It may surprise you, after reading part 1 and 2 of this review series, that on the overall I praise Horsley’s book. As one working towards my degree in Classics, Horsley’s area of expertise presented in Jesus and the Powers is right up my alley.
It is easy for a young Evangelical enthusiast like myself to – as I have often done – read and study the scriptures apart of their historical context. The danger of this common approach is that it is based on the assumption that the scriptures were written in a vacuum, and thus are “timeless” in the sense that every passage carries the same weight of relevance today as every other passage, (which was shown to be an absurd way to handle the scriptures in the hilarious book A Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs).
The result of approaching the scriptures as, what I’m going to coin here (take note), the “timeless-vacuum” approach, is simply that so much of the message of the scriptures becomes lost to us. Define irony: an approach to the scriptures which seeks to give it the highest possible level of spiritual authority (the “timeless-vacuum” approach) results in thinning out the message which the scriptures are communicating.
For that, books like Jesus and the Powers are necessary in order to grab hold of many of the deeper bits of the scriptures missed, overlooked, or looked down upon because of fear by the timeless-vacuum approach.
That said, there is also a warning to be had. It is too easy for many modern critical scholars to become so consumed with the “historical facts” of the scriptures as to miss, downplay or even play up the dangers of reading the scriptures through “spiritual eyes”. By that I mean the temptation is great to say that the “miracles” of the scriptures never really happened because we know true “miracles” do not happen in history (we have been convinced of this since the Enlightenment deception). Prophecy does not really happen, and resurrections don’t really happen either.
When people (dangerously, Christian scholars) come to the scriptures with the ad hoc assumption that miracles do not really happen, it colours their whole purview of interpretation.
Jesus and the Powers needs to be read carefully, critically, and enthusiastically. Horsley does not explicitly deny the resurrection, he merely downplays its significance and imagines that the “Jesus Movement” would have done just fine without it. But, as I hoped to have shown in the previous post, his reasons for downplaying the resurrection are unnecessary.
In my own manuscript in process, Horsley’s work will surely be sited. Richard draws out the specifics, and with an artistic ingenuity, of the first century world in Palestine better than any other author I have read so far (even Wright!). – Four stars!