, joy, earthiness, friendship, doubt and pain; Rabbi Jesus is astonishing, captivating, demanding, loving, generous, hilarious, insistent that the Kingdom of God is already here and available through community feasting.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kenny

    The author, an ordained cleric, nevertheless doubts the supernatural powers and authority of Jesus of Nazareth, and attempts (somewhat unsuccessfully) to explain away most of Jesus' miracles and radically new teachings, couching him as an itinerant, illiterate preacher with a knack for knocking off Jewish teachings and re-tooling them as his own. While unconvincing in that respect, the book is priceless as an inside view of the times that Jesus came of age. Chilton's vivid description of Jerusal The author, an ordained cleric, nevertheless doubts the supernatural powers and authority of Jesus of Nazareth, and attempts (somewhat unsuccessfully) to explain away most of Jesus' miracles and radically new teachings, couching him as an itinerant, illiterate preacher with a knack for knocking off Jewish teachings and re-tooling them as his own. While unconvincing in that respect, the book is priceless as an inside view of the times that Jesus came of age. Chilton's vivid description of Jerusalem and especially the Temple are required reading if you wish to understand Judaism of the time and its most profound symbol, the Temple of Jerusalem. Keep your skeptic hat on, but enjoy the read!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Damon Davis

    Not a very good book. The problem is really not the assertions he makes as much as the lack of sources and evidence he fails to produce in support. Books such as The Jesus Dynasty are much better reads in this regard. The novel like presentation was great Approach but does not make up for the absence of explaining his conclusions about Jesus. For example of Jesus does not return home after his incident in the temple at 12, other than saying trust me I've figured this all out he doesn't even atte Not a very good book. The problem is really not the assertions he makes as much as the lack of sources and evidence he fails to produce in support. Books such as The Jesus Dynasty are much better reads in this regard. The novel like presentation was great Approach but does not make up for the absence of explaining his conclusions about Jesus. For example of Jesus does not return home after his incident in the temple at 12, other than saying trust me I've figured this all out he doesn't even attempt to explain how he arrived at that conclusion. Since the entire book follows this format I would have to call it a waste for anyone seriously seeking to know more about the historical Jesus

  11. 5 out of 5

    John Funnell

    This book is an expertly written piece of fiction from a brilliant and well read author. I have learnt much about the Jewish culture during Jesus’ time, the significance of John the Baptist’s discipleship on the mamzer Jesus and Caiaphas’ relationship with Rome. With that said, I must stress THIS IS FICTION. To portray this book as anything else is simply irresponsible. The historical sources quoted are often applied out of context and are used in utter disregard to their chronology all in support o This book is an expertly written piece of fiction from a brilliant and well read author. I have learnt much about the Jewish culture during Jesus’ time, the significance of John the Baptist’s discipleship on the mamzer Jesus and Caiaphas’ relationship with Rome. With that said, I must stress THIS IS FICTION. To portray this book as anything else is simply irresponsible. The historical sources quoted are often applied out of context and are used in utter disregard to their chronology all in support of the authors fictional narrative. Many of the supporting texts used were discredited during their time as written by cults and bare little light on the truth, yet they are given the same weight as the more credible sources and rabbinic commentaries. Which is all fair enough if presented as a fictional work. I am deeply saddened to read the other comments of those who have taken this book seriously. Friends, this is a well written and researched book of historical fiction, presenting a palatable and personally unchallenging Jesus. Rabbi Jesus is NOT the historical Jesus and you will be missing out if you stop your search here. If you are interested may I suggest Kenneth E. Bailey - Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes (an excellent treatment on much the same source material) and of course the Bible itself. Please note; Every time Jesus is approached in scripture as Rabbi (teacher) He follows with a rebuke. Understanding Him simply as a teacher is missing the point of who He really is! Those who see this book as anything other than fiction please Read John’s Gospel 3:1-21.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Wes F

