JESUS THE WISDOM OF GOD

The late French film director Jean Renoir summarized his artistic creed as follows: "Man is a creature of habit. The artist's task is to break with habits." But are all habits bad? When the artist's critique of conventional practice becomes gratuitous, we call it iconoclasm.

Iconoclasm exists in biblical research, too. In "Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom," Ben Witherington III lodges a protest against it. He notes the guild's "ever present urge to say something new without reflecting on whether it is true." He has new insights to offer himself - but wishes to ground them securely in something more substantial than the present cultural mood.

Witherington's book joins Meier's as testimony to the value of rigorous academic biblical study. Arguing from a quite different set of data than Meier does, Witherington refutes recent claims by Crossan, F. G. Downing, and Burton Mack that Jesus closely resembled a Cynic philosopher. Yet, as the title of his book suggests, Witherington is not averse to the idea that Jesus should be seen, in the end, as a sage. A major purpose of his book is "to show that one crucial dimension, perhaps the most comprehensive dimension of Jesus' teaching, is the Wisdom dimension." Accordingly, "the best overall categorization of the man is that he was a sage."

Some of the strengths of Meier's study are present in Witherington's, too. There is breadth and depth of coverage of an important topic, for example, as well as helpful sifting of overly imaginative reconstructions of the gospel data. Witherington provides useful reflection on language theory and (following E. D. Hirsch) mounts a cautious defense of the validity of objective standards of interpretation: " 'Blessed are ...

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