THE ACTUAL JESUS OF HISTORY 

The Galilee and the Sea of Galilee: the site of Jesus’ life and activity
The Galilee and the Sea of Galilee: the site of Jesus’ life and activity

 

 

HERE ARE FOUR BOOKS

ON

JESUS, HIS MINISTRY, AND

HIS HISTORICAL CONTEXT

THAT NEED TO BE IN YOUR HANDS

by Carl E. Roemer, Th.D.

[click on the following link for information about the author]

About the Author                 

The liturgical artist Joel Nickel portrays Jesus in the midst of his colorful, complex, and multi-valent human environment.

This site has three purposes:

To inform the visitor about the “actual” Jesus of history amidst all the bewildering information that is found in popular and scholarly books and on the internet. This is also a little research site to help you find useful information about the Jesus of history.

To introduce you to a series of books I am writing about the Jesus of history. This is very much a project in progress.

To give you an overview of the results of these studies. You will see how Jesus’ person, words, and actions are intimately bound up with his environment.

On this site you will find a detailed summary of each book in this series. These summaries are meant to provide the visitor with the results of these studies so you will find in them answers to some basic questions about the identity of the “actual Jesus” of history, what I call “Jesus on the ground.” I hope they will whet your appetite, encourage you to read the book behind the summary, and really satisfy your hunger for “on the ground knowledge” of the Jesus of history.  The four books in this series of six projected books that have been published are:

                 

                   1. What was the World of Jesus: A Journey for Curious Pilgrims

                   2. Who in the World was Jesus: An Encounter for Brave Hearts

                  3. The Beloved Son as Tantalizing Teacher: Jesus Enounters His World

                  4. Invading the Realm of Demons, Disease, and Death: The Miracles of Jesus-God with Us

THESE VOLUMES ARE AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM AND BARNES & NOBLE

As you can see this project is a work in progress although these four volumes have already been published. 

Two more volumes will follow these four:  the indiviudal sayings of Jesus and a final work on his death and his reported resurrection.

But I want to give you a little overview of these four books right here to entice you to read further. You can access greater detail and read more about each of these books by clicking on these links:

BOOK 1: CONTEXThttp://theactualjesus.com/home/book-1-context/

BOOK 2: PARABLEShttp://theactualjesus.com/home/book-2-parables/

BOOK 3: PRONOUNCEMENT STORIES BOOK 3: PRONOUNCEMENT STORIES

BOOK 4: MIRACLEShttp://BOOK 4: MIRACLES

Introduction

In some ways the Gospels are like the text of a drama.  If you’ve read the script of a play and then seen it performed you realize how different a text can be understood when it is transferred from page to stage.

             This image is of the face           of the crucified man on the           Shroud of Turin. It is all but certain the face of the crucified Jesus.

The Gospels were all originally read aloud to an audience that was intimately familiar with the background that gave the words immediacy, meaning, and vibrancy.  In our cultural situation we’re no longer privy to that “scenery.”  The first book featured on this site is designed to provide the scenery behind Jesus and the Gospels. That scenery makes it possible to encounter the words and actions of Jesus and his portrayal in the Gospels in a way that is something close to the experience of his original audience.

Please read the endorsements for these books by clicking just to the right of this link:

ENDORSEMENTSENDORSEMENTS

The first book is written in the form of a journey, or pilgrimage, to lead you on an adventure into a world and time that is very different from ours.  On this journey you will encounter the story behind the story.  You will discover the background that opens up a new and fresh experience of the Gospels and the words and actions of Jesus. This volume fully illuminates the volumes that follow where you will encounter Jesus “on the ground” as he lives, speaks, and works within a context that is now clear and transparent.

The reader will discover the first century background vividly depicting the crisis of Jesus’ times in terms of the religion, economics, ecology, social, political, and historical realities.  The crisis developed out of the Roman occupation: the Jewish society in the Holy Land of the first century encountered Roman rule as an affront to their understanding that God alone was to be their ruler. There were several acceptable  mediators of his rule: a messianic king, legitimate priests, or the leadership of so-called judges. Under the judges Israel was organized as an egalitarian tribal federation. In Jesus’ time, the society was rife with claimants to these forms of leadership who led movements that were intent on ousting the Romans. So the society was percolating with revolutionary ideas and movements.

