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Jesus before Christianity

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  442 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Albert Nolan's portrait introduces us to Jesus before he became the object of Christian faith, operating in history in a specific social context, addressing concrete hopes, and engaging in controversy and social conflict. Here is a man who was deeply involved with the real problems of his time--which turn out to be the real problems of our time, as well. As he writes, "God ...more
Paperback, 196 pages
Published September 28th 2001 by Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY) (first published January 1st 1976)
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Average rating 4.15  · 
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 ·  442 ratings  ·  53 reviews


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Paul Dubuc
Aug 21, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: jesus
Albert Nolan presents an image of Jesus before Christianity who is full of compassion and an exemplary willingness to suffer in order to conquer suffering in the world. This theme seems to run throughout the book. This, in itself is very commendable. But Nolan's Jesus has been practically stripped of his divine nature using assumptions that are reminiscent of the Jesus Seminar's questionable scholarship. The miracle stories are matter-of-factly dismissed as embellishments added later by the Chur ...more
Drick
Aug 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theological
Albert Nolan was a Roman Catholic priest in South Africa who wrote this book in the mid 1980's when the Cold War was at a fever pitch and it seemed that the superpowers would lead the world into mass destruction. He wanted to know what Jesus was like before he became a religious icon because he saw in Jesus a man who lived in a time and place that likewise seemed on the edge of destruction.

In this very readable book, Nolan paints a picture of Jesus that reveals what a truly revolutionary figure
...more
Erik Graff
Apr 14, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Like many Orbis publications, this is a better-than-average religious work by the former Vicar-General of the Dominicans in South Africa, prominent in the anti-apartheid struggle. As might be expected, Nolan emphasizes a humane, not a supernatural, Jesus.
Jonathan
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: christian
I had a hard time picking a rating for this book. On one hand, it had a lot of great info that mainstream Christianity has forgotten about. His information about the historical backdrop of Jesus's ministry was good, his analysis of his relationship to the poor, the oppressed, and sinners was strong, and I liked his chapters on healing and forgiveness. He had a ton to say about Jesus and "the kingdom", and I think there was more good than bad there. On occasion he would state things in a new way ...more
Christan Reksa
Jul 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
Jesus is a figure often taken for granted, both by Christians and non-Christians. On one side often only seen as the almighty Son of God, capable of doing the unthinkable and supernatural acts, while on one side seen only as a meek moral teacher asking people to do good. It is as if these two sides are "battling" to decide which Jesus is correct, then commodified their own version of Jesus for their agenda.

In this book, Albert Nolan, a Dominican priest, challenged all those assumptions, stripped
...more
Dean Summers
Jun 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, bible
First published in South Africa in 1976, Albert Nolan’s Jesus before Christianity is a vivid portrait of the Jesus I know from the Gospels and a compelling call to follow that Jesus into the new humanity out of a world that is hell-bent for destruction. I especially like the chapters on healing, forgiveness, and faith in Jesus—and Nolan’s emphasis throughout the book on Jesus’ compassion.

Three chapters are a little difficult to follow unless you read them in their historical and political contex
...more
Brent
Jan 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Nolan builds off the research of hundreds of historians and biblical scholars to offer a new take on Jesus. I appreciated his fresh approach which took very little for granted.

Most of the book described what Nolan concluded Jesus actually believed and was influenced by. There is a great deal of cultural and historical context information brought out in this book that illuminates the character of Jesus the man. Nolan used this background to argue that Christ was one deeply concerned with the poli
...more
Brian Griffith
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Nolan wants to understand what people saw in Jesus before anyone could call him "the risen one". There was a movement of Jesus' followers before Easter or Pentecost. What was it like? Nolan's clear, common-sense approach presents reasonable distinctions between Jesus' own teaching and the theological interpretations of later followers. He notes where the later interpretations do or don't fit with Jesus' own words, or with the context of Jewish history. For example, concerning the accounts of Jes ...more
Allan Savage
As far as I can see, few books on this topic acknowledge the significant philosophical change in perspective that Nolan has adopted in this book. He does not write from the classical philosophical perspective of the Western philosopher or theologian. Any philosopher of phenomenology will appreciate what Nolan says in Chapter 19 about the spirit that motivated Jesus of Nazareth and that motivates us today. Chapters 1 through 18 will be of special interest to the theologian. They are especially si ...more
Elaine
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spiritual
Is it important to know of the man, Jesus, before Christianity wrapped Him and His teaching in the dogma and ritual of Christianity? I think so. We have cluttered up the message of this holy and sincere man whose message was simply compassion... for the poor, the marginalized, the sick in body and spirit and the hungry for food and faith.

The book is well documented, historical, but not only historical.

I actually started the book in mid February. I did not read it in one day!!!

5/2021 Now, watchi
...more
Enrico La Vina
Jun 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Since taking a liberation theology class in 2013, I've made it a tradition to reread this every year or so. Other reviewers have argued that this book's scholarship is outdated. I don't have the qualifications to refute or support this claim. What I can say, however, is that this book has shaped how I've thought about concepts like faith, social justice, and solidarity. ...more
Donna
Nov 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very intriguing book. Brings insights into the life of the historic Jesus that I had never considered and opened my mind to new ways of scriptural interpretation. I may have to work a bit on the last chapter to resolve statements regarding Resurrection.