    I think we picked this book up from a yard sale. I could tell from the beginning that it would be quite a liberal spin on the life of Jesus--the kind of thing that the fatuous Jesus Seminar would produce (Chilton worked with that ultra-liberal project). But, I thought there might be some good historical stuff to glean from this book and so pressed on. Well, there were some insights worth the read, but overall it was a sad, liberal, twist-it-to-make-it-fit-my/our-liberal-biases volume. Who came u I think we picked this book up from a yard sale. I could tell from the beginning that it would be quite a liberal spin on the life of Jesus--the kind of thing that the fatuous Jesus Seminar would produce (Chilton worked with that ultra-liberal project). But, I thought there might be some good historical stuff to glean from this book and so pressed on. Well, there were some insights worth the read, but overall it was a sad, liberal, twist-it-to-make-it-fit-my/our-liberal-biases volume. Who came up with the title that included "intimate?" Speculative and watered-down, weak-kneed would be more appropriate. The emphasis on the Ezekiel "Chariot of God" rabbinical experience and the "person who was a person" (Chilton's translation of "Son of Man") got tiring and only served the author's intention to present Jesus as a brilliant rabbi--a young disciple of John the Baptist (??)--whose dreams of overturning the Roman rule of Palestine were prematurely squashed by a politically fearful Pilate & jealous Jewish leaders--and whose "alleged" resurrection was all a mystic vision of his deluded disciples who thought it would be a neat idea to start a new religion to carry on Jesus' teachings. What rubbish! Please, Mr. Chilton, read and mediate on this: "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." (I Cor. 15:17-19).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    I wish I had realized I had read Mary Magdalene: A Biography, also by Chilton; I could have saved myself the effort of reading this one. Chilton starts with the basic premise that Jesus was a mamzer, a term not quite synonymous with bastard. Here, he uses it to mean that Jesus' purity as a Jew was suspect, because no one knew for certain who his father was, though Chilton puts forth the theory that it was, in fact, Joseph. From this, he builds a story where Jesus, the perpetual outcast, creates a I wish I had realized I had read Mary Magdalene: A Biography, also by Chilton; I could have saved myself the effort of reading this one. Chilton starts with the basic premise that Jesus was a mamzer, a term not quite synonymous with bastard. Here, he uses it to mean that Jesus' purity as a Jew was suspect, because no one knew for certain who his father was, though Chilton puts forth the theory that it was, in fact, Joseph. From this, he builds a story where Jesus, the perpetual outcast, creates a religion for outcasts. That religion, according to Chilton, is heavily reliant on Kabbalistic mystery teachings. The "miracles" Jesus is said to have performed are instead cases of mass visions. The parables are directly related to Jesus' own life (casting him, for example, as the prodigal son who returns to his family in Nazareth after spending some years as a disciple of John the Baptist, from whom he learned the mystery tradition). In the end, I come back to the same issues I had with Mary Magdalene: A Biography: the research is sloppy and poorly presented, the conclusions are circumspect at best (how do we "know" Jesus was fat and balding?), and he lacks the background, understanding, or perhaps ability to describe the mystery tradition he is comparing Christianity to (in this case, Kabbalah, in the case of Mary Magdalene, Gnosticism). I can't in any way recommend this author, despite the fact that he appears to be a respected academic. It could be that his ideas have merit and are backed by actual scholarship, but nowhere is that evident in his writing.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review title: The One like the person Chilton is an Anglican professor of religion, and has used his expertise in Aramaic and Jewish theology to write this "biography" of Jesus. While his use of language and historical knowledge gives his account some credence, his assumption that the miracles, deity, and resurrection of Jesus as described in the "biographies" of the gospel writers are explained by human psychology and mystic visions are serious issues for the reader who approaches this with Chri Review title: The One like the person Chilton is an Anglican professor of religion, and has used his expertise in Aramaic and Jewish theology to write this "biography" of Jesus. While his use of language and historical knowledge gives his account some credence, his assumption that the miracles, deity, and resurrection of Jesus as described in the "biographies" of the gospel writers are explained by human psychology and mystic visions are serious issues for the reader who approaches this with Christian expectations. The two stars in my rating are based on the insight into the background of Jesus as a Jew from Galilee at a time when Jews were under the political thumb of Rome and the religious thumb of Jerusalem, where the Jewish priesthood under Caiaphas maintained tenuous independence