John P. Meier, The Marginal Jew,
v. 1, Introduction, pp 6-9

(Detailed summary)

In what sense can we say that Jesus is a marginal?

  • In Jewish and pagan literature of the first century, Jesus appears as an insignificant character, at most as a small speck on their radar screen. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus barely mentions him, while he lingers on John the Baptist to praise him. The Roman historian Tacitus is even shorter.

  • Someone who has been tried as a criminal and sentenced to death by the highest authorities in society is inevitably pushed to the margins of society.

  • Jesus somehow marginalized himself by leaving his job at about the age of 30 to become a homeless, unemployed itinerant in order to continue his prophetic ministry.

  • Jesus is marginalized in his teaching and practice, for although he did not attend the great biblical schools, he teaches things that do not correspond to the teaching and practice of Judaism in his day (his positions on divorce and celibacy, his distances from fasting and the Sabbath).

  • Because his teaching and positions were perceived as offensive, he alienated a part of the political and religious elite who considered him dangerous, which pushed him to the margins of Palestinian Judaism.

  • In modern sociological studies, the word "marginal" often refers to the poor people of rural culture who move to the city, but are not able to really integrate into the urban culture. Similarly, Jesus is a poor layman from rural Galilee who found himself in the city of Jerusalem with strange, somewhat anti-establishment ideas and without any support in the capital.

Next chapter: Can we find in the Gospels the sequence of events surrounding Jesus and the words he actually spoke?

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