The Miracles of an Eschatological Prophet

In: Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
Author: Eric Eve1
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While it has not been a central aspect of his work on the historical Jesus, E.P. Sanders has contributed to the understanding of Jesus’ miracles. In Jesus and Judaism, Sanders argued that Jesus was an eschatological prophet and maintains that he certainly healed people in ways that his contemporaries regarded as miraculous, but that his miracles were not signs of the end, and cannot be used to determine what type of figure he was. The fuller treatment of miracles in the later The Historical Figure of Jesus emphasizes the exorcisms and dismisses the nature miracles as having made minimal impact, leading Sanders to conclude that Jesus’ miracles were not as spectacular as the Gospels suggest, and that they probably led his contemporaries to view Jesus as a holy man like Honi the Circle-Drawer, although Jesus himself probably understood his miracles as signs of the imminent arrival of the new age, and his disciples may have come to see them as a defeat of evil powers and as a legitimation of Jesus’ claims. After summarizing Sanders’s arguments this article goes on to suggest how some of their foundations may be secured while also suggesting that the case for associating Jesus’ miracles with his role as an eschatological prophet may be stronger than Sanders allowed. It then concludes by indicating how Sanders’s account of the role of Jesus’ miracles might be further rounded out first by exploring their possible symbolism (as Sanders does with the Temple incident) and second through various social-scientific approaches.

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