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New book by the Norwegian scholar Halvor Moxnes

March 2012
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Last fall Professor Halvor Moxnes (University of Oslo) got his latest book published: Jesus and the Rise of Nationalism. A new quest for the nineteenth century historical Jesus. (I.B. Tauris, 2012.). Due to several reasons I have not been aware of the book before last month, and most recently got hold of it.

On its front leaf, we can read: “The great German theologian Albert Schweitzer famously drew a line under 19th century historical Jesus research by showing that at the bottom of the well lay not the face of Joseph’s son, but rather the features of all the New Testament scholars who had tried to reveal his elusive essence. In his thoughtful and provocative new book, Halvor Moxnes takes Schweitzer’s observation much further: the doomed “quest for the historical Jesus” was determined not only by the different personalities of the seekers who undertook it, but also by the social, cultural, and political agendas of the countries from which their presentations emerged. Thus, Friedrich Schleiermacher‘s Jesus was a teacher, corresponding with the role German teachers played in Germany’s movement for democratic socialism. Ernst Renan‘s Jesus was by contrast an attempt to represent the “positive Orient” as a precursor to the civilized self of his own French society. Scottish theologian G A Smith demonstrated in his manly portrayal of Jesus a distinctively British liberalism and Victorian moralism. Moxnes argues that one cannot understand any “life of Jesus” apart from nationalism and national identity: and that what is needed in modern biblical studies is an awareness of all the presuppositions that underlie presentations of Jesus, whether in terms of power, gender, sex, and class. Only then, he says, can we start to look at Jesus in a way that does him justice.”(Links added by TS)

The book provides interesting readings and understanding into both the culture of the nineteenth century and the emerging Jesus research, and their inter-relationships. On my part, I would have liked a similar study to also be carried out for the twentieht century; they were probably not less influenced by their own culture. And one might add, Prof. Moxnes will surely admit that he too is influenced by his culture.

In fact, the book and its author are astonishing contemporary in its preferences; to what degree he will escape allegations of being (too?) politically correct in his preferences for a post-national world order, only time can tell….

For my self, the kind of study it represents, reminds me very much of an other study, the one by Jonathan S. Perry, on The Roman Collegia: The Modern Evolution of an ancient Concept (Mnemosyne Supplements Vol CCLXXVII; Brill, Leiden, 2006). In this interesting and well-researched volume, Jonathan S. Perry describes some aspects of the development of research on the collegia from Th. Mommsen up to the present time, especially focusing–in more than half of the book–on the intersection of this research and the politics of Fascist Italy. That is, he reads the research on the ancient collegia in light of contemporary¬† culture. For a review of that book, one might look here.

I am really looking forward to reading prof. Moxnes’ most recent book, and congratulate him with its publication.


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