Read again for Ascension's book discussion.
...more
Bill Kupersmith
Jul 24, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Albert Nolan was a Dominican priest in South Africa and the first edition of this book was written in the Apartheid era, not an inappropriate setting to compare with Roman occupied Palestine in the time of Jesus. Whilst on retreat, I devoured this book in a day; it is both an easy read and supported by impressive scholarship, two qualities rarely found together. Too many attempts to reconstruct the “historical” Jesus founder on the author’s presuppositions, like one I read which insisted that Je ...more
The
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Albert Nolan revised his 1976 version of Jesus Before Christianity in 1992. I read it originally in 1998 but was lured back into its pages now 20 years later for a review. This is a timeless book. For years I have felt our times where pre-Christian. Like many in Jesus’ day we are attracted to his words and example, and as soon as everyone is on board we will jump on too. But for now the ‘world’ isn’t like that yet and we are afraid to go the whole way. Nolan says on page 171 “Jesus can help us t ...more
Lyana Azan
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Favorite Quotes:

* To imagine that one can have historical objectivity with perspective is an allusion.
* ...the general atmosphere of fatalism had been replaced by an atmosphere of faith, the impossible began to happen.
* Compassion allows the power of God to become operative and effective.
* Jesus valued humanity, not status and prestige.
* Base your identity upon the loyalties and prejudices of race, nationality, language, culture, class, ancestry, family, generation, political party, and religiou
...more
Sally Krause
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a book I chose to read for Lent and I'm glad I did. Never before have I so deeply considered Jesus from a historical perspective with a focus on the decisions he made in his ministry and the actions he took in the face of Roman and Jewish power. The author was always mindful of Jesus' divinity and how He interacted with his Father but helped me consider more about the human part of Jesus. It provided greater insight into what Jesus defined as a good Christian vs how some are trying to r ...more
Paul Birch
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Nolan has challenged my view of Jesus and opened up my mind to who the man Jesus was. I have always struggled with the divinity part of Jesus, Nolan explains this in such a beautiful way. This has filled in so many gaps for me in my understanding. It’s going in my top ten with Willard, Manning and Merton. Yes it is that good.
Mark
Apr 08, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology
Read the review by Paul Dubuc which is very close to what I would write if I was going to take the time. There were sections of this book that I appreciated related to Jesus compassion and his embodying truth. Disappointed by the dismissing the miracles and other bits which remind me of the Jesus seminar.
Stephen B. Kealoha
What was so very interesting was the in-depth perspective of what Jesus experienced as a person given the historical understanding of the community in which He lived and the political ramifications of the Romans and the Jews at the time. This insight nevertheless reinforces the belief that Jesus as Abba and "son of man" is never in doubt. ...more
Mandi McBride
Oct 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As someone exiting high demand religion, i found this book to contain the insights and perspective that resonated with my lived experience with Jesus. Having studied the old and new testaments with many denominations, Jesus remained a hot topic of contention. I longed for a reading of the Gospels without an eye toward dogma and this was it.
Matthew
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely riveting read. I had no expectations when I dove in, but fou d this a refreshing and challenging view of what we can say about a Jesus who is as yet unclouded by layers of doctrinal disputes and the co-opting of his movement in the service of power. Read- you won’t be sorry.
Katie
Apr 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
I usually read all my books about religion during Lent, but I've fallen behind while not riding the T. Anyway, this was SUPER interesting- it points out a lot of things about the Gospels and how they were written/portray Jesus that I'm surprised I hadn't heard or hadn't heard much of before. ...more
Greg M
Mar 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Albert Nolan does a great job in explaining Jesus the man before he became the object of Christian faith. I've always wanted to gain a better understanding of what it was like to follow Jesus when he walked on the earth and the major challenges he faced within the Jewish community. ...more
Stewart Fells
Nov 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Accessible. Can bring Jesus from myth to reality for any reader with an open mind.
Heidi
Jan 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Some very interesting insights.
Michael Stohrer
May 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book infuriates people, especially religious people.

So did Jesus.
Carmel Rose
Apr 24, 2022 rated it really liked it
Very thought provoking.
Peter
Aug 31, 2022 rated it it was amazing
An incredibly thoughtful and challenging book.
Angela Clayton
Jan 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Joseph Campbell said to read other people's myths to really understand what you believe, and in this vein, I tackled this book. It was a great read with insights into both the author's religious views and a turning over of the Jesus stories by taking them out of a post-Jesus worldview. It was more fascinating that imagining the Beatles before they became famous (through Bob Spitz' excellent biography). I would recommend this to anyone interested in gaining new perspectives on Jesus in the contex ...more
Ryan
Aug 02, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Highly readable account of Jesus' teachings and doings, in a Jewish setting. The author believes that Jesus fit fairly well into the established role of a prophet: he predicted destruction if the people didn't establish a kingdom based on compassion (rather than solidarity with any group other than the kingdom).

The amazing thing about this book is that you walk away from it wanting to worship Jesus and follow his teachings, even if a lot of things on which we establish our faith--his miracles,
...more
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“The "kingdom" in which Jesus wanted his contemporaries to believe was a "kingdom" of love and service, a "kingdom" of human brotherhood and sisterhood in which every person is loved and respected because he or she is a person. We cannot believe in and hope for such a "kingdom" unless we have learned to be moved with compassion for our fellow-beings.” 0 likes
“The remarkable thing about Jesus was that, although he came from the middle class and had no appreciable disadvantages himself, he mixed socially with the lowest of the low and identified himself with them. He became an outcast by choice.” 0 likes
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