In this book, acclaimed religious scholar Geza Vermes subjects all the sayings of Jesus to brilliantly informed scrutiny. Profoundly aware of the limits of our knowledge but immersed in what we do have—both the “official” gospels and associated Jewish and early Christian texts—Vermes sieves through every quote ascribed to Jesus to let the reader get as close as possible to the charismatic Jewish healer and moralist who changed the world. The result is a book that creates a revolutionary and unexpected picture of Jesus—scraping aside the accretions of centuries to approach as close as we can hope to his true teaching.
Géza Vermes, FBA was a British academic, Biblical scholar, and Judaist of Hungarian Jewish origin—one who also served as a Catholic priest in his youth—and writer on history of religion, particularly Judaism and early Christianity. He wrote about the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient works in Aramaic such as the Targumim, and on the life and religion of Jesus. He was one of the most important voices in contemporary Jesus research, and he has been described as the greatest Jesus scholar of his time. Vermes’ written work on Jesus focuses principally on Jesus the Jew, as seen in the broader context of the narrative scope of Jewish history and theology, while questioning and challenging the basis of the Christian doctrine on Jesus.
Available from Amazon Australia in paperback for $31.99 free delivery, or in Kindle for $14.99
Thank you Tim O’Dwyer for this additional review of Vermes work. Go to Guardian Review
After a very detailed analysis of the book, Shortt concludes:
Two related conclusions spring from this. One is that small differences of gospel interpretation can lead to vastly differing verdicts on Jesus. The second is that no single map of the territory seems adequate. Geza Vermes is a respected guide. But don’t consult him in isolation.
· Rupert Shortt is author of Rowan Williams: An Introduction.
Note: As with most of my “book reviews” this is not an attempt to give the potential readers a good summary of what they might expect from cover to cover of the book. It is a few of my impressions which may or may not lead others to read what this author has to say.
Some impressions by Rodney Eivers, 7th May 2020
really wanted to enjoy this book.
the author’s renown with previous titles, leading to television series,
Barracuda and The Slap, neither of which I had actually viewed, I looked to
sharing in the laudatory attention given to the writing of Christos Tsiolkas. I
had no reason to think that Damascus was other than “inspirational”. I
had read reviews of the book from such disparate sources as the ABC Ethics and
Religion Report and Eternity magazine.
confident was I of its being a good read that my wife had bought a copy of the
book to give to my 17-year-old grandson. Among other things, he had done some
religious studies at his high school. He
had just graduated last year. Furthermore, it seemed to me that it might be
just the sort of book (giving a bit of flesh and blood atmosphere to the early
Jesus movement) that would be an entertaining supplement to the more academic
titles which I give each month to a theological college. For this purpose, I
rushed out in the final days of the Christmas shopping rush to bag the last
three copies of Damascus available at my local Kmart.
was to be the first book of fiction I had read for about two years (for the
previous light reading I had been revisiting a number of the writings of
sheer coincidence when I mentioned this to a good friend and colleague of mine,
he said that he had started reading Damascus and recommended that I continue to
look at it myself. When I mentioned, however, that we were planning to give the
book to our 17-year-old he cautioned.
should read the first few chapters yourself first. It may take a rather special teenager to be
mature enough to cope with this text.”
that I have read Damascus from cover to cover, I think he may have been right.
Remember, I was anticipating something inspirational. It seems to me that
positive inspiration is something our world needs whether we are 17 or 70.
what do we find with Damascus? Christos
Tsiolkas seem to have sought to set the impact of biblical Paul realistically
into the setting of society as envisaged in the Mediterranean region governed
and influenced by the Roman imperialism. Perhaps reasonably accurately he
paints a picture of anger and violence being the norm for just about everybody.
life in that era always like that? I
notice on the back blurb to the book someone notes there are “sudden jags of tenderness”. That would be right. There is not much
tenderness displayed by anybody.
rule lasted for more than 400 to 500 years so it must have had something going
for it. There must have been people reasonably happy with it as long as you
stuck to the rules. I am reminded of the situation in China today, where
despite the protests of the people of Hong Kong, mainland Chinese seem happy to
accept their lot with a very autocratic regime grateful for the stability it
provides. I suppose you could argue that because they did not stick to the
rules, Paul and his lot including the whole Jewish nation got into trouble with
was certainly violence in Roman times. Nevertheless, one thing that I have long
puzzled over in relation to the Roman justice system, was that a fair-minded
legal system existed at all. It seems remarkable to me that someone presumably
as insignificant as Paul in relation to whole wide Roman empire, could go
before Governor Felix in Cyprus and be
packed off to Rome, with expensive guards and travel expenses to face further
court hearings at the far side of the empire.
