Jesus by Jean-Pierre Isbouts

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Young Jesus: Restoring the “Lost Years” of a Social Activist and Religious Dissident

by Jean-Pierre Isbouts

Reviewed by John Tintera

Count me a big fan of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Through their writings on the historical Jesus, they have introduced and developed a way of thinking and understanding that have resonated deeply with many in the Christian community. Having read these major authors, I was surprised to find that a book by a relatively unknown writer could impart a good deal of new information and greatly deepen my understanding of the life and mission of Jesus.

The author is Jean-Pierre Isbouts and the book is  Young Jesus: Restoring the “Lost Years” of a Social Activist and Religious Dissident. Right from the title Isabouts situates his book in the territory carved out by the luminaries I’ve mentioned above.  What is refreshing about his approach is that he pretty much limits himself to history, leaving questions of theology aside. Here are a couple of salient features:

Whether or not you believe in the Virgin Birth, Jesus was probably designated a mamzer among his extended family and neighbors. According to the Bible and the Mishnah, those of uncertain paternity, or mamzers, were to be ostracized from the community. From this, Isabouts postulates that Jesus’ feeling of intimacy with the divine may well have been “nurtured by [his] deep sense of estrangement from his family and village.”

In the Sunday reading lectionary of the mainline churches, the lion’s share of Old Testament readings are drawn from Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah and the Psalms. Among the prophets, Isaiah is given pride of place because of its beautiful passages which seemingly predict a suffering Messiah. According to Isabouts, however, the writings of the prophet Jeremiah had a much greater impact on the development of Jesus’ theology and teachings. He writes, “Jesus’ embrace of Jeremiah’s teaching marked the beginning of his awakening as a hasid (or ‘righteous one’) in his own right.” This is neatly developed by Isabouts and it alone is worth the cover price of this highly recommended book.

Copyright © 2008 John Tintera.