Bard News & Events

Press Release


Emily Darrow

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, NY—\"Bruce Chilton\'s biography offers the first authentically Christian Jesus—and therefore the most profoundly Judaic Jesus ever,\" says Rabbi Jacob Neusner, Research Professor of Religion and Theology at Bard College about the recently released Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography (Doubleday, 2000).

\"As a non-Jew—and a priest at that—I will doubtless make both Jews and Christians apprehensive with Rabbi Jesus,\" Chilton writes in his foreword. \"So inculcated are the taboos in our culture, so visceral the abyss between Judaism and Christianity, that it is almost as if I am cross-dressing, transgressing basic categories that define who we are and how we differentiate ourselves in the world. But my hope is that Rabbi Jesus can point the way across the perilous gulf of artificial ideologies and misguided animus that has divided Jews and Christians (and different sects within Christianity) from one another.\"

In a biography that sweeps readers into first-century Palestine and re-creates the world as Jesus knew it, Chilton puts together the puzzle pieces of our knowledge of the historical Jesus. He draws on recent archaeological findings to paint a vivid portrait of the social customs, political forces, and religious beliefs and practices of the period. Chilton examines new translations and interpretations of ancient texts, including Aramaic targums—the local oral tradition of rendering scripture in Jesus\'s time—and offers a revolutionary look at Jesus\'s early life and the philosophical and psychological foundations of the ideas he promulgated as a young man. The evidence provided by these reexaminations contradict long-held beliefs about Jesus and the movement he led. Chilton shows, for example, that Jesus was most likely born in the Bethlehem of Galilee, not the Bethlehem of Judea (as had been believed by Christians for centuries), and that theHigh Priest Caiaphas, not Pontius Pilate, played the central role in Jesus\'s execution. It is Chilton\'s description of Jesus\'s role as a rabbi or \"master\" of Jewish oral traditions, a teacher of the Kabbalah, and a practitioner of a Galilean form of Judaism that emphasizes direct communication with God, however, that casts an entirely new light on the origins of Christianity. By placing Jesus within the context of his times, Chilton reveals a new Jesus for the new millennium.

Chilton\'s quest to fully understand the life of Jesus began when he was 18 years old. In a medieval church in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, Chilton was confronted by a graphic, gory frieze depicting Jesus\'s crucifixion. He was affected by the frieze and its depiction of agony and glory that, despite initial attempts to shake the image, he was drawn to ordination in the Episcopal church.

Rev. Dr. Bruce Chilton is Bernard Iddings Bell Professor of Religion, chaplain of the College, and director of the Institute of Advanced Theology at Bard College. He is a scholar of early Christianity and Judaism, whose principal focus is understanding Jesus within his Jewish context. Chilton is the author and editor of fifty books, including The Temple of Jesus, Pure Kingdom: Jesus\' Vision of God, and James the Just and Christian Origins. Chilton, who graduated from Bard College in 1971, received a master of divinity degree from General Theological Seminary and a doctorate from Cambridge University. He has taught at Yale University, the University of Münster in Germany, and St. John\'s College of Cambridge University and the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom.

The Institute of Advanced Theology at Bard College was established to foster critical understanding based on scholarship that will make true religious pluralism possible. Since its inception in 1996, the Institute’s work has focused on how religions influence history, society, and other religions and are in turn influenced by them. The Institute gratefully acknowledges support provided by the Crohn Family Trust and the Tisch Family Foundation and grants from The Jerome Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the American Council of Learned Societies, and Bard College.

# # #

back to top

This event was last updated on 03-02-2001