To claim that this is because he was a Roman citizen does not sound very
convincing to me. Why not impale him, crucify him or feed him to the lions on
the spot when defying such a powerful entity? Would the Saudis, the Russians or
the Chinese provide such latitude for their citizens today?
back to the violence. In this story, sexual intimacy, whether homosexual or
heterosexual does not get much tenderness either. Nothing comparable to the
joyous sensuality of the Song of Solomon from an earlier ancient period. Homosexuality
is treated as something of shame or disgust (I am bit surprised by this as the
author is openly gay). Heterosexual relationships even within marriage are
characterised by rape. An ideal marital relationship is painted as no sexual
relations at all. We are told of men sleeping in each other’s arms, but it is
not clear whether this an emotional closeness or is a further euphemism for
what in the Old Testament is described as “knowing” one’s bed companion.
found the crudity of the language, grating. Nowadays this sort of interchange
is called “coarse” language. This
together with the angry tone may well be the popular style of writing today. I
came across this when reviewing some essays composed in a writing course at
Griffith University- so much anger!
“fucking” (or its Greek or Syrian counterpart) the general adjective of
emphasis with people at that time? Or is that an extension of a 21st
century norm when other general adjectives of emphasis in literary and film
media have gone by the board. What
happened to “damn!” and “bloody” of
earlier centuries? While writing these notes I read a review of another book about
Roman times. This claimed that insults were part of everyday life in ancient
Rome so perhaps Tsiolkas has got it right!
major theme of Damascus is the author’s design to set up a tension between the
people at that time who came to be called Christians regarding the nature of
Jesus. In order to do this, he introduces apostle Thomas as a twin of Jesus.
Thomas is made to represent those who saw Jesus as simply a charismatic human
being who brought a basically non-supernatural message of how to nurture a
better secular world here and now – The Kingdom of God. At least in the early
years under the sponsorship of Jesus’s brother James, this approach was
directed at the people of Israel and sought to retain Jewish culture including
notably such practices as male circumcision.
however, is the one who took the message far beyond Galilee and Jerusalem along
the Mediterranean coast and sought to make it universal. His message, though,
was heavily into the supernatural especially in the expectation that Jesus was
returning to earth someday soon. This aspect gets hammered quite a bit by
Tsiolkas. It is interesting of course – Tsiolkas acknowledges this although not
very clearly to my mind – that although Paul insists that he has “seen” the
resurrected Jesus, his own writings make it clear that it was not a face to
face encounter in the flesh but rather something of an intense vision.
own theological position is, of course, closer to that of Thomas (except for
the link to Hebrew culture) than of Paul. Tsiolkas has consulted a number of
what I regard as reputable literary sources, including, I was glad to see, the
gospel of Thomas. He has what I see as a curious, and to me somewhat
regrettable attitude to institutional Christianity. He acknowledges the
powerful cause for good which arose from Paul’s efforts but is not prepared to
call himself Christian because he does not “believe” in the resurrection. Is
“belief” in the physical resurrection a vital part of Christianity? If one sees
merit in the ethos of the pre-Easter Jesus rather than the post-Easter Jesus
which Paul promoted and proclaimed there may still be room to make the
following of the Jesus Way a worthy calling.
Christos Tsiolkas is trying to show there was merit in what eventuated from the
persuasiveness of Paul, the book fails to be convincing for me because of his depiction
of the personal characteristics of the main protagonists. None of them even our
hero, Paul, come across as lovely people. They are temperamental, speak
harshly, and are sometimes violent. In other words, somewhat hypocritical.
can I share this book with my teenager and trust that he will be inspired by
it? Or provide it to theological
students as they engage in their studies to make the world a better place? I don’t know. Maybe you, my readers, will
have some view on this.
