For example, Jesus explains his rejection by his family and fellow citizens of Nazareth by the well-known saying that at home no one is recognised as a prophet. He was also regularly alluded to by non-local contemporaries as the great prophet from Nazareth. In the anecdote of Caesarea Philippi, Peter’s answer to Jesus’s question, “Who do men say that I am?”, follows a similar turn. Jesus, Peter said, was believed to be a prophet, or the returning Elijah or John the Baptist revived.
But when pressed to reveal what the circle of disciples thought of Jesus, Peter confessed, according to Mark, that he was the Messiah, or, according to Matthew, the Messiah, with the added synonym of “the Son of the living God”. The latter phrase was understood in Gentile-Christian theology as a move towards the recognition of the divine status of Jesus.
In the course of my research that led to the writing of Jesus the Jew, it was impossible not to notice that church tradition tended to attribute the maximum of significance to the honorific titles applied to Jesus by the evangelists. I decided therefore to set up a quasi-scientific experiment. I said to myself: let’s try to establish the correlation between the features of the Jesus portrait of the Gospels and the meaning of the designations such as “Messiah”, “Lord” and “Son of God” in the mind of the contemporaries of Jesus.
To achieve this, we must forget the Greek understanding of the terms by the Gentile readers of the Gospel; get rid of 2,000 years of superimposed Christian interpretation of the New Testament, and switch instead the searchlight on Jesus’s Aramaic-speaking Jewish audience on the shore of the Lake of Galilee. What was the original meaning of the message and what did the original addressees make of it?
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