Review: How we can imagine Jesus in his own culture


The title of this book could not be more straightforward, and yet it describes the book perfectly. Jerome Neyrey’s Imagining Jesus in His Own Culture focuses on Jesus, it encourages the use of the imagination, and it describes in some detail the culture in which Jesus actually lived.

Imagining Jesus in His Own Cultureby Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J.

Cascade Books, 172p $22

Neyrey has been one of the leading Scripture scholars in the United States for the last 40 years, and so it should be no surprise that this book concentrates on New Testament studies. A founding member of the Context Group (whose members strive to apply the social sciences to the explication of Scripture), he was also a popular theology professor at the University of Notre Dame for many years.

Neyrey organizes much of his book around the contemplations in the Second, Third and Fourth Week of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, in which Ignatius encourages the exercitant to imagine scenes from Jesus’ life as a method for discerning insights into one’s life and vocation. For this reason, Imagining Jesus in His Own Culture will serve as a valuable companion for anyone engaging in the Exercises.

Jerome Neyrey's Imagining Jesus in His Own Culture will serve as a valuable companion for anyone engaging in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

In Chapter 3, Neyrey outlines how first-century Jewish culture differs from our present world in terms of gender roles, occupations, family life, marriage, food, health conditions and so on. Later on, he even considers questions such as “Did Jesus get married?” and “Did Jesus laugh?” He also describes how Jesus probably prayed.

Some of the most informative pages are the author’s depictions of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (in case you were wondering, the pregnant Mary almost certainly did not ride on a donkey), his evidence that Jesus may have done woodwork for fishermen’s boats and thus gotten to know Peter, Andrew, James and John before he called them to follow him, and many details surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion. He also describes the gentle humor that Jesus displayed in his post-resurrection appearances to Mary Magdalene, the disciples at Emmaus and the doubting Thomas.

Neyrey’s study displays the many ways in which Jesus was not only “like us in all things” but also definitely a person incarnated in his own culture.

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