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Jesus with an eye on the apocalypse

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Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium By Bart Ehrman Oxford University Press

Bart Ehrman has a sympathetic ear for those who have been predicting the end of the world for 2,000 years. They hark back to Jesus himself, who, according to Ehrman, can best be understood as predicting the coming of the Kingdom of God in his own generation.

Ehrman writes from his perspective as a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina. Like many of the current biographers of Jesus, he gives attention to the peculiar cultural tensions of the Greco-Roman-Jewish world of Jesus' time. And he makes a historian's attempt to write about Jesus apart from the risen Christ of traditional Christian faith.

Ehrman's conclusions match Albert Schweitzer's 100 years ago: Jesus' message and acts can all be interpreted under the mantle of apocalyptic prophecy. That is, Jesus was predicting a coming day of judgment, after which God would establish a new era of righteousness on earth.

Ehrman's approach asks this of the reader: Try to read the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, without the theology that John projected onto the life of Jesus or the theology contained in Paul's letters. He summarizes his approach: "Christians were modifying and inventing stories about Jesus, and ... our written sources preserve both historically reliable information and theologically motivated accounts. In light of this situation, the traditions that we can most rely on as historically accurate are those that are independently attested in a number of sources, that do not appear to have been created in order to fulfill a need in the early Christian community (the criterion of dissimilarity), and that make sense in light of a first-century Palestinian context."

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