by collaboration with the Roman military watch of Pontius Pilate. The rural Galileans were nettlesome illiterate northerners separated from the center of their homeland and temple worship by the feared Samaritans and miles of dangerous roads. What could a poor unknown and suspected illegitimate son Jesus have to say of any value?; Galileans were "a tiny, powerless group in an occupied province of the Roman Empire whose Jewish identity was under siege." (p. 4) One major problem I have with Chilton is that when he claims that the chronology of Jesus's life in the gospels at this point is inaccurate (p. 34), he completely throws out the gospel chronology and creates his own chronology out of whole cloth and ventures into barely historical fiction. In Chilton's account Jesus becomes "the prodigal son" of his later parable (p. 63) and goes off to learn his religious lessons as a disciple of John the Baptist, where through a period of years of mystic visions Jesus develops his theology of spiritual cleansing from the heart outward (symbolized by immersion in the "living waters" of the Jordan) and worship based on spirit rather than temple offerings. Similarly, when Chilton challenges the chronology of the Passion week at the end of Jesus's life (p. 248), he proposes his own chronology, but at least here he bases his chronology on the timing of the Jewish festivals and the political push and pull between Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod Antipas as documented by Chilton's research in letters exchanged between Rome and Jerusalem. The insight into language and culture is the best takeaway for me from Chilton. The "living waters" Jesus taught flowed from his spirit was in Aramaic a reference to the naturally flowing and unfettered water of the Jordan in contrast to the "luxurious bathing pools" of the Pharisees and Zadokites (Sadducees) (p. 45). The Aramaic term translated "redemption" equated sin to economic debt, a term resonating with his audiences: "In Nazareth, everyone was in debt." (p. 79). It is interesting to learn that the Pharisees, despite Jesus's prickly dislike of that legalistic group, also earned enmity from the Jewish political leadership because of their nitpicking insistence on compliance with the letter of every law; the marketplace in the Temple courtyard for buying sacrificial offerings that Jesus disrupted and then condemned also "appalled the Pharisees, who insisted that the act of sacrifice should be a noncommercial encounter between the people of Israel and God." (p. 221) Jesus aroused anger because he was "a Galilean [who] presumed to teach and practice purity by exemplary healing in the area of the Temple." (p. 121). But even if he was an unknown and unlettered bumpkin to the Jewish leadership, he astonished the priests with his authoritative teaching. " After all, for Jesus the five books of Moses were a living word, the Torah upon the lips"(p. 140) and--perhaps Chilton should consider--upon the divine heart of the true Son of God. While Jesus in his ministry "had already claimed to be messiah . . . [and] he had a potential army at his disposal, for whom there was nothing ethereal or otherworldly about the divine Kingdom of which he spoke," (p. 189), he remained focused on the coming sacrifice of his body for the redemption of the debt of sin. The Kingdom was not a political kingdom but a spiritual one based on the body and blood of Jesus to establish a spiritual worship capable of true redemption that the massive sacrificial system of the Temple could never accomplish. Chilton attributes Judas Iscariot's tortured suicidal response to his betrayal of Jesus to the fact that "Jesus forced Judas to choose between his loyalty to the Temple or his commitment to the Chariot [Jesus's vision of spiritual worship], and Judas chose the Temple." (p. 257) The enigmatic expression "Son of Man" was in Aramaic literally "the one like the person" (p. 172), but here Chilton and I part ways when he writes that it meant that "Jesus had begun to see himself as part of the heavenly court", instead of Jesus declaring himself the equally human Son of Man and divine Son of God that he was that made his sacrifice sufficient. The assertion by Chilton that the power of Jesus was due solely to his ability to create and share human visions, based on his assumption of divine miraculous power as myth fatally weakens his arguments, as for example when he attributes the disciples' astonishment when Jesus stilled the waves by his command to "visionary practice" (p. 157) and when he attributes the resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples and 500 other followers as a "progression of visions." (p. 281). It is hard to imagine the disciples accepting martyrdom based on mythical visions. Humility and awe as we learn and meditate on the language, history, and culture of the life of Jesus presented in the Bible and corroborating historical documents are powerful forms of spiritual worship; denying the reality of the words and the life drains the power from them. Chilton's expertise in the language and historical documentation of the world Jesus knew provides insight into the One like the person, but denies the person who is the One.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Cleveland

