Review: Jesus as a Figure in History

066423447XMark Allan Powell is Robert and Phyllis Leatherman Professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio. Powell has a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary and is the Chair of the Historical Jesus division of the Society of Biblical Literature. Powell is the author of numerous books related to New Testament and Historical Jesus studies, including Introduction to the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008) and the well-received survey, and focus of the present review, Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee, second edition (WJK Books, 2013).

Jesus as a Figure in History has been long praised for its balanced and unbiased approach to the study of the Historical Jesus. Now thoroughly revised and expanded, the second edition of this best-selling textbook brings the conversation up-to-date with the current trends within Historical Jesus scholarship. The book opens with a brief exploration of the conversation up to the present and provides strategic focus on some of the key players, contributions, criteria, and sources that have largely defined the discipline. For those unfamiliar with the issues and individuals surrounding the quest for the Historical Jesus, Powell has provided an excellent entry point into the conversation, and function as a type of prerequisite for the remaining chapters.

The substance of the book is spent unpacking (1) the method and approach used, (2) summary of the results, and (3) criticisms therein of major players in Historical Jesus studies. These players include Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, E.P. Sanders, John Meier, and N.T. Wright. However, before these in-depth treatments, Powell provides what he calls “snapshots” of some of the more peripheral players and the images of Jesus that have arose therein, including, Jesus the social prophet (Richard Horsley), Jesus the charismatic Jew (Geza Vermes), Jesus the magician (Morton Smith), Jesus the sage (Ben Witherington III), Jesus the Cynic philosopher (F. Gerald Downing), Jesus the itinerant radical (Gerd Theissen), Jesus the millenarian prophet (Dale Allison), Jesus the mamzer rabbi (Bruce Chilton), and Jesus the purported Messiah (Paula Fredriksen).

The book concludes with summary and cross-referencing of key issues that remain within the scholarly conversation, both agreements and disagreements concerning method and context. Finally, Powell has included additional appendix material not found in the first edition, including, Did Jesus Exist?, Historical Jesus Studies and Christian Apologetics, and Psychological Studies of the Historical Jesus. Each of the appendixes are a welcomed addition to Powell’s overall treatment, especially the attention given to the marginalization of Christian apologists within the conversation, namely Darrel Bock and Craig Keener.

Jesus as a Figure in History is skilled in its investigation and presentation of the Historical Jesus material, and it remains surprisingly unbiased throughout. The reader will find that the content and organization of the volume is well oriented and intentionally curated for all background types and interest levels. In other words, Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell has provided nearly everything the interested reader would need to enter into or keep current on the developments of the discipline both past and present, and for this reason it comes highly recommended!


I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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