This is a list I am preparing for the first chapter of Messiah, a book I am working on for next year. I will add a few more examples by the time it is done. I would be glad to get feedback on any of these and see if anyone else has a different take on these scholars.
WHO WAS YESHUA?
John Dominic Crossan – A traveling cynic, a sort of Greek philosophical teacher, who chose poverty and sought to overturn unjust social systems with his teaching. Jesus was a wisdom teacher who came to teach the end of authoritarian hierarchies, to liberate people to see the equality of all men and women, who used his magical powers to develop a following, and who was abandoned by his followers before the cross.
Marcus Borg – A “spirit person,” meaning someone who radiated a sense of being on a higher plane, in touch with God, and a channel for God’s power to come into the world. He was also a wisdom teacher subverting conventional thinking and seeking to reform Judaism. Specifically, Jesus sought to end the exclusivist, hierarchical, temple-centered Judaism in favor of a sinless Judaism, accepting of all people as they are.
Geza Vermes – A Galilean charismatic healer, whose ability to move God by his prayers was the source of his reputation.
Amy-Jill Levine – A prophet very much within Judaism whose purpose was to build egalitarian, utopian communities where members shared all things for the common good.
E.P. Sanders – A prophet of the coming kingdom who worked very much within Judaism. Jesus preached acceptance by God without repentance. Rather than repentance, Jesus called sinners to an easier path of following him, a process which would lead to goodness and transformation, but which did not make people feel rejected.
Richard Horseley – A prophet of social change whose message was intended to liberate Galilean peasantry from abuse by urban centers of power. Jesus sought to establish egalitarian, utopian communities to improve the life of the peasantry.
John Meier – A Galilean teacher at the margins of society who proclaimed the coming time of God’s rule and who was largely in agreement with Judaism.
N.T. Wright – A prophet within Judaism, who led a messianic movement to free Israel from exile by his highly symbolic death and divinely empowered resurrection. Jesus operated within Judaism, but also challenged the temple system and taught changes in the Torah for the reconstituted community of Israel.
Ben Witherington – A Jewish wisdom teacher, also of prophetic and messianic character, who saw himself as God’s wisdom incarnate. He came to teach Israel how to live in light of the coming time of God’s rule.