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Jesus of Nazareth by Paul Verhoeven
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Jesus of Nazareth

by Paul Verhoeven

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Question: What happens when an accomplished film maker delves into the realm of historical Jesus scholarship?

Answer: Fresh insight.

Paul Verhoeven is the only non-theologian admitted to the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars dedicated to uncovering the historical Jesus. While his book will not be recognized for the depth of research that goes into the books of more noted scholars, it's still an interesting read.

Verhoeven digs into the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist, the sin of riches, exorcisms, and much more to paint Jesus in human terms. Jesus is not an ideal for Verhoeven, but a living, breathing person, with fears and failures alongside his accomplishments. Jesus is a hunted criminal who masterfully escapes the long arm of the law...until an apostate disciple masquerading as a Zealot (not likely one of the twelve, nor even named Judas, according to Verhoeven) leads the authorities to him.

After Jesus' crucifixion, his disciples believed he returned from the dead. But if the whole of the Jesus story were wrapped up in this miracle of overcoming death, Christianity could not have survived for 2,000 years. Jesus created powerful parables and devised a new code of ethics; regardless of his false understanding that the kingdom of God was imminent, he indeed transformed the world. Verhoeven closes his book with this paradox: Jesus' mistaken view of reality led to the most significant ethical revival in the past two thousand years. ( )
  DubiousDisciple | Mar 31, 2011 |
At first glance, the idea that Paul Verhoeven, director of Basic Instinct, Robocop, and Starship Troopers, wrote a book on Jesus strikes one as the set-up to a particularly tasteless joke. Fortunately, Verhoeven offers the reader his perspective on the Historical Jesus in his book, Jesus of Nazareth. Trained in mathematics and a prolific filmmaker, Verhoeven has been a member of the Jesus Seminar since he moved to Los Angeles in 1985. He occupies a unique intellectual position within the Jesus Seminar due to his status as non-academic, non-theologian, and non-believer. (But belief is not a prerequisite to historical investigation as evidenced by the plethora of books about Greco-Roman mythology and Hinduism, to take two examples, written by non-believers.)

Verhoeven the Filmmaker provides opportunities for deconstruction and reconstruction of events. Having made his career directing movies for a popular audience, he has expertise in creating stories. The Gospels are similar stories, written to captivate a general audience. Because the Gospels have four separate authors and offer biases from each other, the stories present a specific set of challenges. Verhoeven explores these many challenges, putting forward his assertions. Another challenge facing historians dealing with the Classical Era includes the scant historical and archaeological evidence. In order to reconstruct the period, one must use a blend of historical data, imagination, intuition, and imagination.

Verhoeven asserts the authors of the Gospels “overpainted” certain politically explosive scenes with miraculous events. One must not forget the dangerous political scene of first century Roman Palestine. Numerous messianic figures roamed the province, speaking out against Roman tyranny and collaboration from the Herodian dynasty. Speaking out against Roman rule was not only a political crime but also a religious crime. One worshiped the same gods as one’s monarch. Those in open dissent this truism met with torture and execution. Verhoeven also asserts that Jesus used his ministry to further the plan that God’s Kingdom was imminent. This platform aroused the ire of the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Romans. According to Jesus, all these corrupt institutions would be swept away and the Kingdom of God would re-establish itself.

The short book (only 200 pages of text in the hardcover edition) brings together Verhoeven’s reconstruction of events in the life of Jesus. On occasion, he writes how he would film certain events. These lively visual scenes supplied an otherwise dry and academic book with cinematic flourish. His understanding of a century of theological thought meshes with his take on movies made about Jesus. His takedown of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ is refreshing and commonsensical in its assessment.

For anyone genuinely interested in the Historical Jesus, Verhoeven’s Jesus of Nazareth brings an outsider’s perspective and an enthusiast’s passion to this endlessly fascinating topic.

http://driftlessareareview.wordpress.com/2010/05/16/jesus-of-nazareth-by-paul-ve... ( )
1 vote kswolff | Jan 2, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Verhoeven's book is well-written and is probably a little bit more accessible than the works of many of the other authors of the Jesus Seminar, at least to the average layperson reader. However, he does not bring very much new "to the table." In addition, there are conclusions he draws and statements he make which actually rely on some older scholarship; in some cases, more recent scholarship has actually takes the dominate discussion in a very different direction. For example, Verhoeven's use of the Aramaic term "abba" to mean "daddy" has been recognized by modern textual and linguistic scholars to be an error. "Abba" is simply the Aramaic word for father; no more, and no less. Even a cursory study of modern scholarship would reveal as much.

I don't often read books on Jesus from the perspective of an atheist or agnostic, so for that I am grateful to have read this work. However, as scholarship, it falls short. ( )
  jlhilljr | Oct 14, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Not a bad book, just not very interesting or unique. For the most part, Verhoeven borrows the scholarship of others, namely those scholars contributing to the 'Jesus Seminar', in an attempt to place Jesus historically and culturally. To this end he delivers the conclusions of these scholars sufficiently, even if he doesn't adequately address their method for drawing such conclusions. Verhoeven's unique 'take' on the material seems to be his desire to treat the Gospel narratives as dramatic screenplay's, a method that leads him to imagine how he might have written it were he to be writing it as a screenplay, then assuming that the original authors were using similar narrative techniques to increase the drama and highlight the nature of Jesus' message. And this is where I think Verhoeven goes astray, by projecting his own emotional understanding of narrative back to authors living in vastly different times and cultures he makes the same methodological error that many Christian fundamentalists seem to make. I think if a person isn't familiar with modern biblical historical scholarship, this book might provide a provocative entree into the genre, but I think it will only get you so far in an attempt to understand the historical context and mindset of the gospel authors. ( )
  getdowmab | Sep 18, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In my book on the bible I wrote:
"Mark has a marvellous story about Jesus and a fig tree. He tells of a time when Jesus and the disciples are walking from Bethany to Jerusalem. Jesus feels hungry and "noticing in the distance a fig-tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it." Since it is not the season for figs, there are none on the tree. Jesus is angered by the lack of figs and curses the tree: "`May no one ever again eat fruit from you!' And his disciples were listening." The group proceeds to Jerusalem where Jesus goes into the temple and, still angry, drives out the money changers, upsets their tables, turns over the seats of the pigeon sellers, and cleans out all commercial activities in the temple. He then teaches the crowd about the proper use of the temple. Early the next morning Jesus and the disciples are walking back toward Bethany when they pass by the fig tree. Peter says, "Rabbi, look, the fig-tree which you cursed has withered," and indeed we are told, "the fig-tree had withered from the roots up." Still later, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus uses the fig tree in a lesson to his disciples about the Endtime that is coming. "`Learn a lesson from the fig-tree. When its tender shoots appear and are breaking into leaf, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all this happening, you may know that the end is near, at the very door. I tell you this: the present generation will live to see it all.'"

