cover image Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography

Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography

Bruce Chilton. Doubleday Books, $25 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-385-49792-3

Chilton claims to have produced ""the first comprehensive, critical biography of Jesus"" in an effort to ""find the core"" from which Christian faith arose. Unfortunately, he falls short of these noble goals. According to Chilton (Anglican priest and Bard College's Bell Professor of Religion), the hurt Jesus experienced as a social outcast and spiritual misfit--on account of his uncertain paternity--was the crucible in which his religious development was fostered. Chilton writes that Jesus' enduring legacy, as witnessed in his long-suffering life and agonizing death, is precisely that which ""pain teaches"": that a shattered sense of self can blossom into a mystical, visionary awareness of the image of God within. For Chilton, Jesus' central religious insight is an exemplary one, as it may be for many readers. As a historical work, however, this is often irresponsible; Chilton engages in dubious biblical exegesis and otherwise eschews the rigors of research and documentation. At times, this biography reads like a work of psycho-historical fiction, which imagines those years of Jesus' life for which evidence is lacking. (""All he [Jesus] knew was that he wanted to stay near the Temple.... He couldn't face going back to Nazareth, to the look of judgment and distaste... in the eyes of the village elders."") Such tactics will likely both strain the credulity and tax the goodwill of Chilton's readers. (Oct.)