Vermes, Professor Jewish Studies at Oxford, expounds all the sayings which Jesus supposedly uttered, in an attempt to rediscover the genuine religious messages preached and practised. Jesus’ doctrinal and moral statements are focused on minor literary categories: narrative and commands, controversy stories, words of wisdom, parables, biblical quotations, payer, Son of Man sayings, sayings about the Kingdom of G-d, and eschatological rules of behaviour (all statements of Jesus are commented on by category, and reduced to a listing in the appendix). Eg ‘the Beatitudes are precious pearls from the point of view of both piety and property’ (p 312); here Vermes also adds a Beatitude from the Gospel of Thomas to his canonical base
Vermes adds brief summarizing statements. Three questions dealing with contradictory statements are considered carefully (eg did Jesus intend to address only Jews or did he expect the gospel to benefit the entire non-Jewish world (p 376)? The shape of Jesus’ theology is sketched: the role of faith, the efficacy of prayer, the fatherhood of G-d, need to become like children, a new concept of the family, healing and exorcism, use of hyperbolical speech (p 390-396). Of interest is Vermes’ summary of Jesus’ religion: the kingdom of G-d, the observance of Torah, the eschatological piety of Jesus, the prayers of Jesus, the G-d of Jesus.
The book is a good treatment of basic New Testament theology that takes seriously the oral and canonical traditions.
Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.