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The King of God's Kingdom: A Solution to the Puzzle of Jesus [Paperback]

By David Seccombe (Author)
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Item description for The King of God's Kingdom: A Solution to the Puzzle of Jesus by David Seccombe...

This book addresses the problems raised by biblical scholarship concerning Jesus and his mission. Much of Jesus' ministry remains a mystery; many of the things he said and did do not fit neatly into traditional Christian interpretation. He spoke of the coming of the kingdom of God but what become of this new age which was meant to be tangible and near? The King of God's Kingdom in part is an attempt to uncover and understand Jesus and His vision. At the same time, Seccombe inspires confidence in the historical Jesus, overcoming much of the confusion that has been created in the last two hundred years. With conviction of the urgency of these issues for the Christian faith today, he presents a solution to the puzzle in the form of an account of Jesus' ministry years.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Paternoster
Pages   648
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.84" Width: 6.04" Height: 1.9"
Weight:   1.4 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Dec 31, 2005
Publisher   AUTHENTIC UK
ISBN  1842270753  
ISBN13  9781842270752  

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Reviews - What do customers think about The King of God's Kingdom: A Solution to the Puzzle of Jesus?

making the rough places plain  Nov 20, 2006
David Seccombe is the principal of Capetown's highly regarded George Whitfield College and a New Testament scholar of sturdy reputation. This monumental treatment of Jesus and the kingdom he claimed both to introduce and to rule is able, insightful, faithful, and refreshing. It is a pity to be obligated to recognize that most Jesus scholarship--especially its popular manifestation--falls short of what Seccombe has produced in this book with regard to all four of those cardinal virtues.

The book's seventeen lengthy chapters lend to the aggregate an encyclopedic tone. Indeed, readers whose patience may be taxed by nearly seven hundred pages may discover the book's utility to be that of an encyclopedia of Jesus' person, teaching, understanding, and kingly intentions. At the same time, Seccombe writes with refreshing openness to readers who cannot yet claim anything like the author's own faith in the Jesus whose history he seeks to write.

The first of them (chapter one, 'Dead or Alive?') argues that the question of whether or not Jesus rose from the dead in space and time is 'both the strength and the vulnerability of Christianity'. Since Seccombe argues that the viability of Christian faith revolves around the fundamental question of what happened during and just after the Roman crucifixion of Jesus, he is not surprised by Christians' 'willingness to argue on the basis of historical events which are open to independent investigation'. After surveying the history of the debate about whether anything did happen, he readies the playing field for his own fresh presentation of the evidence and renewal of the argument.

In chapter two ('Evidence', pp. 17-32), Seccombe examines the circumstantial evidence for a bodily resurrection from the tomb, arguing against some interpreters of Pauline and early Christian proclamation that the 'empty tomb' did in fact figure in the earliest kerygma. The author believes that the fact of the empty tomb was public knowledge in Jerusalem and its environments. Argument was not about it as such, but about how properly to explain it. Here there would have been a number of contested explanations.

In his third chapter ('The Resurrection Story in the Four Gospels', pp. 33-69), Seccombe examines the gospels as sources of reliable reportage or fiction based on originally authentic traditions. He rightly points out the assumption that the gospels cannot be harmonized in any responsible manner has become doctrinaire and therefore unhelpful. In fact, a careful historian is often capable of harmonizing disparate documents that address a similar complex of events without distorting the nature of the testimony that has fallen into his hands. The author attempts just such a sifting and weighting of the gospels as evidential sources. Some readers will fault Seccombe for approaching each gospel with sympathy rather than suspicion. This reviewer finds his touch just about right.

Next Seccombe turns to the enigmatic if charismatic figure of John the Baptist ('The Prophet and the King', pp. 70-107). He paints a picture of what plausibly could have been anticipated by Judean followers of this prophetic figure and those whose curiosity was aroused by him without any consequent pledge of fealty. After canvassing the historical parallels that might explain the Baptist phenomenon, Seccombe invites his readers to consider the originality of this camel-skinned preacher.

Because the gospels unveil Jesus and/or his public ministry in conjunction with his baptism by John in the Jordan, Seccombe allows this presentation to justify a consideration of the messianic symbolism of the baptism, together with the related issue of Jesus' purported 'messianic consciousness'.