Perhaps what Christos Tsiolkas seeks to remind us is of the ultimate outcome. Through the persistence, and demonstration of love by relatively weak and flawed personalities such as Paul, Thomas, Lydia, Timothy and others, the message survived and thrived. The Jesus presence with its ethic of the equal worthiness of all human beings, of loving one’s enemies, of stewardship rather than ownership of one’s assets, and of turning the other cheek (this gets a fair bit of mention in the book) in due course overcame the controlling influence of the Roman empire and left a legacy which remains with us to this day. That, indeed, is remarkable.
Dominion: The making of the western mind, 2019, Little, Brown Book group, London.
Christianity is the most enduring and influential legacy of the ancient world, and its emergence the single most transformative development in Western history. Even the increasing number in the West today who have abandoned the faith of their forebears, and dismiss all religion as pointless superstition, remain recognisably its heirs. Seen close-up, the division between a sceptic and a believer may seem unbridgeable. Widen the focus, though, and Christianity’s enduring impact upon the West can be seen in the emergence of much that has traditionally been cast as its nemesis: in science, in secularism, and yes, even in atheism.
That is why Dominion will place the story of how we came to be what we are, and how we think the way that we do, in the broadest historical context.
ABC Radio National Podcast interview between Tom Holland and Geraldine Dougue:
Dr Peter Lewis has produced a second edition of his very interesting book The Ending of Mark’s Gospel.
This is essentially the same content, just expanded a little. A few changes have been made and two chapters added If you have the first edition, no need to rush out and buy the second but new readers should look out for the second edition.
Peter’s hope is that this rational investigation of the abrupt ending to Mark’s Gospel will be a key to understanding how the gospels came to be the way they are. He sees this as integral to revitalising the faith.
The love of God crosses all boundaries. Every. Single. One.
Every day, millions of people lament the loss of civility, respect, and hope, and they wonder if it’s possible to cultivate a love big enough to overthrow hate and heal our hurts. With courage, authenticity, and relevance, Jacqueline A. Bussie proclaims, “Yes! It’s possible!” and urges readers to widen love’s wingspan and to love as God loves–without limits or exceptions.
In Love Without Limits, Bussie imparts practical solutions for people of faith who yearn to love across division and difference in these troubled times. Through poignant personal memoir, engaging theological reflection, inspiring true stories of boundary-busting friendships, creative readings of scripture, and surprising shout-outs to some of love’s unsung heroes, Bussie challenges readers to answer God’s call to practice a love so deep, it subverts the social order; so radical, it scandalizes the powerful; so vast, it excludes no one.
“A must-read for all Christians interested in inclusivity for their communities.” –Publishers Weekly
From Rev Fran Pratt – Peace of Christ Church in Round Rock, Texas , USA
The Rev Fran Pratt has been on a faith journey which may be familiar to many Christians. She has gone from the charismatic experience of certitude within the Vineyard Fellowship to a place of doubt and uncertainty, where prayer did not come easily to her …
Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer
A compilation of modern call and response litanies intended for congregational use. Whether your community is liturgical and looking for fresh language, or contemporary and looking to incorporate liturgical elements, this volume contains relevant, reflective prayers that call congregations deeper into the story of Divine Love.
Written with attention to beauty, theological resonance, and justice-mindedness, these prayers probe the depths of what it means to live out faith in today’s context. People of faith from various traditions can find helpful language for integrating spirituality and contemporary life in this rich trove of communal prayers.
I feel a great deal of urgency combined with hope. People, especially people who claim to follow the Christ – the Peacemaking, violence-ending, death-resurrecting Christ – need to wake up to the understanding that caring for creation = caring for the poor. This is my prayer that Spirit People will not wait to face this, that they will start now, make and push for change now. So that we can leave a legacy of a healthy planet to our children and grandchildren.
