Years ago, I acquired The Political Aims of Jesus by my good friend Doug Oakman for Fortress Press, and it finally appeared in 2012. Doug is also the author of Jesus and the Economic Questions of His Day (1986), Jesus and the Peasants (2008, a collection of his most important essays), and Jesus, Debt, and the Lord’s Prayer (2014). Together, he and I wrote Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts (2nd ed., 2008; 1st ed. 1998). Working with him on that last book was one of the highlights of my life.
Doug asked me to give him feedback on a preliminary version of the manuscript of Political Aims, and I was blown away by it. But now, three years later, I just reread the whole thing, and I was blown away a second time. I think I have had more time to let his approach and conclusions sink in; but I am repeatedly startled/awakened by his skill in bringing new light on well-known gospel passages.
Doug begins with the importance of H. S. Reimarus‘s work for seeing what Jesus was up to, and why Schweitzer so highly praised his work. But we are are far down the road from Reimarus in terms of archaeological, historical, literary, and social analyses, and this is where Doug’s work takes off. He analyzes the political—and political economic—landscape of Galilee and greater Palestine and then focuses on the earliest Q (Sayings Source) material and what Jesus’ emphases were: the disenfranchisement of the peasants, the land grabs by the elites, the oppressive tax situation (temple, Herodian, and Roman), emphases of priestly religion that foregrounds purity issues over justice, and what God’s dominion would mean in addressing these issues.
He looks intently at the sayings, parables, and actions of Jesus in a politically charged and economically complex environment—and prior to later christological emphases. One of the most rewarding things about the book is Doug’s analysis of the intent of the parables. Reading his fresh interpretations often feels like I am hearing these for first time. But this brief summary only scratches the surface of this important work.
If you are interested at all in a deep look at the Jesus tradition, I not only highly recommend this book, I would say put it on your “must have” list!