First we see the fig tree in leaf. Then we see it withered and dead as a result of Jesus' curse. And then it is used by Jesus as an example in a parable about the Endtime. A hungry Jesus has killed a fig tree because it had no fruit in a season when it could not have fruit. What kind of story is this? What does it tell us about this god-man? Here is the entry in The Interpreters' Bible:[1]


It is well to begin any consideration of this story of the barren fig tree with the frank recognition that it is the least attractive of all the narratives about Jesus. Luke omits it entirely, possibly because he already has a parable of a barren fig tree (Luke 13.6-9).At any rate most scholars would applaud his judgment, as shown by the omission. There are two main objections to taking the story literally, as an exact record. The first is the unfavorable light in which it seems to put the judgment, or common sense, of Jesus; he could have had no rational expectation of finding figs out of season. The second is that the miracle is quite "out of character" with Jesus' mind and with other miracles....Mark takes the story as a proof of Jesus' power, but that "proof" was on a level devoid of moral and religious significance.

For teaching and preaching the church has taken the story as a symbolic representation of the truth that life without fruit is worthless. ...The incident was taken by many in the early church as an acted parable of judgment on the religion of Israel because of its lack of ethical and spiritual fruit....(emphasis mine).


This kind of apology raises several interesting questions. Why should we applaud Luke's judgment for omitting a story about Jesus? On the grounds that the story casts Jesus in an "unfavorable light"? The implication here is that any time we run into a story that casts the hero in an "unfavorable light" we are justified in omitting the story. And just what is an "unfavorable light"? Unfavorable from whose point of view? If what we are told by Mark is the "least attractive" of all the stories about Jesus, then how can that fact be justification for editing it out? These would be justifications only if we are presenting propaganda, or in today's terminology, a media image. A deeper epistemological question arises: if the gospels are the source of all that we know about Jesus then on what other grounds can we make judgments about his attractiveness or lack of it? How can we justifiably pay attention only to those stories that match some preconceived idea of what an attractive hero looks like? Whose gospel is being proclaimed in a statement like the one about the church using the story for symbolic and didactic purposes? I will argue that misreading stories about Jesus is an industry. An industry that started with Paul. Mark gives us stories about Jesus and the message of Jesus. Paul gives us his message about Jesus." [RTB p. 191]

Every writer about Jesus, from the Gospel writers to Paul Verhoeven, has an interpretation they are presenting. Initially I was excited to have a chance to read a book about Jesus written by a movie director and a participant in the Jesus Seminar. The book of Mark lends itself to a filmic interpretation. Mark is good at presenting scenes that would easily translate to the film: the story opens with multitudes of people by a river and closes with an empty tomb. Verhoeven sets out to show us what a film director would do with the Jesus story - a great idea.

But somewhere between the conception and the creation "falls the shadow" Verhoeven seems to give up on his good idea and merely offer up various guesses (educated guesses) about what might have been.

I was anticipating a film script and got a preliminary study for a pitch for a film.
  delan | Jun 16, 2010 |
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Book description
Spraakmakende studie over de historische Jezus

Naast cinema kent Nederlands grootste filmregisseur Paul Verhoeven (1938) nóg een levenslange fascinatie: Jezus van Nazareth. Na zijn vertrek uit Nederland in 1985 meldde hij zich daarom in Californië aan bij het zogeheten Jesus Seminar, een hoog aangeslagen wetenschappelijke denktank van zo"n zeventig eminente professoren in godgeleerdheid, filosofie, linguïstiek en bijbelgeschiedenis, opgericht door Amerika"s meest vooraanstaande liberale exegeet Robert W. Funk. Als enige niet–theoloog mocht Verhoeven aanschuiven bij de discussies die tot doel hadden de historische figuur Jezus van de mythische bijbelfiguur Jezus te bevrijden, hem te ontdoen van tweeduizend jaar christelijke inkleuring. Als bijdrage aan dit onderzoek schreef Paul Verhoeven in Leiden afgestudeerd in wis– en natuurkunde vele wetenschappelijke papers die nu de basis vormen voor zijn al op voorhand spraakmakende boek Jezus van Nazareth Een realistisch portret.

Paul Verhoeven is regisseur van succesfilms als Turks fruit (1973), Soldaat van Oranje (1977), De vierde man (1983),Robocop (1987), Basic Instinct (1992), Starship Troopers (1997) en Zwartboek (2006). Dit boek kwam tot stand in verregaande samenspraak met Rob van Scheers, zijn biograaf.
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Seven Stories Press

3 editions of this book were published by Seven Stories Press.

Editions: 1583229051, 160980077X, 1609803485

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