Companions and Competitors is the third volume of John Meiers monumental series, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. A detailed and critical treatment of all the main questions surrounding the historical Jesus, A Marginal Jew serves as a healthy antidote to the many superficial and trendy treatments of Jesus that have flooded the market.
Volume I laid out the method to be used in pursuing a critical quest for the historical Jesus and sketched his cultural, political, and familial background. Volume II focused on John the Baptist; Jesus message of the kingdom of God; and his startling deeds, believed by himself and his followers to be miracles. Volume III widens the spotlight from Jesus himself to the various groups around him, including his followers (the crowds, disciples, the circle of the Twelve) and his competitors (the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes and Qumranites, the Samaritans, the scribes, the Herodians, and the Zealots).
In the process, important insights into how Jesus contoured his ministry emerge. Contrary to the popular idea that he was some egalitarian Cynic philosopher with no concern for structures, Jesus clearly provided his movement with shape and structure. His followers roughly comprised three concentric circles. In the outer circle were the curious crowds who came and went. In the middle circle were the disciples whom Jesus himself chose to share his journeys. The innermost circle was made up of the Twelve, i.e., twelve disciples whom Jesus selected to symbolize and begin the great regathering of the twelve tribes of Israel in the end time. Jesus made sure that the disciples in his movement were marked off by distinctive behavior and prayer. His movement was anything but an amorphous egalitarian mob. One reason why Jesus was so intent on creating structures and identity badges was that he was consciously competing against rival religious and political movements, all vying for influence. Jesus presented one vision of what it meant to be Israel. The Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc., all offered sharply contrasting visions for Israel to preserve its identity and fulfill its destiny.
Perhaps the greatest mistake of some recent portraits of the historical Jesus, notably that of the Jesus Seminar, has been to downplay the Jewish nature of Jesus in favor of a vaguer and sometimes dubious setting in Greco-Roman culture. In the face of such distortions this volume hammers home the oft-mentioned but rarely fathomed slogan "Jesus the Jew."
John P. Meier
John P. Meier is William K. Warren Chair Professor of Theology (New Testament), Theology Department, University of Notre Dame. He has been both president of the Catholic Biblical Association and the general editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly. He lives in South Bend, IN.
Meier, a Roman Catholic priest and professor of New Testament at University of Notre Dame, as well as president of the Catholic Biblical Association and general editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, here provides the third of a projected four-volume scholarly investigation of the historical Jesus and the context in which he taught and died. The current volume continues the rigorous historians approach of the preceding volumes, which investigated Jesus background and early years and the statements and deeds of his public ministry. In this volume, Meier focuses on those around Jesus: the crowds, the disciples, the 12, his Jewish competitors, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, the Samaritans, the Scribes, the Herodians, and the Zealots. This volume concludes with an integrative chapter focusing on how Jesus Elijah-like prophetic ministry and the identity he created for his movement set him apart from those around him. Meier also prepares for his final volume, which will focus on Jesus enigmatic teaching on the law, his riddle-speech in parable and self-definition, and his enigmatic death. Meiers scholarship is detailed and thorough, supported by substantive footnotes that allow the text to read easily. Both a reference volume and a book for leisurely reading, this is essential for academic, theological, and large public libraries.
- Carolyn M. Craft, Library Journal
The latest installment (the third of a promised four) of priest-professor Meiers monumental inquiry into the historical Jesus of Nazareth (Volume II: Mentor, Message, and Miracles, 1994, etc.). Meier (New Testament/Notre Dame) steps back a bit to look at Jesus ministry in the context of his relationship with his followers and with the groups that competed with him. As before, Meier seeks a historical reconstruction that excludes faith commitments. (He recalls here his fantasy of four historians, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, and an agnostic, "locked up in the bowels of the Harvard Divinity School library . . . until they have hammered out a consensus document on Jesus of Nazareth.") And as before, he examines the historical core of the traditions about Jesus and his milieu with objectivity, precision, sound judgment, and massive learning. Here, Meier portrays a Jesus movement with an incipient, concentric structure, from the crowds around him to the disciples called and instructed by him to the Twelve whom he sent on a symbolic mission to all Israel, and a set of distinctive practices: baptism, the Lords Prayer, open-table fellowship with "toll collectors and sinners." Meiers painstaking analysis of the extant traditions about the other religious groups in first-century Palestine-Pharisees and Sadducees, Essenes and Samaritans-illuminates Jesus teachings on matters like the resurrection of the dead and the inclusiveness of his movement, as well as his sense of his own remarkable charismatic authority. The result is a very Jewish Jesus, a figure quite different from the Hellenized Cynic or wisdom teacher of much recent historical-Jesus speculation. Although it wont maketabloid headlines the way more fanciful books in its field sometimes do, and it may prove frustrating for those looking for theological meat among the historical bones, Meiers massive enterprise is one of the most ambitious and exciting in modern Biblical scholarship. Like its predecessors, this volume is demanding but essential reading for anyone interested in the ever-fascinating, never-ending quest for the historical Jesus.
- Kirkus Review