John P. Meier
John Paul Meier (born 1942) is a biblical scholar and Catholic priest. He attended St. Joseph's Seminary and College (B.A., 1964), Gregorian University Rome (S.T.L, 1968), and the Biblical Institute Rome (S.S.D., 1976). He is author of the series A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (4 v.), six other books, and more than 70 articles for peer-reviewed or solicited journals or books.
Meier is William K. Warren Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. His fields include biblical studies and Christianity and Judaism in antiquity. Before coming to Notre Dame, he was professor of New Testament at The Catholic University of America.
A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus
Meier's series A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus begins by invoking the methods of modern historical research to "recover, recapture, or reconstruct" the "historical Jesus." Meier suggests that such research might admit agreement of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and agnostic scholars as to "who Jesus of Nazareth was and what he intended" (v. 1, 1991, p. 1).
- Volume 1 (1991) differentiates the historical Jesus from the Biblical Jesus. It analyzes sources, including the New Testament and non-canonical works. The latter include the agrapha, the apocryphal gospels (such as the Gospel of Thomas), Josephus, and other Jewish and second-century Roman works. For deciding what comes from Jesus as distinct from early Christian tradition it proposes these primary criteria (pp. 168-77):
- 1. The criterion of embarrassment: Why invent what would invite difficulty for the early church?
- 2. The criterion of discontinuity: Why reject as words or deeds of Jesus what cannot be derived from the Judaism of Jesus' time or the early church?
- 3. The criterion of multiple attestation: Is it more plausible to deny words, sayings, or deeds attributed to Jesus in more than one independent literary source (e.g., Mark, Q, Paul, and John) or literary genre (e.g., parable, miracle story, or prophecy)?
- 4. The criterion of coherence: Given the claims to historicity from any of the above criteria, are different sayings or deeds evidently inconsistent?
- 5. The criterion of rejection and execution: If Jesus' ministry came to a violent, public end, what of Jesus' words or deeds could have alienated people, especially powerful people?
The criteria are to be used in concert for mutual correction. Still, any claim is only to the probable, not the certain. The rest of Volume 1 discusses the origins of Jesus as to formative years, "external" influences (language, education, and socioeconomic status), and "internal" influences (family ties and marital and lay status). The volume concludes with a survey of Jesus' life chronology.
On the question of references to Jesus in the Talmud, Meier considers the thesis of Joseph Klausner (1925) that some very few rabbinic sources, none earlier than about than late 2nd or early 3rd century, contain traces of the historical Jesus. He presents further considerations and arguments, including those of Johann Maier (talmudic scholar) (1978) who maintains that the Yeshu texts are later medieval corruptions, and writes that:
- While not accepting the full, radical approach of Maier, I think we can agree with him on one basic point: in the earliest rabbinic sources, there is no clear or even probable reference to Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, ... when we do finally find such references in later rabbinic literature, they are most probably reactions to Christian claims, oral or written.
Volume 2 (1994) is in three main parts:
- Jesus' relationship to John the Baptist (as 'mentor')
- Jesus' message of the kingdom of God
- accounts of Jesus' miracles in ancient and modern minds.
The kingdom of God in the second part (pp. 235-506) is examined as to:
- the Old Testament, related writings, and Qumran
- Jesus' proclamation of a future kingdom
- the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus' words and deeds as already present in his ministry (pp. 451-53).
The third part applies the same criteria of historicity to miracle stories as to other aspects of Jesus' life. Rather than adopting say an exclusively agnostic or Christian perspective or relying on philosophical arguments whether miracles can occur, it poses narrower data-based historical questions (pp. 510-11, 517). Meier is quoted in a 1997 interview as saying: "The proper stance of a historian is, 'I neither claim beforehand that miracles are possible, nor do I claim beforehand they are not possible.'" Meier finds that Jesus' performance of extraordinary deeds deemed miracles at the time is best supported by the criteria of multiple attestation and the coherence of Jesus' deeds and words (p. 630). In moving from the global question of miracles to the particular, Meier examines each miracle story by broad category. That examination drives the conclusion that no single theory explains all such stories with equal assurance and applicability. Rather, it is suggested that some stories have no historical basis (such as the cursing of the fig tree) and that other stories likely go back to events in the life of Jesus (though theological judgment is required to affirm any miracle) (p. 968). At the global level again, Jesus as healer is as well supported as almost anything about the historical Jesus. In the Gospels, the activity of Jesus as miracle worker looms large in attracting attention to himself and reinforces his eschatological message. Such activity, Meier suggests, might have added to the concern of authorities that culminated in Jesus' death (p. 970).
Volume 3 (2001) places Jesus in the context of his followers, the crowds, and his competitors (including Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Samaritans, scribes, and Zealots) in first-century Palestine.
Volume 4 (2009) deals with the ministry of the historical Jesus in relation to Mosaic Law, such subjects as divorce, oaths, and observance of the Sabbath and purity rules, and the various love commandments in the Gospels.
- Matthew. Lex Orandi. 1 Jan. 1980.
- Antioch and Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity. by Raymond E. Brown, S.S., and John P. Meier. May 1983.
- "Jesus." In Raymond E. Brown, et al., eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary.
- John P. Meier, 2008. "Jesus the Jew — But What Sort of Jew?", UCal lecture on YouTube.
- _____, 1997. "Finding the Historical Jesus". An interview.
- John P. Meier - Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame.
- John P. Meier - Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame.
- Josh Stowe, 2009. "Notre Dame Scholar Debunks Myths about Jesus," College of Arts & Sciences News, University of Notre Dame, October 26.
- John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library,
- 1991, v. 1, The Roots of the Problem and the Person. Description and reviews. ISBN 0-385-26425-9
- 1994, v. 2, Mentor, Message, and Miracles. Description and reviews. ISBN 0-385-46992-6
- 2001, v. 3, Companions and Competitors. Description and reviews. ISBN 0-385-46993-4
- 2009, v. 4, Law and Love. Description, pre-publication comments, and scrollable preview . ISBN 0-300-14096-7
- John P. Meier, 1991. The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Yale University Press.
- John P. Meier, 1991. A Marginal Jew, v. 1 pp. 95, 97-98.
- John Bookser Feister, 1997. "Finding the Historical Jesus:An Interview With John P. Meier," Saint Anthony Messenger, December.
- John P. Meier, 1994. Mentor, Message, and Miracles, Yale University Press.
- John P. Meier, 2001. Companions and Competitors, Yale University Press.
- John P. Meier, 2009. Law and Love. Yale University Press. Contents, pp. vii-x; and Introduction, pp. 1-25 (press +). Yale University Press.
- John P. Meier, 1980. Matthew. Liturgical Press. Contents with chapter-preview links, pp. vii-viii. Review extract, 1981.
- Raymond E. Brown and John P. Meier, 1983. Antioch and Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity, Paulist Press. Scroll to Table of Contents chapter-preview links.
- Prentice-Hall, 1990, pp. 1316-28, ISBN 0-13-614934-0
- 1984 & 1985.
- John P. Meier, 1999. "The Present State of the ‘Third Quest’ for the Historical Jesus: Loss and Gain," Biblica, 80, pp. 459-487.
- Larry W. Hurtado, 1993. [Review of A Marginal Jew, v. 1], Journal of Biblical Literature, 112(3), pp. 532-534.
- * William Loader,"Companions and Competitors - and Context?",  (19-screen review of A Marginal Jew, v. 3)