The book, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, by Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright is a conversation of sorts between, “The Leading Liberal and Conservative Jesus Scholars” as they “Present the Heart of the Historical Jesus Debate.” In the introduction, the scholars note that the inspiration and writing of the book grew out of friendship. The book is evidence of the public and private conversations between these scholars and friends, sharing in Christian faith and practice as they work through these complex issues in hopes of understanding each other better. Both, “…acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as Lord, and [we] regard the no-holds-barred study of his actual history as a vital part of what we mean by that” (viii).
Under those circumstances, identified in the book are a few purposes of the writing: the desire to shift log-jammed debates into more fruitful possibilities by suggesting other ways issues might be lined up, as well as opening up a crucial question, how do different visions of Jesus relate to different visions of the Christian life? Agreeing that discussions and conversations about Jesus should be open and in the public sphere, Borg and Wright act on this shared aspiration, and reveal a conversation that is both interesting and refreshing, for the underlying purpose of igniting dialogue between others, Christian and non-Christian alike (ix-x).
In this situation, the content of the writing is broken down into eight parts with each scholar authoring one short chapter on each of the topics, alternating the position of the chapters in a point-counterpoint manner. Rarely stating an explicit disagreement with the other, the intimate manner of presentation does an excellent job in exposing the inherent tensions between the two theological ‘visions.’
Specifically, Borg’s methodology consists of a two-step approach in constructing an image of Jesus: discerning what is likely to go back to Jesus and then setting this material in the historical context of “the Jewish homeland in the first century” (11). Borg notes that what is dated as being written earlier is more likely to go back to Jesus and acknowledges the sources of Mark and Q being the two primary documents for his two-source hypothesis along with the straightforward logic that, “if a tradition appears in an early source and in another independent source, then not only is it early, but also it is unlikely to have been made up” (12). He also finds importance in these multiply contested traditions having coherence and ones that counter the demonstrable tendencies of the developing tradition. In regard to historical context, Borg finds that anything known about the world at the time, be it from Jewish literature or other historical documents, is relevant to the study of the historical Jesus.
On the contrary, Wright’s methodology gives no priority to the historicity of Mark over the other synoptic gospels or any other writings. Wright does not favor an assumption, ahead of...