1990 – E.P. Sanders

Dr. E. P. Sanders, a professor at Oxford University, is the first recipient of the Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion. This award is presented jointly by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville.

In his 1985 book Jesus and Judaism, Dr. Sanders carefully, clearly and unpretentiously explores a simple but profound idea. Jesus was very much inside one of the major streams of Jewish thought of his day, and he is not to be understood in opposition to Judaism. Unfortunately, all too frequently Christian scholars have distorted the historical portrayal of Jesus because of theological prejudices.

Those things that set Jesus apart from his contemporaries are to be understood within the general context of Judaism. Jesus relied heavily on the work of John the Baptist, who had in some measure successfully preached repentance in view of impending judgment. The offence Jesus presented came in his insistence that the wicked would be included in the coming Kingdom and in his symbolic cleansing of the temple as a sign of a new or renewed temple which would come. The contemporaries of Jesus understood him as the Jew he was, a Jew very much within the general framework of Jewish hopes for restoration.

By developing his study as he does, Dr. Sanders provides an excellent place to begin for those who wish to better understand the “historical Jesus” and for others who seek a clearer understanding of the origins of the Christian movement with its intimate relationship with first century Judaism.