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January 2015 Vol. 52 No. 5

Baker Book House Co.

The following review appeared in the January 2015 issue of CHOICE. The review is for your internal use only. Please review our Permission and Reprints Guidelines or email


2013-39141 MARC
Keith, Chris. Jesus against the scribal elite: the origins of the conflict. Baker Academic, 2014. 188p bibl indexes ISBN 9780801039881 pbk, $22.99.

Building on his earlier work on Jesus's literacy, Keith (St. Mary's University College, UK) examines the controversy between Jesus and scribal authorities.  Though scholars rightfully assign responsibility for Jesus's crucifixion to the Roman authorities alone, they also acknowledge the historicity of conflicts between Jesus and Jewish authorities.  Yet some doubt the historicity of the gospel portraits of debates between Jesus and the scribes, arguing instead that they exhibit later tensions between the Jesus movement and Jewish leaders.  Keith favors a "memory approach" over traditional criteria of historicity employed in previous historical Jesus quests.  Thus, he argues that Jesus was remembered for assuming scribal authority and controversies with the scribal elite, even if the stories reflect the evangelists’ contexts.  Though scholars might disagree with his methodology, Keith creates a plausible account of a conflict rooted in Jewish social and religious practices that culminated in Jesus’s death at the hands of Roman authorities.  This book serves as a great introduction to studies of ancient literacy and historical Jesus research for theology/religion courses at the undergraduate/graduate level.

--H. Vela, University of Notre Dame

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through researchers/faculty.