Christianity in the Making: Volume 1: Jesus Remembered
Christianity in the Making: Volume 1: Jesus Remembered

Christianity in the Making: Volume 1: Jesus Remembered

by James D. G. Dunn

4.83 Rank Score: 5.13 from 3 reviews, 0 featured collections, and 0 user libraries
Pages 992
Publisher Eerdmans
Published 2003
ISBN-13 9780802839312
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.


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Jesus Remembered self-consciously partakes in the quest for the historical Jesus (13). The title encompasses both a reference to the methodology adopted and the limitations discovered to be inherent in the search. In outlining his methodology, Dunn insists that more attention should be given to the fact that the Gospel materials were derived from oral tradition. He does not cast aside the two-source hypothesis and admits there are parallels between the Gospels that can hardly be explained by other than literary dependence (144 n. 15). Yet at the same time he insists that the usual way of utilizing the two-source hypothesis as a research tool is simply wrong-headed (248). The Gospels should not be regarded as a series of written editions of the earlier documents, to be studied in such a way as to strip away older layers to arrive at the earliest form of the tradition. Rather, most of the parallels between the Synoptic Gospels, in fact, exhibit more of the characteristic of oral retellings of the same event: variation within the same (212), much as one would expect to find as the product of a process such as that which Kenneth Bailey reports exists in village life in the Middle East to this day. He illustrates this by a number of examples taken from the Gospel parallels, all of which show that the lit erary paradigm will simply not serve (234). [Full Review]
As we might expect from an author as prolific as James Dunn, Christianity in the Making is an ambitious project that might normally be expected to involve a team of scholars. The projected three volumes are to cover the development of Christianity in its first 120 years (27150 C.E.). The first volume is itself a monumental piece of work of over one thousand pages of tightly packed material in which the notes must account for about one quarter. Given Dunns approach, it is inev itably dauntingly long. If the book were intended to be a reference work, that would not be a serious problem. But it has a thesis to argue that depends on most of the parts for its cogency. Dunns intention to leave the text uncluttered by relegating references to the footnotes is largely successful, though notes occasionally carry material quite crucial for his thesis. Part 1 prepares the way for part 2, setting out the deficiencies of past quests for the historical Jesus and their methods and pointing to the remedies that Dunn adopts. Against the literary source-critical approach, he argues for the remembered Jesus transmitted in oral tradition. Against the dissimilarity criterion, used to identify what is historically reliable as evidence of Jesus, he argues for the evidence of what is characteristic of Jesus in the Synoptic tradition. [Full Review]