    Obviously Bruce Chilton is an intelligent man and a good writer. But I came away from this book wondering just what does the man truly believe about Jesus of Nazareth? Was he an idealistic and courageous Jewish rabbi who ended up getting himself killed because he annoyed the ruling elites. Or, was (is) he God in the flesh? I think perhaps Chilton believes the former? Read his epilogue ... "By exalting Jesus as the only human being to sit on the right hand of God, many theologians have denied hea Obviously Bruce Chilton is an intelligent man and a good writer. But I came away from this book wondering just what does the man truly believe about Jesus of Nazareth? Was he an idealistic and courageous Jewish rabbi who ended up getting himself killed because he annoyed the ruling elites. Or, was (is) he God in the flesh? I think perhaps Chilton believes the former? Read his epilogue ... "By exalting Jesus as the only human being to sit on the right hand of God, many theologians have denied heaven to others." ... no offense ... but what utter nonsense. Either He was (and is) Lord of all ... God in the flesh ... present during the creation 13.7 billion years ago ... the ultimate atonement resurrected to life on the third day after death on the cross AND opens heaven to ALL who believe OR ... he was just a good but flawed human like the rest of us. I have made my choice.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sophia

    This author had so many baseless assumptions that were used in the book without ever being listed or explained. In fact, many of these assumptions were ones that historians have discredited yet he used anyway. Moreover, he writes about the years that history has absolutely no account of as if his ideas are fact. At many times, I thought it read more like a work of fiction than what he claims to be a biography.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    I was disappointed in this book, which is not necessarily the author's fault; to some extent, the book is simply not about what I was particularly interested in. The author does use history, archaeology, &c. to recreate an accurate picture of daily life in Jesus's time. His speculation that Jesus always felt like an outsider because of being a "mamzer" (loosely: bastard) seems highly unlikely to me. I did read the first third or so of the book. I was disappointed in this book, which is not necessarily the author's fault; to some extent, the book is simply not about what I was particularly interested in. The author does use history, archaeology, &c. to recreate an accurate picture of daily life in Jesus's time. His speculation that Jesus always felt like an outsider because of being a "mamzer" (loosely: bastard) seems highly unlikely to me. I did read the first third or so of the book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Barry

    Fascinating take on who the person Jesus may have been. All the more remarkable because it's written by a priest, who debunks many of the unrealistic, commonly-held conceptions of Jesus. In fact, the real person was just like anyone else: flawed, angry, motivated, and complex. Unlike any other study of Jesus I've come across. Fascinating take on who the person Jesus may have been. All the more remarkable because it's written by a priest, who debunks many of the unrealistic, commonly-held conceptions of Jesus. In fact, the real person was just like anyone else: flawed, angry, motivated, and complex. Unlike any other study of Jesus I've come across.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kim Berkey

    Main claim: Christ was a Merkabah mystic; plenty that I disagree with, but it's a very accessible book, and the closing statements are breathtaking in their poignant view of suffering and its role in Christianity. Main claim: Christ was a Merkabah mystic; plenty that I disagree with, but it's a very accessible book, and the closing statements are breathtaking in their poignant view of suffering and its role in Christianity.