God, we ask for your help. Our planet, our mother, is suffering Due to human neglect, apathy, and greed; Due to overconsumption, mass production, and pollution.…
This review is by Paul Wildman, a member of the UCFORUM Executive.
This short book is well written and on topic from the point of view of an intellectual activist. However, the book has little at all to do with act-ual ground up, tr-act-ive, hands on, act-ivism. The book is not entitled the ‘Theology of Activism’ and actually reverses these words to Activist Theology. However, Activist qualifies Theology in the title and as such the latter is subordinate to the former in content, process and ‘enfleshment’ and this does not happen.
The book is really a
Theology of Activism or more correctly it is a Theology of Feminist
intellectual perspectives on theories and issues that are associated with
activism. The author is a self-described ‘intellectual activist’ and this is
indeed an appropriate term, as she doesn’t move from the intellectual, indeed
hyper academic intellectual for the whole book. This means she spends
nearly 20% at the start of the (short) book explaining her ‘perspective’ in the
preface and acknowledgement sections ………And then another 20% on poems….at the
end of the book, and approximately half of the short book on ‘stuff other than
hands on activism’.
This is, I argue, part
of a bigger picture that is the failure of academe in the West to grasp what
action and activism actually is. Indeed, when confronted with this
author’s simple reframe of action and critique to fit within the hyper academic
mind set of ‘my writing is my activism’ and all is at peace with the world, I
recall that I have had this literally said to me by a famous
futurist. So the critique is brushed aside by reframing. She
finishes with a ‘call to action’. Yet, of course, that is not the action that
she does and again is a form of hyper intellectualism on steroids, a hyper
activism that is totally oblivious to itself and, as such, a sort of
intellectual somnambulism. This is a flaw/issue many of us, including me,
struggle with. However, it needs to be surfaced and articulated and owned and
addressed. This book does little to address same.
There is not one actual activist action she has
done listed in the book, not one – bizarre and tragic in a sense as with many
academics. When discussing the futures field they have NO grasp of what
activism actually is and if they even smell a whiff of critique they reframe it
as above as ‘my writing is my activist’, or go for ‘I am very busy so I
outsource my activism to a social justice/religious organisation’, or ‘you
don’t grasp what activism is about. Here read these 5 books I have written…..’
(all are literal experiences I have had). This book is shades of the
first in my opinion. Action Learning, conscientisation and craft, Peer to
Peer, hacktivism, Wilding, Permaculture are for instance some ways of
addressing same. At least she has the honesty to call herself an
‘intellectual activist’. However, this allows the author and basically most
other so call activist academics to call themselves same without ever actually
There are, some most
excellent, indeed brilliant, paragraphs and phrases in the book, that as
snippets on how to live one’s life somewhat make up for the above. A few of
liberation does not materialize in a vacuum; liberation materializes as we
midwife more shalom into this world.
L815 The struggle to
humanize those who have been most affected by systems of oppression is so much
of our work in activism. To embody a theological imagination that holds the
complexities of our human experiences including our difference and diversity in
tandem with a divine source of becoming is part of our struggle today.
L776 Church was also the
place that could not hold my complexities. Yet though I have left, church
won’t, and I can’t, let go.
L1120 In this martyrdom
of Arnulfo Romero’s, we can see a third dimension of Christian martyrdom. It is a dimension that has received little attention up to now, but
today it is becoming more and more important. The first dimension is suffering for faith’s sake: Paul Schneider. The second dimension is suffering through resistance against unjust and lawless
power: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The third dimension is participation in the sufferings of the
oppressed people: Arnulfo Romero.
In terms of the authors
analysis of Jesus’s role as an activist she readily identifies that it is Jesus’s
hands on pragmatics with the poor of the poor that come first in his work at
the margins of the margins. Yes, the background theology matters, and yet, it
is one’s personal practical hands on commitment and action that qualify the
theology not the other way around. So
maybe the kingdom/commonwealth of god is an activist theological one after
all??!! I certainly agree with her in this regard.
So, in conclusion 99% of
academics and purchasers would be most satisfied with the value for money they
have received in what Dr Henderson-Espinoza has written, and indeed I
congratulate her for same.
people of faith must work for change, by Rev JimAntal, 2018.
