Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Jesus before Christianity” as Want to Read:
Jesus before Christianity
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Jesus before Christianity

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  367 ratings  ·  41 reviews
Nolan's portrait introduces readers to Jesus as He was before He became enshrined in doctrine, dogma, and ritual, a man deeply involved with the real problems of His time, which are the real problems of our time as well. In a new preface, Nolan reflects on recent work in Christology and how a book written in South Africa in 1976 still has a message for people today.
Paperback, 196 pages
Published September 28th 2001 by Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY) (first published January 1st 1976)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Jesus before Christianity, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Jesus before Christianity

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.11  · 
Rating details
 ·  367 ratings  ·  41 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Jesus before Christianity
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
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
Erik Graff
Apr 14, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nolan fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
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.
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.

Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Dean Summers
Jun 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bible, biography
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
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
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
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!!!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jan 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Some very interesting insights.
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
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,
Elizabeth Huff
Apr 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
My uncle recommended this book to me the last time I was in the Philippines after one of our many discussions about how the Catholic church has become increasingly corrupt and veered from the fundamental teachings on which it was founded. The description of historical Jesus given in this book is close to the image that I had always pictured, a radical person fighting for the most oppressed within a society. It gives me slight comfort that there are people within the church that also feel this wa ...more
MaryEllen Elizabeth Hart
Aug 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Christians
Recommended to MaryEllen Elizabeth by: Pastor David Ragsdale
Shelves: spiritual
This book is a good book to ground yourself in the Messiah as: The Son of Man, The Son of God, The Son of Mary, The Son of Joseph, The Carpenter, The Rabbi, The Healer, The Lover of Souls, The Worm and no man, The Bread of Life, The Cup of Salvation, A man who hung out with people who ate and drank too much, The Rabbi who would feed his disciples on the Sabbath, Healer of the Sick (and on the Sabbath), The Quaker-like everyday man of God who rebuked the Pharisee. ...more
Stephen Mortland
Mar 31, 2014 rated it liked it
Perhaps my hopes for this book were too high. I read his chapter on "Jesus and money" first, and was thoroughly impressed. In some instances (such as the chapter on money) Nolan has one of the most honest approaches to the text I've encountered. In others places though I felt he assumed his opinion as fact, and was disappointed that he often dismissed supernatural explanation, oftentimes for a more far-fetched natural cause. In instances like these, his extreme attempt at almost scientific histo ...more
Jeremy Allen Phelps
Jul 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: hummanity
Possibly one of the best books I have ever read! Ever. Mr. Nolan's construction of the man who turned the world upside down in so inspiring that it is nearly magical. It is patient, thourough, informative, thought provoking, and most of all, I believe largely correct. I may not agree with all of his conclusions but his objective is clear and he sticks with that intention - to recover the spirit and mission of the man that set out to bring God's kingdom to us all. I reccomend this book for everyo ...more
Amos Smith
Sep 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Albert Nolan is a wonderful writer. His words are carefully chosen, clear, and precise. He combines a love for the Christian tradition at its best with a social conscience that is fully engaged with the problems of this world. In this way he reminds me of Thomas Merton, whose depth of devotion to the life-giving streams of Christian tradition was matched only by his love for this world with its relentless waves of human suffering. Nolan convinces us that Jesus' teachings are infinitely relevant ...more
Carl Williams
An reasonable survey of the historic Jesus. Flawed in some spots perhaps, but a good read for someone beginning to look at the man that inspired the religion, and planned to explore it through multiple sources. Nolan uses Biblical scholars and other secondary sources, as the basis of his portrait of Jesus--"at the heart of Jesus' mysterious personality there was a unique experience of intimate closeness to God--the Abba experience." (151)
K. Lewis
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was a textbook used in my Systematic Theology class when I was at Gonzaga high school. Rereading it has been a key and essential lamppost on my return to faith. It portrays the person of Jesus as he was (or at least as he appears to have been) before the layers of Church and dogma accreted through the centuries. Much more compassionate, and of much greater substance than CS Lewis' Mere Christianity.
Nov 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Stripping off all of the cultural baggage and viewing Jesus in the context in which he lived. This book was inspirational and helped me know the man as opposed to the myth. Perhaps it is best summed up by this from pg. 169: "We do not need to theorize about Jesus, we need to 're-produce' him in our time and our circumstances." There you have it...our job description!
Oct 31, 2011 rated it liked it
This is a very interesting view of Jesus as a man in history and the events & people during that time. It definitely made me rethink some of the "tradition" surrounding Jesus, but doesn't change my basic view of & faith in Jesus. ...more
Phyllis Fredericksen
Dec 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I used this as a daily meditation and found it to be excellent. Nolan provides historical content to Jesus' story. It is interesting to read about the times and to understand how that affected the man. This book is highly readable. I would definitely recommend.
Apr 25, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
My Christian faith is really centered around Christ as a human, so I find books like this to be really fascinating.
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn't, and Get Stuff Done
  • Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City
  • Florence Adler Swims Forever
  • The Last Emperox (The Interdependency, #3)
  • New Yorkers: Short Stories (Oxford Bookworms Library: Stage 2)
  • The 5 AM Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life
  • The Five Love Languages of Teenagers
  • Victory Over Japan: A Book of Stories
  • Love Looks Pretty on You
  • The Boyfriend Project (The Boyfriend Project, #1)
  • Rage Against the Minivan: Learning to Parent Without Perfection
  • Once Night Falls
  • Snow
  • The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism
  • Conjure Women
  • The Dark Between Stars
  • Christian Foundations (Revised Edition): An Introduction to Faith in Our Time
  • Reading Critically, Writing Well
See similar books…

News & Interviews

You’d think that with, well, everything this year has had in store for us, readers would flock to sweet stories with happy endings. But as...
189 likes · 70 comments