This article investigates the origins and development of the earliest Jesus movements within the context of persistent conflict between the Judean and Galilean peasantry and their Jerusalem and Roman rulers. It explores the prominence of popular prophetic and messianic movements and shows how the earliest movements that formed in response to Jesus’ mission exhibit similar features and patterns. Jesus is not treated as separate from social roles and political-economic relationships. Viewing Jesus against the background of village communities in which people lived, the Gospels are understood as genuine communication with other people in historical social contexts. The article argues that the net effect of these interrelated factors of theologically determined New Testament interpretation is a combination of assumptions and procedures that would be unacceptable in the regular investigation of history. Another version of the essay was published in Horsley, Richard A (ed), A people’s history of Christianity, Volume 1: Christian origins, 23-46. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress.
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