The national synod of the United Church
of Christ, USA passed a motion in 2017 that: The climate crisis is the
opportunity for which the Church was born.
Jim Antal’s book
opens with historian Lynn White’s words in 1967.. More science and
technology are not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis until
we find a new religion or rethink our old one. Antal argues that climate change is the greatest
moral challenge humanity has ever faced because it multiplies all forms of
global injustice: hunger, refugees, poverty, inequality, deadly viruses and war.
A compelling case is
presented that it’s time for the church to meet this moral challenge, just as
the church addressed previous moral challenges. He calls for the church to
embrace a new vocation so that future generations might live in harmony with
God’s creation and each other. After describing how we have created the dangers
our planet now faces, Antal urges the church to embrace a new vocation, one
focused on collective not individual salvation and an expanded understanding of
the Golden Rule. He suggests ways people of faith can reorient what they prize
through new approaches to worship, preaching, witnessing, and other spiritual
practices that honours creation, cultivates hope and motivates love for others into
Sometimes books come along at just the right time. One such book has been Activist Theology by Robyn Henderson-Espinoza which my wife and I have been listening to on audible as we have been driving round Tasmania. I can’t recall anything quite like it.
When I first came to this country (USA) and started to teach at Union Theological Seminary, the faculty and students asked me again and again: What has your theology to do with your being a woman? I did not know how to respond. Of course I knew of some things I intensely disliked in male theological circles – namely, the springing from one quotation to the next in their writing without the courage to use personal discourse; the almost anal obsession with footnotes, called ‘scientific style’; the conscious – but much worse, the unconscious – craving for orthodoxy and shelter it offers to the professional theologian; the neglect of historical reflection in favour of glib talk about ‘historicity’; the failure to evaluate and reflect on praxis.
I also felt a certain lack of candour and honesty, and I sensed no need to be personally exposed to the truth of Scripture and tradition.”[i] (p.xvi)
None of these criticisms can be levelled at Robyn Henderson-Espinoza. Her life transparently informs her work. Robyn describes herself a transqueer activist and Latinx scholar with white-passing privilege because of the colour of her melanin who has had to rely on food stamps to survive.
She works at the interface between the academy (university defined widely), the church and local activist movements. While at one level this is not new, (I think of Jurgen and Elizabeth Moltmann, and Jacques Ellul in Europe, James Cone in the USA, the South American Liberation theologians, and even Charles Birch and Veronica Brady here in Australia), her approach has a freshness, immediacy and a companionable solidarity. Her inclusion of the work of and discussion with activist poet Britt!ni “Ree Belle” Gray is one of the many highlights.
When she writes about the importance of “struggle” you know that this is not a remote theological concept, but something that is integral to her life as an activist theologian. Her work then becomes nourishing emotionally as well as intellectually. Her theology is literally written onto her body, tattooed on her hands in prayer as “divine doubter”.
For activist theology, God is in the change that is becoming. Activist theology is thus hope filled, not covered in despair. This is the message our time needs.
A month ago, this was brought home to me when I gave a workshop for social work academics on what they could do about student poverty. Though well intentioned, many of the academics felt overwhelmed and powerless to act. This may seem strange to the outsider, for after all, academics have resources in terms of knowledge, communication skills, status and in some cases money that are far greater than those most in need. Yet it was true that the neoliberal system was putting obstacles in the way of their acting, (lack of tenure, increased workload, greater administration). More importantly, the neoliberal system sent out the message that social problems were all too hard, there was nothing that one can do.
As it happens, a week later I was called to give evidence in person to the Senate Inquiry into the Adequacy of Newstart and Related Payments. This was unusual. I am not employed by any institution, nor am I particularly well known or influential, nor do I have much power or influence. What I and a colleague did was write a submission on student poverty, (no 76), based on our research but not limited to it, that caught the attention of the Senate Committee. There are probably 1,000s of academics in Australia who are better qualified than I to have made a submission on student poverty, but with a couple of rare exceptions they did not submit. Their attention was elsewhere. They missed a valuable opportunity.