  20. 5 out of 5

    blmagm

    Oh my! What an interesting interpretation of the words spoken by Jesus ("This is my body. This is my blood.") that are now part of the Eucharist's Great Thanksgiving. Excellent choice for Lenten reading and reflection. Oh my! What an interesting interpretation of the words spoken by Jesus ("This is my body. This is my blood.") that are now part of the Eucharist's Great Thanksgiving. Excellent choice for Lenten reading and reflection.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    The book promises to provide the 1st century context of Jesus' life and how we may be misinterpreting events and saying from his life without this necessary background information. How the book is actually a work of historical fiction, making providing details without sources, coming to conclusions that seem far fetched, even if you accept the fictional details added to the story. One example, Chilton claims that Jesus, knew a Lazarus wasn't really dead but actually was just sleeping, despite ev The book promises to provide the 1st century context of Jesus' life and how we may be misinterpreting events and saying from his life without this necessary background information. How the book is actually a work of historical fiction, making providing details without sources, coming to conclusions that seem far fetched, even if you accept the fictional details added to the story. One example, Chilton claims that Jesus, knew a Lazarus wasn't really dead but actually was just sleeping, despite everyone else considering him dead and being interred for days, but somehow Jesus knew, and knew this multiple times for different people. Rather than argue the whole story was an embellishment, or fiction, or argue Jesus raised the dead, he takes the improbable argument that people were suddenly often mistaken for dead, for days, by entire communities, but Jesus somehow, was the only one who knew these people were actually still alive. Yet, Chilton never established how Jesus would come to know about this affliction to the exclusion of everyone else, nor how to detect it, nor why everyone thought he raised people from the dead. This one example highlights his consistent problem in writing this, there are no alternatives. Chilton picks a path for Jesus in his biography and sticks with it, there is no debating two points of view in his book, he just makes claims and presents it as an authoritarian biography, if you want to be taken seriously as a scholar you need to present and refute arguments that you do not agree with, instead he puts in details and events that even the canonical and non-canonical gospels do not speculate upon and makes them stone cold facts of his narrative.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Fiza Pathan

    I loved this book. I loved the way Bruce Chilton has brought forward the real personage of Jesus Christ. I loved the way he shows the reader in what context the gospel can be read & what it means in particular instances. This book is a must read for anyone who wants a historically almost accurate account of the real Jesus of Nazareth's life & what he means to us today. The book a scholarly work but written almost in the form of a simple biography. Kudos to Bruce Chilton for managing to do so. I I loved this book. I loved the way Bruce Chilton has brought forward the real personage of Jesus Christ. I loved the way he shows the reader in what context the gospel can be read & what it means in particular instances. This book is a must read for anyone who wants a historically almost accurate account of the real Jesus of Nazareth's life & what he means to us today. The book a scholarly work but written almost in the form of a simple biography. Kudos to Bruce Chilton for managing to do so. I look forward to reading more of Bruce Chilton's books in the year future.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rob Tiedemann

    This book will be classified as pure blasphemy by the majority of the world's Christians, but Mr. Chilton has done studies into the personhood of Jesus that everyone who claims to be his disciple should read. Following someone requires knowing someone. Knowing someone so lost to time and so scant of resources requires study. Do yourself a favor and use this book as a basis for learning about the real life of history's most controversial leader. This book will be classified as pure blasphemy by the majority of the world's Christians, but Mr. Chilton has done studies into the personhood of Jesus that everyone who claims to be his disciple should read. Following someone requires knowing someone. Knowing someone so lost to time and so scant of resources requires study. Do yourself a favor and use this book as a basis for learning about the real life of history's most controversial leader.

