In Jesus and the Disinherited Thurman recognized that the all-important historical context of Jesus was among a people subjugated, similar to that of segregated and colonized peoples. He discerned the cost in human degradation for people subjected by overwhelming power as they struggled with fear, deception, and hate. In the Gospels he discerned Jesus’ uniquely creative response: His assurance that people are ‘children of God’ establishes a ground of personal dignity that leads to a new courage in the face of violence. Key was Jesus’ command to ‘love your enemies’, which Thurman understood broadly, as enabling the disinherited to forgive people who subjugated them. He finds in Jesus a transformative teaching and embodiment of non-violent direct action, which decisively influenced leaders of the civil rights movement. This essay will compare established scholarly interpretations of Jesus’ sayings with Thurman’s insights and explore how subsequent studies can build on them.
As part of the deepening diversification of biblical studies, several lines of research are now undermining the print-cultural assumptions on which New Testament studies developed. The first section offers summaries of important inquiries into ancient communications media: the dominant oral communication and the uses of writing; revisionist text-criticism of manuscripts of texts later included in the Hebrew Bible; the oral-written cultivation of their cultural repertoire by Judean scribes; the parallel oral cultivation of Israelite popular tradition; revisionist criticism of Gospel texts; and the learning and oral performance of Gospel texts. These separate but related lines of research are undermining the standard print-cultural assumptions, concepts, and approaches of Jesus studies. The second section explores the implications of these researches that open toward an alternative view of what the sources are, a more comprehensive approach to the historical Jesus appropriate to ancient communications media, and a reconceptualization of Jesus studies.