David Seccombe's appealing touch as an historian who takes the texture of his sources seriously is especially evident in chapter five ('The Enemy', pp. 108-135). Even as he surveys possible parallels for the kind of desert fast that is reported of Jesus in the gospels, he is equally attentive to the potential background of this ordeal in the Hebrew Bible. Quite rightly, I think, he considers that Jesus' forty days in the desert were shaped by Jesus' own awareness that he was in some way recapitulating Israel's experience. In this case, the pertinent piece of his Israelite legacy is the forty years of desert wandering.

Still more creatively, Seccombe conjectures that the forty-day fast represents a kind of penitential prayer on Israel's behalf. Indeed--according to this reconstruction--the disconnect between the Baptist's portrayal of the 'coming one's ministry and the shape of Jesus' teaching as well as the omission of the harsh clause from the Isaiah passage ("a day of vengeance") that Jesus quotes to explain his own project could be explained as the products of a divine 'yes' to Jesus' desert plea for God's mercy.'

Along the way to a nuanced understanding of Jesus' actual experience with Satan during this desert temptation, Seccombe argues that Jesus 'did not say no to dominion', but rather that he refused to achieve it via Satanic agency.

The Gospel of John's unique contribution to a history of Jesus is surveyed in chapter six ('Becoming Known', pp. 136-154), together with the vicissitudes of modern appraisal of the fourth gospel as an historical source.

Is it possible that the apocalyptic and surreal imagery employed in the Hebrew Bible and adopted by Jesus and New Testament chronicler-theologians actually represents a dialect for speaking of this-worldly change? This is one of the heuristic questions that Seccombe asks in his consideration of what it must have sounded to hear Jesus speak about the imminent arrival of God's kingdom (chapter seven, 'Herald of God's Kingdom', pp. 155-199). If the question is to be answered in the affirmative, it goes some way towards evading modern reductionistic attempts to flat-line Jesus' teaching and self-presentation as either failed, misdirected, or otherwise patently wrong. Dependent somewhat on N.T. Wright's influential work on Jesus, Seccombe wants nothing of the rule-reign dichotomy into which Jesus studies occasionally stumble.

He wants to hear in Jesus' teaching an assertion of both divine rule and a real-world reign into which this rule intrudes. The notion of 'exile' is critical to this construction, for it implies that Israel has lost a place of sorts, one that cannot be reclaimed at a wholly spiritual level without reference to the space and time in which Israel suffered expulsion from what was hers. Seccombe treads on some very suggestive terrain at this point in his work, allowing for the possibility that the timing of the kingdom's realization was in some measure dependent upon Israel's response to Jesus and, thus, postponed by the consensual rejection of him by a people whose messianic expectations seemed more or less unmet by the pretender from Nazareth.

In 'Capernaum by the Sea' (chapter eight, pp. 200-228), the author disabuses of the notion that Galilee was a poverty-stricken backwater in Jesus' day. To the contrary, it was a socially and economically diversified province of some prosperity. Seccombe also dwells on the nature of Jesus 'authority', which seems to Capernaum and the Galileans to have marked him off from contemporary religious professionals. Faith, then, is not a religious inclination but a simple and submissive response to true authority.

When Seccombe turns to the matter of Jesus' followers, he follows M. Hengel in suggesting--startlingly--that the nearest parallel to the way Jesus called his disciples is the Old Testament calling of prophets by God himself (chapter nine, 'All the King's Men', pp. 229-276). In discussing such authority, the author notes the tendency of those individuals who responded to Jesus' call to tell others of the fact: 'There must have been something about him which disarmed the common fear of exposing irreligious friends to one who is publicly aligned with God.'

With regard to Jesus' flaunting of (Pharisaic?) purity laws, '(t)he question was not whom *he* would accept but who would accept *him*, and who would accept those whom he accepted.' Again, Seccombe is led to the book of Isaiah for a conceptual frame adequate to this remarkable behavior: 'It was "the acceptable year of the Lord" and Jesus made that acceptance felt.' Further, the 'boundary markers' (E.P. Sanders' now famous term) among Jesus disciples seem have been fluid: 'The gospels are silent about any line of demarcation between those who were and were not disciples. It appears that Jesus allowed people to attach and detach themselves from him at will. This is one of the reasons we hesitate to speak of him founding a "church" during his lifetime. His word alone was the instrument which drew people closer or drove them away.'

