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.
I’m unfamiliar with these scholars, so I cannot comment on your understanding their views.
Reading their descriptions, I’m reminded of some of the American Revolutionary fathers. I recall one, possibly Jefferson, referring to Jesus as “the great reformer of Judaism”.
Interesting titles, although I suspect a lot of these folks apply their own biases in describing Jesus. (Don’t we all!)
Enough rambling for now, looking forward to the book, Derek.
I would suggest analyzing Elaine Pagels- and her Gnostic take on the “secret teachings” of Yeshua. She alleges that he was not God but rather a teacher who sought to uncover the divine light in all human beings. As you know she is a Princeton professor and NY Times bestselling author.
How about this one from C.S. Lewis…..
I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.”
That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldnot be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.
You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is,the Son of God,: or else a madman or something worse …. You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great humanteacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.²
— From Case for Christianity, by C.S. Lewis.
Ah, yes, I love that quote.
You know, in our day of moral relativism, political correctness, and western pluralism (many paths to God), it’s nice to hear something clear and concise from C.S. Lewis!
I’m reminded of a quote from the late Art Katz, a Jewish atheist who turned to Messiah later in his life:
Have you heard of pluralism? The whole modern western world is pluralistic. That is to say, “many paths to God.” There’s no single truth.
Jesus made a remarkable statement: “If you see me, you see the Father, I and the Father are one. No man comes to the Father but by me. If any man comes any other way, that man is a thief and a robber.” You guys realize what a scandal the gospel is? You realize how abrasive the gospel is? Do you realize that God has chose the foolish things? That there’s nothing about the gospel that’s intellectually credible? God has given us something calculatingly foolish, compared to the wisdom of the world. The world that is pluralistic and likes to consider many paths to truth has got to contend with a gospel that insists upon itself, and the Jesus of that gospel, as the only truth. It is uncompromising in its insistence. It is absolute in its expression. And the very question of absoluteness and singularity itself runs right across the whole tenet and grain of the modern world. You understand that? Do you understand how pluralistic the whole mindset of the world is, how many options — I don’t know’s, the maybe’s, the grey’s, who’s to say’s — and into that whole mucky world of vagaries, and choices, and nuances, comes one statement out of the heart of God: “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father but by me.”
If I hear anything from my Jewish kinsmen in conversations I have been involved with my people, invariably they bring up, “What about the other people of the world? What about Buddhists, what about Muslims, what about Hindus? Don’t they have a religion, isn’t it a world faith? Aren’t there redemptive elements in these religions? And you feel a blush coming up to the roots of your being, when you have to insist and say, “No, these are satanic deceptions and false alternatives that lead unto death.” To insist on the singularity of the gospel, to insist on the absoluteness of it: this is not just an issue of religion, it’s hitting the world head-on in a confrontation of wisdoms, of moral systems, of mentalities.