The hour in which I was given the opportunity to discuss student poverty with the Committee was a special time of grace. As always, the chair of the Committee, Senator Rachel Siewert of the Greens, was deeply respectful and concerned about the plight of the poor. Senator Malarndirri McCarthy of the Labor Party came down to welcome me into the space before the proceedings began. This certainly helped me feel at ease and calmed my nerves. Senator McCarthy, through her mother, is descended from the Garrwa and Yanyuwa peoples, whose traditional lands straddle the McArthur River and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Both Senators had clearly read my submission closely, asking insightful questions that showed an understanding of the individual and the wider policy issues. Also present was the Liberal Senator, Hollie Hughes, who unfortunately had been given the remit to promote the Government line, that 1. the best type of welfare is a job and 2. increasing income support payments was unsustainable.
Also giving evidence in the same hour was Cat Nadel from Young Campaigns. Her evidence was outstanding. When challenged by Senator Hollis on the sustainability of increasing payments she gave the best off the cuff explanation of the true meaning of sustainability that I have heard. Below is the Hansard transcript.
I would agree that young people are concerned about the future and want to see the Australian economy remain sustainable. I can really only speak for myself and the young people I work with and interact with, not for all young people. We have seen Australia go through years of what we are told has been economic growth, but we’ve also seen inequality widen deeply in that time. In my mind, a budget that is sustainable into the future needs to look after all of society and especially the poorest and most vulnerable in society. We are currently not seeing that; we are seeing the gap widen. While we are talking about how young people look into the future: we are also looking down the barrel of huge challenges to come, like climate change, and it is not clear how governments are budgeting to prevent those problems, and what implications that is going to have for future budgets. I would say that young people do want to see Australia continue to be a sustainable economy that looks after everyone, and that means we have to think about how we allocate support to the poorest in society.
This was a spine-tingling moment in the proceedings. Though the Hansard record can’t show it, there was a moment as Cat finished, when Senator Hollis was left speechless, … before she proceeded on with her next scripted question. With young advocates like this, there is still great hope in these dark political times.
Yet this hope does not come without a cost. Despite her young age, Cat must have spent years preparing for this moment. (Not just this moment of course, but any moment when her talents can be used.) Time spent studying, researching, going to meetings, organising, listening and feeling the pain of others and the environment.
It is this cost that so few academics and church attendees are prepared to pay. Those with conservative views of course can maintain the illusion that they live in the best of all possible worlds, that they are safe and comfortable. However, those who profess progressive views present more of a problem. Why don’t more step up? In my own profession of social work, only a handful of social workers ever become involved in meaningful activism despite a commitment to social justice being written into their code of ethics. Academics, even those with tenure, rarely get their hands dirty with pressing social concerns. As for theologians, they may as well not exist in Australia. At best, the mainstream churches limit themselves to general statements that don’t offend too much.
What is the cost? The cost is a preparedness to share the pain. This is one of the meanings of incarnation, and without it, incarnation makes no sense. It means to regard status, career, security as nothing when compared to the call for justice and mercy for all: not just for humans but for the whole of creation. This seems to be the stumbling block. Progressives, like their conservative brothers and sisters can be too comfortable. They prepare their progressive thinking and their theology, use it to define themselves as not conservative, but then don’t use it often enough to address the growing injustice all round them.
The activist theology of Robyn Henderson-Espinoza does not let progressive Christians off the hook. Without activism there is no theology, progressive or otherwise, there is only a logy of empire, or of a nation, or of a cultic group. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza gives no easy answers. She is flailing about in what Dorothy Searle has called “the open horizon of Christ”.[ii] One sees at times those flashes of sparkling brilliance, but you know that to fully understand you must dive in. This is the challenge for these turbulent times. The need to dive in is more urgent than ever. Safe and steady will not do.
Len Baglow, Management Committee APCVA
[i] Dorothee Soelle, 1968, 1995 preface. Creative Disobedience. Wipf & Stock. p. xvi. (I realise the irony of an old white male footnoting a quote about the “almost anal obsession with footnotes” but this book is very good and I hope some of you will read it.)