If you wanted to learn more about a person how would you go about doing it? Depending on the person in question you might look their name up in a search engine like Google, or in a book if they would be listed and even search the popular social media sites for information. You also might try and talk to people who knew or know them personally. This would include friends, co-workers, family and even enemies.
When it comes to studying people from the distant past we are left with very few avenues in which to interview people who knew the person we are trying to obtain information about. Often times our study is relegated to reading literary material of various sorts and trying to piece together a coherent picture of the person. So if we were to study a person, say, like Jesus, then would we study him any differently?
Chris Keith and Larry Hurtado would say no. In their newly co-edited book, Jesus Among Friends and Enemies: A Historical and Literary Introduction to Jesus in the Gospels, the contributors believe that we can learn a lot about Jesus by studying how he interacted with the people of his day – both friends and enemies alike.
Since Baker has made three short videos interviewing Christ Keith about the book I will use them in this review and add additional comments having read the book.
Structure & Utility
As the Keith states, the book is broken into two sections: Jesus’ friends are discussed first and then His enemies. The two part outline of the book and the uniformity of the chapters gives the book a fluid read. While detailed, each chapter serves to introduce the reader to the character of each chapter providing material for further study.
In the introduction, Keith introduces the reader to Jesus Himself in the same fashion as the rest of the character of the book are discussed. Much attention is given to the apocryphal gospels, namely the Gospel of Thomas. Keith discusses the differences between these gospels the four Gospels of the New Testament. One of the unique differences between the Gospel of Thomas and the four Gospels of the NT is how they present Jesus. Keith explains:
The Christians responsible for the Gospel of Thomas present their image of Jesus in the form of a catalogue of His sayings. In contrast to the Gospel of Thomas, the canonical Gospels have narrators who tell the story of Jesus, characters who enliven the story of Jesus, settings that situate the story of Jesus, plots that direct the story of Jesus, and conflict that drives the story of Jesus to its resolution. (p. 17)
How the Gospel Narratives Portray Jesus
Following a brief introduction to each person(s) is a discussion of the relevant extra-biblical literature. For instance, in the chapter on John the Baptist, Michael Bird looks into the works of Josephus and the possible connections to the Qumran community. For the chapter on Judas Iscariot, Holly Carey examines the Gospel of Judas and the various legends that formed years after his death. Then the Gospels themselves are examined in order to draw out from them what they tell us about Jesus as he interacts with various people. Since the bulk of the material we have abut Jesus is the Gospels themselves, the bulk of each chapter deals with them. The narrative of each Gospel is traced and each contributor notes the points of similarity and dissimilarity in how each Gospel writer presents Jesus. Also apparent is the value in learning about Jesus from how He was misunderstood at so many points, even by His followers (note Peter).
The Historical Jesus
Here, the text of the Gospels is given a priority of voice in the quest for the historical Jesus. After all they are an eyewitness testimony. Keith & Hurtado interact with the two ideas of multiple attestation and dissimilarity in the discovery of the authenticity of the words and works of Jesus. The criteria of multiple attestation states that “the likelihood of a particular saying or action of Jesus being authentic increases if it appears in multiple, ideally independent, sources.” (p. 273 ) The criteria of dissimilarity states that “the likelihood of a particular saying or action of Jesus increases if it differs from Jesus’ first-century Jewish context on the one hand and from the early church on the other hand.” (p. 273) Keith & Hurtado discuss the rationale for each criteria and ultimately show why they are wanting.
Jesus Among Friends and Enemies is a great introduction to Jesus through the various people He interacts with through His life and ministry. There were several bits of insightful observations of both the Gospel texts and the extra biblical literature. There is a heavy emphasis on the reliability of the Gospels to provide us with accurate and trustworthy information about Jesus. Readers will walk away with a greater appreciation for what one can learn about Jesus from all four Gospels and the characters within them. This book will serve students, pastors and teachers as a serious intro to the various people studied and ultimately Jesus Himself.
NOTE: I received this book for free from Baker in exchange or a review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review and the opinions expressed in this review are my own.