No man is an island, not even Jesus, as John Meier writes in Companions and Competitors, the third installment of his four-part series, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. The first volume, an overview of Jesus' background, chronology, and early years, was followed by a second that analyzed Jesus' most important messages and deeds. Here, Meier explains his conviction that "No human being is adequately understood if he or she is considered in isolation from other human beings." He leads readers through the concentric circles of companions (including the followers who became his disciples and apostles) and competitors (such as Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Samaritans) that shaped Jesus' life in first-century Palestine. Meier, a priest and New Testament scholar at Notre Dame, writes in the engaging, methodical style of an astringently avuncular professor: chapters are carefully outlined, with straightforward headings such as "Points of Comparison and Contrast," "Caveats on Comparisons," and "The Sheer Oddness of Jesus"). His findings, particularly his explanation of "the essentially Jewish nature" of Jesus' relationships, are a valuable addition to the field of Historical Jesus scholarship. --Michael Joseph GrossFrom Booklist:
*Starred Review* Meier is a persistent critic of John Dominic Crossan, Burton Mack, Robert Funk, and others associated with the Jesus Seminar--scholars he criticizes for not taking the Jewishness of Jesus seriously; for example, he scores Crossan's attention to the issue as "political correctness." Despite the dismissive tone, his argument is important; and he puts forth substantial material here to enable readers to make their own judgments about the relative importance of Hebrew and Hellenistic influences on Jesus. Meier summarizes the first two volumes of A Marginal Jew and forecasts the next while meticulously documenting his understanding of the relations between the historical Jesus, his historical companions, and his historical competitors--Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes, and others. He reads the companions in concentric circles, moving from the crowds that followed Jesus to the inner circle of disciples. It is possible to be skeptical of Meier's multiple attestations, for there is virtually no material outside the Christian community from which to draw information about Jesus, and still benefit from his close readings of available texts. If it seems puzzling that Meier should take four volumes and more than 2,000 pages to make a case he says is obvious to anyone who approaches the issues and materials with common sense, be assured that the only thing common about Meier's project is fascination with the character of Jesus. Those who share that will find this dense, academic work worth their effort. Steven Schroeder
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