His ultimate purpose appears to be to provide background, context, for the reader of the New Testament . . . For a person (me) so concerned with “How to Read the Bible,” this is the kind of thing that is very helpful–thousands of times better than a trip to “the Holy Land” to “walk where Jesus walked.                                                                                                                             

                          —Dr. Jonathan Grothe, President Emeritus of Concordia Seminary in St.Catherines, Ontario.

Joel Nickel here depicts the “mind of Christ” on and in our our minds by means of the parables.

The focus of the second book is on the 39 parables of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. I call it an “encounter for brave hearts” because they reveal Jesus not as some “meek and mild” purveyor of universal, heavenly truths. In his parables Jesus engaged his time and place often in an abrasive and confrontive manner. They are meant to illustrate what God’s reign and rule are all about. They often assert that God and his rule appear in unexpected circumstances and by surprising people who engage in startling behavior.

The book begins with an overview of representative scholars who have worked at describing the Jesus of history from their perspective. To arrive at their portrayal of Jesus they use what is called the criteria of authenticity which I describe and evaluate in the opening chapters.

Then the heart of the book, the 39 parables of Jesus, comes into view. The parables are little stories Jesus invented to illustrate the meaning of what he called the reign of God and the behavior that should ensue from accepting this rule of God. You will discover how dynamic these stories are in relationship to the background that I described in the first book. They are disruptive tales that subvert popular ideas about God and his will. They proclaim that this rule of God can appear under unexpected circumstances and even by the shocking behavior of surprising kinds of people. They powerfully portray how Jesus understands the crisis in which his beloved nation is enmeshed. These stories challenge his people and nation to turn about in their thinking and behavior in order to escape the disaster that otherwise will come about by pursuing hostility and rebellion against the Roman overlord.

 

I recommend Dr. Roemer’s work to every serious student of the Bible, lay or ordained, for it has the capacity to teach the one who reads it, how to truly read the Bible, so that they, too, will receive mercy anew and live for the praise and glory of God.”                                                                                                                                                                                                            —The Rev. Dr. Amy C. Schifrin, STS, President Emeritus, North American Lutheran Seminary; Associate Professor                                                                                                                                                of Liturgy and Homiletics, Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge, PA

 

The third volume  initially takes a long and hard look at the birth stories and the two incidents in his life that had a profound effect on him, on his self-understanding, and on the conduct of his ministry. Those events are his baptism and his temptation.  Their analysis discovers that he encounters a designation for himself that bears ominous undertones: he is called and named the “beloved son.”

The stories of Jesus’ birth, baptism, and temptation are an introduction to and an illumination of the meaning of the  43 so-called “pronouncement stories.” These stories are teachings and responses to his contemporaries. They are set within brief contexts which clarify their meaning and purpose. In them we find Jesus engaging directly with his fellow Jews in the land of Israel.

These stories are divided into biographical stories, controversies, and scholastic dialogues. The former are biographical in the sense that they concern things Jesus said in relationship to his experiences, intimate encounters with individuals, and actions that he initiated that reveal something personal about himself. The latter deal with encounters with groups and individuals who challenge his words and behaviors.

Here again you will meet a Jesus who is a far cry from some placid philosopher dishing out maxims for daily living. He is engaged with the realities of his people and their circumstances. He makes their situation clear and proclaims what kind of behavior is called for in the midst of the crisis in which they are enmeshed.

As in the parables investigated in volume 2 of this series, we meet Jesus here again “on the ground.” In this study you are invited to join the conversation with this tantalizing teacher but now in his direct encounter with individuals and groups.

“. . . the author . . . continually invites the reader to go deeper, not only into the message of Jesus, but into the very person of Jesus-–the “Beloved Son”– the one who, not only embodied God’s Kingdom, but also amazingly invites the contemporary reader into that same and gracious rule. I gratefully recommend his book.”                                                                           Gerald A. Miller, Pastor Emeritus Annapolis Evangelical Lutheran Church 

The artist, Joel Nickel’s portrait-like rendering for the fourth volume portrays Jesus whose miracles are a “spring of water welling up to eternal life” and who personally is a font of knowing, a knowing that is discernment, a process discovered in relationships.

