Marcus Borg, a liberal Jesus and biblical scholar, died on Wednesday, January 21, at 72 after suffering from pulmonary fibrosis.

Borg, along with scholars like Paula Fredriksen, John Dominic Crossan, and N. T. Wright, helped create a resurgent interest in the historical Jesus—a quest to retrieve a historically accurate portrait of Jesus—and for two decades shaped and reshaped its discussion.

Borg was a prominent leader of the Jesus Seminar, an effort to separate what Jesus scholars saw as fact from myth in the Gospels. Yet his work was “not so much a new departure in liberal study of Jesus as a repackaging and representation of seeing Jesus as a prophetic figure,” said Darrell Bock, senior research professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Borg was especially interested in maintaining the Jewishness of Jesus—though not as the messiah—arguing that he as a prophet who wanted to replace Jewish holiness codes with an ethic of compassion. Following many liberal renditions of Jesus, Borg denied the historicity of the Resurrection. Yet unlike many Jesus scholars, he was sympathetic to the spiritual and the miraculous. For Borg, Jesus was a “spirit person” for whom the Spirit or God was an experiential reality. As a result, Jesus was “a mediator of the sacred,” offering an alternative vision of God and reality.

“To have someone who was a credible liberal theologian open the door to [the miraculous] was a way of softening the boundaries between conservative historical Jesus scholars and hard-line historical Jesus scholars,” said Nicholas Perrin, professor of biblical studies at Wheaton College.

Borg was also occupied with preserving ...

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