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Jesus as a Figure in History


Jesus as a Figure in History

By Mark Allan Powell
Westminster John Knox Press

The second edition of Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee is a revision of the 1998 best-selling textbook by Mark Allan Powell, Trinity’s Robert and Phyllis Leatherman Professor of New Testament.

In the preface to the second edition, Powell explains that the first edition was written from a journalist’s perspective, through research and interviews with major figures in the field, including Marcus Borg, Jon Dominic Crossan, John Meier, E. P. Sanders, and N. T. Wright.

Powell further explains that following publication of the first edition – after he had moved on to his next book about Christian rock music – he was invited to chair the Historical Jesus section of the Society of Biblical Literature.

As a result of that appointment, he writes, “I have read everything I could find on the historical Jesus. I chaired all those meetings (aided by a revolving steering committee), deciding who should give papers—on what topic—and who should respond to those papers or reply to the respondents. I became one of the founding editors of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. I even made a few minor contributions to the field myself. And, now, I am happy to present a second edition of the book that started it all, written by someone who is no longer an outsider.”

The second edition is more than 50 percent longer than the last one, and about 33 percent of the material is completely new. The basic structure remains the same, including a chapter with the work of scholars who offer “snapshot images” of Jesus, followed by chapters that describe the work of scholars who have tried to produce comprehensive portraits or biographies of Jesus.

Powell has added the work of new scholars, but holds that 15 years after the first edition the key experts continue to be Borg, Crossan, Meier, Sanders, and Wright. The sixth scholar to receive a full chapter in this edition is the Jesus Seminar, an entity no longer around but whose legacy remains strong.

The author contends in this second edition—perhaps more emphatically than the first—that “the historical study of Jesus touches on topics of fundamental importance to religion and to society, topics with profound implications for theology and piety as well as for politics, philosophy, and the very self-image of Western civilization.”