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Book review: The Figure of the Historical Jesus, by E.P. Sanders

For much of the twentieth century, many scholars held that we can know very little about the historical Jesus. But Sanders is less pessimistic; he thinks we can know quite a lot, although plenty of questions will always remain.

Jesus was a first-century Jew, and we cannot hope to understand him without a good grasp of the conditions in which he lived. Sanders therefore uses the first part of his book - about a hundred pages - to explain what Jesus's world was like. This brings out some differences with the picture most Christians will have obtained from the gospels. For example, although Palestine was under the control of Rome, this did not mean that people's lives were constantly being controlled by an occupying army. The Romans did not administer their minor provinces directly but used intermediaries. Galilee, where Jesus grew up and carried out his teaching, was relatively free under its ruler, Herod Antipas. [More]

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