N.T. Wright. (1996) Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, V. 2. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. (Amazon.com)
In the summer of 2005 I finished The New Testament and the People of God around the same time that I received an acceptance call from Western Seminary letting me know that I had been admitted into their MA in Biblical Studies program. I was excited because (1) I had found in N.T. Wright a scholar who was making sense of so many of my questions concerning Christianity and (2) I was going to begin my own academic journey. I vowed I would finish the second volume of the series, Jesus and the Victory of God, before classes began. That did not happen.
Over five years later it is finished. I read the last several pages yesterday. I have become familiar with the content of this book over the years via articles and lectures from Wright, but my actual consumption of this book lasted a very long time. In fact, since I began the book I have lived in San Francisco, twice; Napa once; and Portland, OR, once. I have completed a MA degree and began a Th.M. (which is half way finished). I began dating and got engaged to my now wife whom I married over a year ago. I have read thousands upon thousands of pages. So take this review as you will. It is my attempt to remember the longest reading journey of my short life!
The book begins by going back to the older Quest for the Historical Jesus to examine the successes and failures of these programs as well as the current atmosphere surrounding historical Jesus studies. It is from here that Wright elected to explore who Jesus was not simply through words, but by looking at his symbolic actions as related to the symbolism of Second Temple Judaism, his stories and riddles, and his seemingly aware effort of fulfilling a sort of divine vocation.
This leads Wright to examine Jesus as a prophet asking what challenges, invitations, and promises (threats?) he issued on behalf of Israel’s god. What stories did he tell about Israel’s god becoming King of the world. How did Jesus read Scripture and how did he act in that story of exile?
Wright examines what it would mean for Jesus to see himself as a Messiah (reminding us this does not mean, necessarily, a divine figure or the Second Person of the Trinity, but the annointed decedent of King David). Jesus’ sayings and actions indicate that he was a Messianic contender that would have been right at home in the Judaism of his time, yet who redefined almost every expectation of who the Messiah was to be.
Wright then explores why Jesus was crucified and whether or not Jesus seemed driven to die. The answer appears to be “yes”, though maybe not as many Christians today would speak of it. More like the Maccabean martyrs who knew that dying on behalf of the nation may avert the coming judgment of YHWH upon Israel. This section is helpful in understanding how the early church may have developed post-resurrection atonement theories that still find grounding in the pre-resurrection words and actions of Jesus.
The final chapter explores language used to refer to the “return of the king”. Wright postulates that most “return” language is not aimed at Jesus’ second parousia as much as it is Jesus enacting the tradition that YHWH would return to Zion. Jesus saw himself as somehow “embodying” this return of YHWH. While this understanding is no where near the full grown Creedal doctrines of the Trinity and Christ, it does provide a narrative base upon which later Christians had to ponder what it meant for God to be at work in the world through Christ.
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I recommend most anything written by Wright. While there are times where I struggle with his reading of various passages as it relates to what the Evangelist say about Jesus, it should be agreed that Wright provides one of the strongest, conservative reconstructions of the historical Jesus. Of course, this may lead to a critique in itself since Wright seems to be sold of the historical faithfulness of the canonical gospels, though I personally do not have a problem with this presupposition.