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The Social Gospel of Jesus: The Kingdom of God in Mediterranean Perspective.

The Social Gospel of Jesus: The Kingdom of God in Mediterranean Perspective. By Bruce J. Malina. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2000. xiii and 178 pages. Paper. $19.00.

Malina stands at the forefront of those who utilize social-scientific criticism of the New Testament. Besides general studies of the Jesus world, he has examined specific New Testament writers such as Paul and John. Having frequently examined the economic and political nature of the New Testament world, in this volume he tackles a more theological problem: the implications of Jesus' preaching of the kingdom of God.

First Malina gives a short overview of his method followed by a brief description of social structures at the time of Jesus. He describes the means used by the elitist group to maintain the status quo, types of violence to people (dissidents) he calls vigilantism (pp. 37-69). In a major section he also describes modes of social control: (1) face-to-face, or fictive kinship; (2) face-to-grace, or a relationship maintained by agents (patron/client); (3) face-to-mace, or relationship maintained by institutional authority; and (4) face-to-space, a cosmological authority in which relationship is missing.

Malina rightly understands that Jesus' preaching of the kingdom must have economic and political repercussions, and he rightly perceives that the kingdom of God must be a face-to-face fictive kinship or collective social relationship. As such the kingdom of God offers ever new possibilities in more impersonal or authoritarian types of social relationships.

The reader who knows the work of Malina will find here extensions of prior thinking. As in other of his works the language comes from social science and may sometimes be difficult to assimilate (what he says is not all obscure--just a language that differs from most New Testament studies). Furthermore, because it derives from his Rauschenbush lectures the language and thought patterns reflect lecture language from time to time--e.g., the use of rhyme.

Apart from the primary thesis readers will find both stimulating ideas and questionable affirmations. One puzzle for me is his pattern of connecting ancient circumstances with modern situations. Like many others I found his Windows on the World of Jesus (1993) provocative, but I often wonder if the social characteristics Malina attributed to Jesus and his world actually applied to our world in the same way. I had the same problem with The Social Gospel of Jesus. While I could affirm most of Malina's insights into the New Testament world, I thought his connections with modern politics were all too facile. At least a more extensive analysis of current economic and political institutions would be necessary to be convincing.

Graydon F. Snyder

Chicago, Illinois
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Author:Snyder, Graydon F.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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