Author: John P. Meier
Publisher: Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library
Companions and Competitors is the third volume of John Meier's monumental series, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. A detailed and critical treatment of all the main questions surrounding the historical Jesus, A Marginal Jew serves as a healthy antidote to the many superficial and trendy treatments of Jesus that have flooded the market. Volume 1 laid out the method to be used in pursuing a critical quest for the historical Jesus and sketched his cultural, political, and familial background. Volume 2 focused on John the Baptist; Jesus' message of the kingdom of God; and his startling deeds, believed by himself and his followers to be miracles. Volume 3 widens the spotlight from Jesus himself to the various groups around him, including his followers (the crowds, disciples, the circle of the Twelve) and his competitors (the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes and Qumranites, the Samaritans, the scribes, the Herodians, and the Zealots). In the process, important insights into how Jesus contoured his ministry emerge. Contrary to the popular idea that he was some egalitarian Cynic philosopher with no concern for structures, Jesus clearly provided his movement with shape and structure. His followers roughly comprised three concentric circles. In the outer circle were the curious crowds who came and went. In the middle circle were disciples whom Jesus himself chose to share his journeys. The innermost circle was made up of the Twelve, i.e. twelve disciples whom Jesus selected to symbolize and begin the great regathering of the twelve tribes of Israel in the end time. Jesus made sure that the disciples in his movement were marked off by distinctive behavior and prayer. His movement was anything but an amorphous egalitarian mob. One reason why Jesus was so intent on creating structures and identity badges was that he was consciously competing against rival religious and political movements, all vying for influence. Jesus presented one vision of what it meant to be Israel. The Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc., all offered sharply contrasting visions for Israel to preserve its identity and fulfill its destiny. Perhaps the greatest mistake of some recent portraits of the historical Jesus, notably that of the Jesus Seminar, has been to downplay the Jewish nature of Jesus in favor of a vaguer and sometimes dubious setting in Greco-Roman culture. In the face of such distortions this volume hammers home the oft-mentioned but rarely fathomed slogan "Jesus the Jew.".