With regard to that narrower circle of twelve 'apostoloi', Seccombe sees 'palingenesia' or 'new creation' as the operative concept. Jesus was reconstituting Israel with his own role--far from being the first or twelfth of twelve--best described as the ruler over this new entity. In many ways, Seccombe's eighth chapter is the richest of this formidable work. Suggestive lines of thought appear on virtually every second page.

Many readers of the gospels will be taken by the almost matter-of-fact reporting of miracles. Such readiness to accept the interruption of what moderns understand as the patterns of a closed system is often seen as the typical gullibility of the ancients. Seccombe argues against the view that in antiquity all was fair game for the miraculous (chapter ten, 'Miracle Worker', pp. 277-318). In fact, miracles are far less frequent in the literature of the period and ancillary periods than such a view assumes (pace Vermes).

Again, Seccombe's treatment is refreshingly insightful: 'The most surprising "technical" feature of the gospel miracles is Jesus' almost completely lack of observable prayer ... This is not to say that he did not pray in relation to miracle working, but it does indicate that he usually felt under no compulsion to make this obvious.'

'Compassion' rather than any other concern is for the author the prominent generative motif for Jesus' miracles. He cared about people in need and moved in authority to relieve their pain and/or restore their wellbeing.

This reviewer finds Seccombe's discussion of Jesus' miracles worth special mention for several reasons. First, a reader with no prior conviction about the veracity of the gospels' miracle accounts could likely assent to Seccombe's careful historical methodology. Second, Seccombe does lead one always to predictable conclusions. For example, he is confident that only an overly secularist worldview leads an honest observer to deny the possibility of the miracles attributed to Jesus. Yet he is no raving supernaturalist. Though something real and confrontational occurred in Jesus' exorcism', '(t)he worldview of the Bible gives no grounds for thinking that spirits have any power to effect physical things ... (it) must be said that the actual condition of possession is today relatively rare in western societies. It is not an illness that ordinary people contract, no matter how "wicked" their lifestyles may be.' In the end, he considers that demons act principally upon the human *mind*. They are not free-ranging plunders but rather--in contrast to Jesus' authority--weak creatures with a limited but real range of activity.

Seccombe is clearly in awe of Jesus' mastery of parable-telling. (Chapter eleven, 'Parables of Divine Strategy', pp. 319-356). He asks the skeptical reader to concede that--if nothing else--Jesus merits a place in literary history. Further, he argues that there must be historical concreteness to Jesus' parables, for one would need to invent these compelling stories in order to bolster the 'invention' of 'the great parable', and inverted logic not unlike writing 'King Lear' and 'Henry the 8th' in order to under gird the fiction of one William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Tyne.

In analyzing the parables, Seccombe again settles upon Jesus' reflection upon history to explain their rhetorical strategy. The Galilean preacher must have discerned through his reflection upon Scripture that he was meant to live the life of Isaiah's 'Servant of the Lord' and thus crafted his preaching to bring repentance and--significantly--divine mercy rather than the execution of (conditionally) proclaimed judgment upon Israel. This reconstruction at once illuminates the texture of Jesus' teaching and recovers for it an urgency that effectively frames the parables as something more than memorable stories about divine and human behavior.

Indeed, the persuasive power of Jesus' parables runs--on the surface at least--counter to the apocalyptic and rhetorical axe-wielding of his forerunner: 'It was probably the lack of chaff-burning which caused the Baptist's disquiet. Jesus' hearers would not have missed the fact that he had relocated the judgement to the separation which would take place at the end of a period of confused growth.'

The book's sparely titled chapter twelve provides the author with the opportunity to canvass the range of social and religious groupings from which opposition to Jesus' self-identity and teaching emerged ('Opposition', pp. 357-397). The central players of course are the Pharisees, a movement that Seccombe treats with sympathy. He believes the E.P. Sanders' hugely influential modern casting of the Pharisees in terms of 'covenantal nomism' is essentially correct. Yet he parts company with Sanders--and indeed with the Pharisees--when he discerns that Jesus considered Israel so rebellious that only a radical conversion would bring the nation back into the parameters where the blessings of covenantal nomism could be received.

What is more, the Pharisees' detailed interpretation of the Law turned out to be a diminishment of it. So radically divergent a hermeneutical system delivered on the lips of a popular preacher would almost necessarily have provoked suspicion and defensiveness on the part of the Pharisees. Notwithstanding, many believed in Jesus, thus passing from opponents to disciples, presumably without abandoning the Mosaic legacy upon which the Pharisaic quest for holiness had been established.

