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Christianity in the Making, Volume 1
James D. G. Dunn
From The Publisher:
James Dunn is regarded worldwide as one of today’s foremost biblical scholars. Having written groundbreaking studies of the New Testament and a standard work on Paul’s theology, Dunn here turns his pen to the rise of Christianity itself. Jesus Remembered is the first installment in what will be a monumental three-volume history of the first 120 years of the faith.
Focusing on Jesus, this first volume has several distinct features. It garners the lessons to be learned from the “quest for the historical Jesus” and meets the hermeneutical challenges to a historical and theological assessment of the Jesus tradition. It provides a fresh perspective both on the impact made by Jesus and on the traditions about Jesus as oral tradition — hence the title “Jesus Remembered.” And it offers a fresh analysis of the details of that tradition, emphasizing its characteristic (rather than dissimilar) features. Noteworthy too are Dunn’s treatments of the source question (particularly Q and the noncanonical Gospels) and of Jesus the Jew in his Galilean context.
In his detailed analysis of the Baptist tradition, the kingdom motif, the call to and character of discipleship, what Jesus’ audiences thought of him, what he thought of himself, why he was crucified, and how and why belief in Jesus’ resurrection began, Dunn engages wholeheartedly in the contemporary debate, providing many important insights and offering a thoroughly convincing account of how Jesus was remembered from the first, and why.
Written with peerless scholarly acumen yet accessible to a wide range of readers, Dunn’s Jesus Remembered, together with its successor volumes, will be a sine qua non for all students of Christianity’s beginnings.
A magnificent achievement. Jesus Remembered is massively thorough and wide-ranging, innovative in its stress on orality, at times provocative, yet also immensely readable and clear. James Dunn’s book will undoubtedly shape Jesus study for the next generation and more. This is a “must” for all those engaged in study of Jesus at whatever level.
This is not just one more book on Jesus but rather an esteemed scholar’s wide-ranging presentation of conclusions arrived at over a lifetime of informed, critical reflection. It is full of good sense and much learning. As always, James Dunn’s work is characterized not only by a genuine familiarity with Jesus’ first-century Jewish world but also by an unsurpassed knowledge of the vast secondary literature. Especially suggestive is the consistent appeal to continuing oral tradition, which often appears justified.
—Dale C. Allison Jr.
In this study one of the most prolific New Testament scholars of today presents an impressive new approach to the old “quest for the historical Jesus.” James Dunn’s central thesis that a hermeneutically informed dialogue with the ancient texts will legitimate an account of the impact of Jesus as it was remembered by his earliest followers convincingly places the oral character of the Jesus tradition at the very center of attention. The book should not only help scholarship to free itself from the prevailing literary paradigm, but also promote a healthy balance between positivistic optimism and postmodern relativism in the search for the so-called historical Jesus.
For decades James D. G. Dunn has been a leader in serious and balanced study of both christology and history-of-Jesus research. I have profited greatly from his many books and articles, and I am delighted to read this massive distillation of his many years of reflection and publication on the historical Jesus. I highly recommend Jesus Remembered to all those interested in a thoughtful and methodologically sophisticated approach to the major questions that plague and stimulate historical-Jesus research today.
—John P. Meier
Any serious student of the historical Jesus will want to become familiar with James Dunn’s thorough and somewhat unique treatment of the subject. Dunn focuses his attention on characteristic features in the early traditions concerning Jesus in order to determine the impact that the latter had on his first followers. The portrait that emerges is both convincing and thought-provoking — an indispensable contribution to an ongoing quest to comprehend the significance of Jesus for the history of Christianity and for modern civilization.
—Mark Allan Powell
Jesus Remembered provides a fresh and thorough look at Christian origins that is provocative and at the same time judicious in its assessments. James Dunn is equally at home in the history of scholarship, in the details of the Gospels, in the array of nonbiblical sources, and in the archaeology of Jesus’ world, and he weaves these into a coherent and credible account of the Jesus traditions. Jesus Remembered is absolutely essential reading for scholars and pastors, and Dunn’s clarity and fluid style make complex issues accessible to undergraduate students and laypersons as well.
—Jonathan L. Reed
The first volume of James Dunn’s study of “Christianity in the making,” Jesus Remembered is highly readable and reliably informative on the history and tendencies of critical research on Jesus. The title Jesus Remembered is at the same time a program. The Synoptic Gospels have been studied for centuries largely through literary and source-critical approaches, but without any resulting clear picture of the Jesus tradition. Dunn now offers a “new perspective” on that tradition.
To what extent this new perspective succeeds remains to be seen, but Dunn’s methodological principles merit attention and agreement. He attempts to understand the Jesus tradition in the spirit of what Ben Meyer has called “critical realism.” Thus the content of the tradition is seen to emerge in three movements: first, it was based on the disciples’ memory of Jesus and his teaching prior to Easter; second, it was contemporized by the disciples and the first Christian communities during a lengthy period of oral transmission; and, third, it was then gradually fixed in writing. The presence of oral and written traditions alongside one another is evident in many places in the Synoptics and deserves new attention.
If one investigates the Jesus tradition according to these criteria, the characteristic features lying at the heart of Jesus’ deeds are more clearly recognized. Jesus began as a follower of John the Baptist and set out to work as a Jew among Jews. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and lived a life of service, especially for the poor and outcast. Jesus worked along with his disciples toward a renewal of Israel. His opponents were not so much the Pharisees as the powerful priests in Jerusalem. For the sake of his mission Jesus went willingly to a martyr’s death but expected his speedy “vindication.” His resurrection was faithfully attested to by his followers. Dunn arrives at this portrait of Jesus through detailed engagement with international research. Unfortunately, his portrait has no sharp contours because this research has still not come to terms with Jesus’ mission and claims, and Dunn contents himself (in my opinion too often and too quickly) with consideration of differing views. What he finally considers to be most important about Jesus — that he functioned as the “eschatological representative of God” — can and should be worked out in a more clearly historical fashion, for this view only reproduces a foundational element of the Jesus tradition.
Yet Dunn emphasizes that the Synoptic Evangelists do not falsify the memory of Jesus but, instead, preserve and present it so that it can lead to an encounter with Jesus even today. This view is truly worth mentioning, and for this reason Dunn’s imposing work deserves attention beyond an academic readership.
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About the Author
James D. G. Dunn is widely regarded as one of the foremost scholars in the world today on the thought and writings of St. Paul, James D. G. Dunn is Lightfoot Professor Emeritus of Divinity at the University of Durham in England.
Professor Dunn is the author of numerous books about the New Testament, including several important commentaries on various epistles of Paul. Among these commentaries are Romans (Word Biblical Commentary, 2 vols.), Galatians (Black's New Testament Commentaries), and Colossians and Philemon (New International Greek Testament Commentary).
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