 The fourth volume investigates all of the miracles that have been ascribed to Jesus in the gospels. I divide them into exorcisms, healings, raisings from the dead, and theophanies. I preface that investigation with a survey of the results of contemporary science which has unveiled a universe and the human genome as designed pointing to a designer. So the miracles, even in terms of science, have to be seen as inherently probable to say nothing of the veracity of the reports we find in the gospels. My investigation of the miracles determines the authenticity and historicity of each and how they are related to Jesus’ historical environment. Similarly to his parables and pronouncements they function as expressions of the kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed and enacted. The kingdom was also an expression of the Jubilee which had never been practiced by Israel but now, Jesus insists, is present in the proleptic presence of the kingdom and to be put into practice by the forgiving of debts, forgiveness of sins, showing mercy, celebrating liberty, the radical sharing of goods, and practicing hospitality even with the hated Romans.

So the miracles themselves were a concretizing of the presence of the kingdom and the Jubilee: people were set free from demon possession and disease. The raisings from the dead reflected the very nature of God who is a God of the living who promises that life itself will ultimately be triumphant. In this regard Jesus’ ministry into which twelve close disciples were drawn can be understood as a military campaign. His battle was not against a tangible foe but against satanic forces which had possessed individuals and the nation itself. When Israel conducted Holy Wars the combatants had to be unencumbered (Deut 20:5-8). Jesus required the same of his disciples (Mk 6:79). So Jesus miracle activity even on the Sabbath was not just a facile flaunting of Israel’s social norms. Jesus and his disciples were still stigmatized: they were itinerant, left off familial obligations, renounced social connections, and made themselves dependent on village hospitality.

So Jesus founded a new family of kinsmen among those who would hear the word of God and keep it (Mk 3:35). In this family God is Father of all (eschewing patriarchy), and both those settled followers in the villages and those who accompanied Jesus in his itinerant ministry, were brothers and sisters. It was not a matter of blood relationships, being a descendant of Abraham, that counted in this new Israel. The Jewish values of loyalty, care, and mutual love that characterized the family were transferred to this new community of the kingdom.

What I call “theophanies” (manifestation of the presence of God) are stories such as the stilling of the storm, the feeding of thousands, changing water into wine, and the transfiguration are miracles but are more accurately to be understood as God’s presence in Jesus’ actions (after all, he was accused of being in league with Satan) and therefore setting his stamp of approval on Jesus as the “beloved son.” So his actions were divine works and in full accordance with the divine will.

Jesus did not disparage the Torah and so was not calling the nation to greater Torah observance but to obedience to the new “Torah” of the kingdom of God and its ethics of love, forgiveness, and the sharing of goods. The nation at this point was worshipping the god of revanchism, violence, and rebellion. So the warning of Deuteronomy remains the same: blessing and curse are set before Israel in Jesus’ call to enter the kingdom: “Obey his voice. . . for that means life . . . and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore . . . to give [you]” (Deut 30:15-20). The nation did not listen and its doom was sealed in the devastating war with Rome some forty years later.

“[This] volume in Carl Roemer’s series on the historical Jesus [is set] within the religous and cultural setting of Israel in the Holy Land during the first century. Roemer is a world-class expert onthe history, faith, and culture of the Hebrew people in the time of Jesus and this work does not disappoint! The book is academically focused with incredible documentation, but understandable to all and well worth the read!”

 The Rev. Dr. Michael H. Heuer, Ret. U.S. Air Force chaplain

In Conclusion

My approach to understanding Jesus means taking his historical context as foundational. So first of all I want to answer the question, “Do his words and deeds relate to the Jewish milieu of the first century and if so, how do they function in it?” My purpose in writing these books grows out of that conviction: Jesus’ words and deeds are intimately joined to his environment.

It becomes clear that Jesus was engaging his world in the land of Israel and its historical situation. His dynamic relationship with the first century Jewish environment speaks volubly for the authenticity of the materials we find in the Gospels.

I want to help pastors and laypeople to see and understand how intimately Jesus was connected to his time and place. He did not just say and do things that had only a spiritual and universal application. He did not just “float above history” handing down ideas and maxims that were meant for every time and place (even though they have applicability beyond the particular instances of his historical situation). He spoke and acted in a particular historical context to which everything he said and did had to do with the people of his time and place, their attitudes, and how they were relating to their environment.

One obvious reflection of that specificity of time and place is the opposition that he engendered and the personal attacks that he had to confront.