The maturity of Seccombe's scholarship is glimpsed in that he frequently comes to the end of an argument, only to present a rather conventional conclusion. Yet the freshness and at times unanticipated pathways by which he leads us to his destination indicate that he is not simply acting as Advocate General for received dogma. His thirteenth chapter is a case in point ('Who is this Man', pp. 398-439).

In this chapter, the author asks what might be called 'the messianic question', though this label might be thought to prejudge the reply. 'Who is this man?', a question actually articulated in the gospels' pages is handled from a scholarly point of view. Seccombe summarizes: 'I am not suggesting that the disciples began to think of Jesus as God at this time; only that his actions pushed him closer to the sovereign autonomy of God than anything that could be said of a prophet, even a prophet as great as Moses. I think the only final recourse to them was to believe that he must be the Messiah; a Messiah in many ways less than they would have expected, yet in other ways perhaps immeasurably greater. It is doubtful that they would have expected even the Messiah to act with the autonomy which Jesus displayed.'

In my judgment, Seccombe's double coining of the phrase 'autonomy' in this paragraph hits the mark just right. The literature under review and the history that he discerns 'behind' it--perhaps unusually for a clergyman ordained in the Sydney Diocese, Seccombe allows himself that manner of expression--is allowed to reveal its main protagonist on its own terms. Jesus is in the gospels neither a patent re-presentation of the celestial being nor a Jewish messiah in any easily recognizable garb. Yet he is something not entirely distinct from those categories, something that draws one irrepressibly towards those two categories as one considers his words and deeds.

Seccombe's ominously named fourteenth chapter ('Last chance', pp. 440-482) takes several key uncertainties regarding Jesus' last year and--particularly--the last weeks before his death. Was Jesus bitter? Disillusioned? What can we know of his psychological state and the fullness of his knowledge of eventual outcomes as his violent death drew near? Just how was such a death a choice that Jesus consciously made?

The chapter's final chapter exemplifies the author's tone throughout: 'This makes more understandable the disciples uncertainty about what he meant by the resurrection of the dead (Mark 9:10), and the lack of any expectation on their part that anything dramatic would happen on the third day. They no doubt had a faith like Martha's that he would rise in the resurrection at the last day (John 11:24). Jesus' (sic) was convinced that for him that day was close, but perhaps not even he know how close.'

The following chapter expertly follows through on the messianic question to Jesus' penultimate decision to allow himself to be celebrated as both messiah and king (chapter fifteen, 'The Coming of the King', pp. 483-519).

One could look quite far afield without discovering a more accessible summary of the historical and theological points of discussion relative to the last few days before Jesus' execution (chapter sixteen, 'Day of Judgement', pp. 520-567). Seccombe is as attentive to, say the exegetical crux regarding the day of the week on which Jesus and his followers shared the Passover meal as he is to the vexed post-Shoah question of who was legally and morally responsible for what nearly all observers agree to have been Jesus' unjust death.

The final chapter of Seccombe's work is perhaps his most poignant (chapter seventeen, 'The future', pp. 568-602). In it, the author edges as close to a call to decision as he will permit himself in this balanced survey of the evidence for Jesus' kingdom and for Jesus himself as its ancient and contemporary monarch. Was Jesus entirely or partially mistaken about the future? Did he die an abject failure? Or, alternatively, is his limited but concrete portrayal of a future beyond his death trustworthy as a story in which moderns and post-modern readers might invest a lifetime?

Seccombe is both a much-loved Anglican vicar in New South Wales and a Cambridge-trained New Testament scholar. The combination is nowhere more evident than the manner in which he sensitively answers questions like these.

THE KING OF GOD'S KINGDOM is a formidable book. It offers the promise of its subtitle ('A solution to the puzzle of Jesus') without obliterating the enigma to which its fifth word refers.

Readers likely to benefit from this fine work include:

* honest skeptics willing to search the tradition for accuracy and trustworthiness.

** Bible readers and Bible study groups willing to invest thought as well as faith in the effort to discover a Jesus who does not fail to puzzle.

*** Readers seeking a reference work to the times and stages of Jesus' life as recorded in the biblical gospels.

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