  24. 5 out of 5

    5greenway

    Lots of food for thought here. If I felt it got bogged down a bit in the middle section, that was probably more me, not grappling enough with some of the insights and interpretations and not getting my thoughts straight - but the opening chapters and the two closing chapters were particularly effective, I felt. Plenty to return to.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paul Burcher

    I wish I knew enough scholarship on this subject to judge some of his more controversial claims, but despite that I found this book challenging and exciting at many levels. He ends with a re-interpretation of the real "meaning" of the last supper and communion that strikes me as grounded in solid scholarship and an understanding of Judaism. I wish I knew enough scholarship on this subject to judge some of his more controversial claims, but despite that I found this book challenging and exciting at many levels. He ends with a re-interpretation of the real "meaning" of the last supper and communion that strikes me as grounded in solid scholarship and an understanding of Judaism.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nick Mitchell

    A very humanistic view of Jesus. This is not fiction, nor is it a scholarly exposition either. There are many assumptions made to create more vivid images by the author. That said, the author is well read and has done copious research on the life of Jesus.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Humanizes the Prince of Peace and gives you many insights on the rocky times of early Christianity.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Isabel Berrigan

    Interesting read on a Rabbi"s review of Jesus as a prophet. Interesting read on a Rabbi"s review of Jesus as a prophet.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mark Matzeder

    Once in a great while I encounter an idea which resonates to my innermost core. These constructs are that little piece of jigsaw with the sky, the bit of cloud, and ray if insight that fit perfectly into a corner of my psyche where I have labored long and scrutinized all possibilities to fill that empty spot. My modus is finding those parts by accident. I am a firm believer in Serendipity. And synchronicity. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tells me I am an intuitive thinker. I knew that. Being Once in a great while I encounter an idea which resonates to my innermost core. These constructs are that little piece of jigsaw with the sky, the bit of cloud, and ray if insight that fit perfectly into a corner of my psyche where I have labored long and scrutinized all possibilities to fill that empty spot. My modus is finding those parts by accident. I am a firm believer in Serendipity. And synchronicity. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tells me I am an intuitive thinker. I knew that. Being an intuitive thinker means I skip steps and drive empiricists crazy. We often get to the same place. But I can’t tell them how. You’ve probably guessed I don’t do linear. Other times I try cramming a close but not quite piece into the hole. Sometimes the piece resonates with such frequency I want it to be true, empirical evidence be damned. Rabbi Jesus is one such occasion. Chilton’s thesis—that Jesus practiced a form of Jewish mysticism called merkabah—strikes a deep chord within me. Merkabah focuses on the prophet Ezekiel’s wheel-within-a-wheel Vision of the Holy One’s throne. It makes sense. I have spent decades studying the writings and methods of mystics and shamans in cultures scattered across history and geography. Call it a hobby. Call it a vocation. Within the last ten years I read Robin Griffith-Jones’ Gospel According to Paul which made the same argument about the apostle Paul. It is fairly obvious from the undisputed Pauline letters that he had the experience of entering non-ordinary reality. The speculation that Paul’s locus involved entering that chariot of fire Ezekiel envisioned floating over Tel Abib was too delicious to dismiss. While the literary and symbolic elements of merkabah have circulated and simmered since at least the sixth century BCE, it was through the first century before and stretching into the first century of the Common Era it coalesced into a discipline. Chilton argues Jesus’ teachings spring from his practice of merkabah. Around this thesis Chilton weaves a marvelous narrative showing the events of Jesus’ life and mission … might have occurred in a certain way. This is not historical Jesus research. It struck me more as History Channel research where if A happened then B might have happened and if B happened then C could have happened and—since there is perhaps a little circumstantial evidence of A—suddenly we have D presented as the one, true historical account. And I level this criticism as one who intuitively thinks Chilton is on to something deserving investigation. My strongest reservation is Chilton’s narrative places too much reliance on the canonical gospels as a primary source. I phrase it thus deliberately. Chilton conflates the canonicals (including John!) into an esoteric spin on The Greatest Story Ever Told. (That was another novel treating those four gospels as individual eyewitness accounts of history.) Chilton then unpacks this huge grab-bag of pericopes which he takes, spins, and arranges into the order that suits his narrative purpose. Which is pretty much what Luke and Matthew did with Mark, so I don’t know why it bothers me so much, here. Another stumbling block for me is Chilton’s presentation of the Mystic Experience. Mysticism and Empiricism don’t mix. It is difficult to express non-ordinary reality in rational terms. That is why practitioners use art and metaphor to express the inexpressible. I am all for visiting non-ordinary reality, but talking about it sounds delusional. 20th Century Anglican apologist C.S. Lewis popularized a trilemma pigeonholing Jesus into one of three roles: liar, lord, or lunatic. The argument is simplistic but sprang instantly to mind when Chilton’s descriptions made Jesus’ sanity seem dubious. Which is a shame, because Chilton obviously knows the difference. The image of Rabbi Jesus touching the transcendental is a compelling one. But the devil is in the details.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Sangiacomo

