Jesus Before Christianity

Albert Nolan revised his 1976 version of Jesus Before Christianity in 1992. I read it originally in 1998 but was lured back into its pages now 20 years later for a review. This is a timeless book. For years I have felt our times where pre-Christian. Like many in Jesus’ day we are attracted to his words and example, and as soon as everyone is on board we will jump on too. But for now the ‘world’ isn’t like that yet and we are afraid to go the whole way. Nolan says on page 171 “Jesus can help us to understand the voice of Truth but, in the last analysis, it is we who must decide and act.” He goes on to say in page 151 that “Jesus did not make authority his truth, he made truth his authority.” Later on page 102 we find: People’s compassion for one another releases God power in the world, the only power than can bring about the miracle of the “kingdom”. And then on page 39 he gets to the core: “Faith is a good and true conviction. It is the conviction that something can and will happen because it is good and because it is true that goodness can and will triumph over evil.”
In these troubled time when humanity has tried all the alternatives to compassion to see if that would be enough to solve our problems, we might be getting ready to try Jesus’ way. I hope so. Now I ask everyone “where do you see the hope?” I invite you to find a copy of this timeless examination of the times before Christianity to appreciate what was going on then. I think you will find the parallels to this time uncanny and see why I think we are still pre-Christian.

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

In this new work (2015)  Mary Beard shares a lifetime of study and reflection on the period of history hinging on the year of 63 BCE. . You can listen to her share her story on a Fresh Air episode on NPR. The December issue of The Atlantic features an article called The Secret of Rome’s Success on this book.  I was attracted to this work because I hoped it would give me a deeper understanding of the issues and challenges of the peoples of those times and enlarge my appreciation of God’s process of creation that ushered in the birth of Christianity.  If you want to dig deeply (536 pages) you will not be disappointed.

Partings

Shanks, Hershel. Ed. Partings. Biblical Archaeology Society. Washington, DC. 2013. How Judaism and Christianity became two. I just finished this book and can say it won’t finish with me for a long time to come. I kept thinking all the while I probed the works of the 19 contributors to 15 chapters, that we face some of the same issues today that the Jews and Christians did in those years preceding the birth of Jesus up through almost the middle ages.  These scholars who have studied and taught for many years have come together to attempt to answer the question of parting. You will find that there is no consensus of when or if such a reality ever existed. Throughout the world the changes brought about by the new realities of our generation are making it necessary to recognize and value truth wherever it can be found. Be it found in science, religion, culture, ecology or economy. The old ways demand new ideas if we are to continue as a viable reality. I highly recommend this work and deeply thank the editor and those who responded to his request for this dialogue.

Mind in the Balance

If you are interested in the interface between Christianity and Buddhism in the dialogue between science and religion, this may be the book for you. Mind in the Balance examines the history of meditation in both these traditions of belief. B. Alan Wallace explores the subject of mind, intelligence, spirit and reason. His  insights from modern science helps to engage those who feel that they are “spiritual” but not “religious”.

Jesus Through Jewish Eyes

With our new emphasis on what we call “Jesus’ Bible”, I am recommending Jesus Through Jewish Eyes compiled by Beatrice Bruteau. Nineteen contributors were invited to tell us how Jesus would look to them as Jews of the 21st century. Each contributor was to suppose that they could go back to Jesus himself, before Christianity, before all those theological elaborations, when he was simply a Jew among Jews. What would he be like?  Could a modern Jew imagine that, and if so, how would the view come out?