Facing Up To The Jewish JesusThe Changing Faces of Jesus by Geza Vermes, published by Allen Lane The Penguin Press 2000.
The AuthorMost of the data in this section first appeared in the Jerusalem Report August 17, 1998
Vermes, the first Professor of Jewish studies at Oxford, (and now Emeritus Professor) grew up a Jew in prewar Hungary but knowing nothing of Judaism. His family converted to Christianity in 1930, when he was 6.
At the age of 18 he became a Roman Catholic priest, left the Church when he fell in love and finally returned to Judaism.
After the war, Vermes found himself strangely drawn to the Hebrew Bible and Jewish subjects. He taught himself to read Hebrew, and became obsessed with the newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls (his book on the subject, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English has sold some 300,000 copies.
In Paris in the 50s, Vermes was one of a small group of Catholic scholars from Jewish backgrounds who became convinced that the entire Christian concept of Judaism was wrong. "The religious textbooks were hateful and superior, totally horrible and distorted.”
It was not theology, though, but love that caused Vermes to leave the Church. In 1957, when he was 33, he took a "leap of faith" to be with an English woman, Pam Hobson. They were married for 35 years, until her death in 1993.
In 1970, he joined the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London.
The BookAnyone familiar with Jim Veitch’s work on the New Testament or Jim Stuart’s The Many Faces of Christ will find Vermes presenting us with familiar ideas.
Paint StrippingLike the furniture restorer, Vermes strips off the top layer of interpretive overlay (“John”’s Gospel) first. Then (anachronistally but perhaps justified on the grounds of the amount of paint he used), Paul’s contribution is stripped off. Then Acts goes and lastly, being closest to the historical Jesus, the Synoptic Gospels.
This reverse-order revelation is a novelty as is the total non-reference to The Jesus Seminar which has dug over the same ground with broadly similar findings.
An account of a dream experienced by the author makes up a short but largely irrelevant epilogue.
The Chronology and Bibliography are useful but an Index would have been even more so.