    It was hard for me not to give this book five stars, because I was absolutely riveted and could not put it down. Right before I started it, I peeked at reviews, many of which docked the book points because it wasn't necessarily thorough or upfront about his sources and such. And I really wanted to not take points off the book due to that reason, because I think that type of white-glove handling of potentially academic works robs them of their appeal to a wider audience. However, this book feels f It was hard for me not to give this book five stars, because I was absolutely riveted and could not put it down. Right before I started it, I peeked at reviews, many of which docked the book points because it wasn't necessarily thorough or upfront about his sources and such. And I really wanted to not take points off the book due to that reason, because I think that type of white-glove handling of potentially academic works robs them of their appeal to a wider audience. However, this book feels full to the brim with speculation and theory. And I don't even know if it's inaccurate, I'm not a religious scholar or anything. But at some point, the far-fetchedness of what Chilton presents undermines how interesting it is. Like, it starts with the absolutley mind-blowing assertion (at least IMO) that much of Jesus's character was an outgrowth of rumors that Joseph was not truly his father; thus, Jesus's Jewish identity was always in question, leaving him on the outskirts of society. This sense of alienation, combined with his absolute determination in his faith, and in himself as a conduit of that faith, created the obviously incredible (whether you are religious or not, and I am not) personality that Jesus seemed to have had. And I thought that was totally interesting, and struck the line between "well we're not positive but we think X." I'm fine with that, I don't need fifty pages on how we know Mary and Joseph might not have been married when Jesus was born or anything like that. He took a theory and created a very persuasive assertion spread from that. But then that effect just becomes layered on top of each other. He just starts speculating, and speculating, and speculating. The credibility of all of this is further compounded, because while his prose is immediate and vibrant, he hardly makes use of any qualifiers (we think, it's possible, etc.). He sounds so sure in what he's saying and his credibility, at least in my eyes, goes down at an increasing rate throughout the book. This problem is worsened because the one source he does consistently refer to is the Gospels. That right there should confirm for you what everyone else says about this book, which is that it's certainly not academic (and should not be marketed as such...) I don't know, on one hand I loved this book and could not put it down, like to stress, it is fascinating. But ultimately it's totally marred because it sets you up with false expectations. He makes it sound like he's going to use the Aramaic translations to open up a deeper insight. But ultimately it just leads to him using a lot of bad, clunky translations to make suppositions that you could make reading any translation / version of the Bible. For instance, at one point, he takes one of Jesus's parables and explains how it's clearly a retelling of his own drama with his brother....... what??? That's like rule number one of any kind of literary (though does this book qualify is probably a fair question) criticism, you never draw on real events from the authors life. I think part of my fascination is I find it so interesting to watch people take such an emotionally charged topic and try to be objective about it. Chilton keeps up a brief facade of objectivity but quickly tosses it aside. The second half of the book is rife with suppositions-on-suppositions, as well as a lot of fawning over how Jesus' divinity allowed him to heal. Which sounds like a shitty recap, and yet I found this book totally fascinating. So who knows. If your interested in this topic, I can't imagine you'd find this book to be time wasted. But this is certainly not an academic text, and I also imagine that some of the theories he puts forward could be considered offensive to Christians. Not sure if that leaves a large subset, but I enjoyed this book, for all its flaws.

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