Baker Academic

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Marcus Borg in Context

Marcus Borg, 1942-2015

As a number of blogs have now noted, the famed historical Jesus scholar Marcus Borg (b. 1942) recently died (for footage of Borg debating issues relating to the historical Jesus, see the videos on Biblical Studies Online).

As a historical Jesus scholar, Borg’s most prominent work was part of scholarship of the 1980s and 1990s, especially his Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus (1984) and Jesus: A New Vision (1987) and his activities as a leading member of the Jesus Seminar when it was at its most controversial. Borg is among figures such as Crossan, Fredriksen, Horsley, Wright, Meier, and Sanders who have come to epitomise the postmodern era historical Jesus studies, scholars who were known, or quickly to be known, to anyone engaging the field of historical Jesus studies. Borg was also part of an era which drew significant crowds to SBL papers, many more, by all accounts, than would be found at most historical Jesus papers today. In the case of Borg, this was quite something given that he was arguably more active and prolific in church circles and popular publishing and debating. Borg became especially known for portraying Jesus as kind of ‘mystical’ and inclusive figure with subversive tendencies and his Jesus was, as he may well have embraced, very much a figure of the late twentieth century as much as the first century.

With some exceptions, the influence of Borg’s era of scholarship has been on the wane, as might be expected with any generational change in scholarship. Yet one of the general themes of Borg’s work which has been notably influential in the long run might be labelled ‘subversion’ which, I think, has only recently being challenged or nuanced in any sustained way and still has high profile advocates. It is striking that this theme can be found among Jesus Seminar publications but also in the work of his friend, Wright. I think a fair case can be made for Wright developing a Jesus which was an attempt to claim the rhetoric of ‘subversion’ for more conservative Christian thought. Given his close connections with Wright, Borg’s influence must have been as important as any. It is also clear that Borg’s ‘subversive’ Jesus has had a serious impact on liberal church groups in North America and the UK. Among groups such as Modern Church, for instance, Borg and Crossan are by far and away the dominant intellectual influences on the topic of Jesus.

1 comment:

  1. Helen Bond once made an astute comment about Crossan that I think would be equally applicable to Borg, that is, that he gives contemporary progressive Christians "a useable Jesus." I had the privilege of hearing Borg and Crossan on several occasions, and have read their books. As you note, their influence has waned in recent years, but they deserve credit for popularizing the subject and making it more accessible. Borg will be missed!