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Review - NT Professor - Harvard Divinity School

Review - NT Professor - Harvard Divinity School

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Published by Convivium Press
Book Review José Antonio Pagola Jesus: an Historical Approximation The book of Jose¹ Pagola is a very attractive reading and full of important information on the historical figure of Jesus. Pagola writes with the explicit intention of bringing to his contemporary readers a more vivid character than the one routinized in dogmatic statements or in the liturgical pictures, which have probably become too familiar to our ears. In this perspective, the book is a success and it can communicate very eff
Book Review José Antonio Pagola Jesus: an Historical Approximation The book of Jose¹ Pagola is a very attractive reading and full of important information on the historical figure of Jesus. Pagola writes with the explicit intention of bringing to his contemporary readers a more vivid character than the one routinized in dogmatic statements or in the liturgical pictures, which have probably become too familiar to our ears. In this perspective, the book is a success and it can communicate very eff

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Categories:Types, Reviews, Book
Published by: Convivium Press on May 28, 2011
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10/02/2011

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Book ReviewJosé Antonio PagolaJesus: an Historical Approximation
The book of Jose
¹
Pagola is a very attractive reading and full of important information on the historicalfigure of Jesus. Pagola writes with the explicit intention of bringing to his contemporary readers amore vivid character than the one routinized in dogmatic statements or in the liturgical pictures, whichhave probably become too familiar to our ears. In this perspective, the book is a success and it cancommunicate very effectively the profound admiration or even love that the author has towards Jesusdescribed as a landmark figure in the history of humankind. This is all the more remarkable if oneconsiders the oppositions and even personal attacks that the author had to go through as aconsequence of the publication of his book.Pagola
¹
s main (or almost exclusive) sources for this biography of Jesus are the four canonicalgospels. In this, as in some other critical choices, he aligns himself with the mainline Catholicexegesis (as represented, for instance, by J.P. Meier) that sidelines apocryphal texts as lesstrustworthy or too late to be taken into consideration in this quest. However, Pagola
¹
s critical acumenis not be underestimated as he is fully conscious that the gospels
¹
accounts must be examined withdue consideration for their redactional development (in particular, as far as christology is concerned).In addition to a specifically literary analysis, however, the author brings into play in his reconstructiona significant number of new interpretive tools that have been recently employed mostly by NorthAmerican scholars. Indeed, it is one of Pagola
¹
s main goals to enliven his picture of the historicalJesus by looking more attentively at the socio-cultural context of 1st century Galilee as this has beenfleshed out by archeological discoveries and anthropological studies. These choices enable Pagola todraw a very attractive portrait of Jesus as a messenger of liberation for the poor and oppressed of histime, deeply concerned for the suffering of the sick and marginalized as well as passionately in lovewith his utopian vision of the
³
kingdom of God
²
.From a specific historiographical point of view, however, this mixture of a purportedly neutralhistorical-critical approach and of a lively pastoral and spiritual intention does not work well all thetime. This a reproach that could be moved to most of the contemporary
³
quest
²
for the
³
historicalJesus
²
and certainly not to Pagola alone, but it affects this book as those written by other scholars(e.g. J.P. Meier 
¹
s
³
marginal
²
Jesus that is not marginal at all and most certainly not for contemporaryreaders). Pagola
¹
s love for Jesus brings him almost necessarily to describe his main character assomeone who stands out on the background of his historical and cultural context, a revolutionaryfigure that, for Pagola
¹
s own admission has to speak to the readers at the beginning of the 21stcentury. To get to this, however, the author has to somehow put in a darker light the context in whichJesus operated and this move is not devoid of dangers: a very telling example could be Pagola
¹
sattitude towards some traits of the Jewish society and religiosity at the time of Jesus. For instance, theauthor repeats the old (and now almost completely refuted) idea that Jesus
¹
address to God as
³
Abba
²
would imply a particularly intimate and familial relationship between him and the divine Father.However, one must observe that, by stressing this interpretation, Pagola risks to end up describingthe entire Jewish attitude towards God as formalistic and hierarchical (a distinctively anti-Jewishinterpretive tradition from which, by the way, the very reading of 
³
Abba
²
that I described originated).I think that Pagola
¹
s book is a substantial contribution that would definitely deserve to be reviewed ina major journal. As for its use in a class, the issue is a bit more complicated because the book iswritten for a wide audience and the lack of a substantial engagement with the secondary literature onthe subject could render it inadequate for an advanced class. On the other hand, I can see that thebook could be a very important reading for a more general course on the reception of the figure of thehistorical Jesus in the contemporary debate in the academia and outside, in the pastoral and spiritual

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