Monday, March 28, 2016

The Big Three, or why your view of the Bible, Christianity and Jesus is probably incomplete and misinformed

Alter, Stark and Meier.

I am in the midst of reading Robert Alter's translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books.  For those who don't know, Alter has been working in the field of Biblical Narrative for about 40 years, his works such as The Art of Biblical Narrative, The Art of Biblical Poetry and translations of the majority of the Old Testament are acclaimed as probably the best of our time.  Alter has a workmanlike approach to his subject, refreshingly shorn of the encrustations of the too-dogmatic. 

A second member of the Big Three is Rodney Stark, a sociologist who has spent much of his career demolishing received wisdom on the formation of early religion, especially Christianity.  The most recent book I've read by Stark is Discovering God, which looks at the development of monotheism across the world.  Stark is a believer, no question about it, and a fiercely objective one, meeting head on such naive views of religion as the product of a primitive superstitious mind with his review of the evidence.

And finally, there is Fr. John Meier, whose work The Marginal Jew, up to five volumes over about twenty years, has meticulously dissected the historical Jesus, working through the evidence and theories to arrive at the most objective possible view he could achieve of the life of Christ.   Meier is a priest and professor at Notre Dame, and his work has received the Imprimatur and Nihal Obstat of the Church (meaning no objection) but he is also not afraid to review such pillars of faith as the apostles being entirely male (they weren't, he concludes) or of Mary being an eternal Virgin (she had other children besides Christ, he concludes.)

Each of these authors give a good review of the work in their areas, as well as a firm foundation for comprehensive understanding.   Time well spent.

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