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The Existential Jesus

List Price: $15.95

January 1, 2009 | Paperback | 6 x 9, 288 Pages | ISBN 9781582434650
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"Any doubts John Carroll is one of Australia’s most creative and original thinkers will dissipate after a close reading of this book… In a word: illuminating." —Herald Sun

Upending Christianity’s popular notion of Jesus the comforter, the good shepherd, the Lord, and the Savior, this completely new exploration of Mark’s Life of Jesus re-examines the image presented in this earliest of the New Testament gospels—the mysterious stranger, the singular, abandoned, and solitary figure—and rethinks the current role of Western culture through a radically altered view of Christianity. The existential Jesus has no interest in sin, and his focus is not on an afterlife. He is anti-church, anti-establishment, anti-family, and anti-community; a teacher, with himself his only student, he gestures enigmatically from within his own torturous experience, inviting the reader to walk in his shoes and ask the question, Who am I?

This book argues that Jesus is the West’s great teacher on the nature of being. Incorporating a new translation of the Gospel of Mark from its original Greek, this radical reinterpretation identifies the philosophical and cultural significance of Jesus in the modern world, based on his life, actions, and reflections.

JOHN CARROLL is professor of sociology at La Trobe University in Melbourne. His recent books include Terror: A Meditation on the Meaning of September 11, and The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited.


“Awesome, awe-inspiring… The Existential Jesus is a work of genius. Like works of genius, it will haunt without being accepted, its impossibility of being absorbed being its power.” —Zygmunt Bauman, author of Liquid Love

“This is the Gospel of Mark as you’ve never read it before, but Carroll’s interpretation of Mark’s Jesus suddenly makes sense. It’s a scholarly but not forbiddingly academic study, for Carroll writes like a novelist, his passionate almost frantic style lending conviction to the story…
This Jesus will trouble you, and you may want to reject him. But I think he will speak to the disaffected, the outsiders, the troubled agnostics, the ones on the fringes who seek a spiritual truth but cannot find it within the confines of an institution. He is a Jesus for our troubled times, because he offers no consolation beyond the need for getting on with it, and I’m sure if you read this book your eyes will be opened, and you’ll look at the Gospel of Mark with a fresh vision.” —Focus

“A truly great and remarkable achievement. It is fascinating to see Jesus emerging from these pages — and one so unlike the Jesus Christ of triumphant Christianity and the churches. It shows a way forward in which tradition is unravelled, but mystery is reaffirmed. I think this is what many readers will not be prepared for — it seems, on the one hand, this book is debunking the old supernatural ways and beliefs of the church (ie. Jesus as a God-man), and giving us an “existential” figure (Jesus as the Son of Man). But the “existentialism” here is nevertheless saturated with mystical meaning and importance, so that the expected or anticipated debunking does not, in fact, occur. It is a curious mix – the strategies of reading are debunking and demythologising (which the churches will hate), but all the main statements are affirmative and remythologising (which mystical readers — churched and unchurched — will enjoy). This is the existential spirit of Nietzsche and Heidegger — ie. old myths are refused and debunked, but transcendence is always affirmed, and always being reimagined.” —David Tacey, Associate Professor of English, La Trobe University

The Existential Jesus has the merit of being a beautiful piece of writing as well as a remarkable piece of thinking. The words dance with each other as well as with the reader, resulting in an experience not unlike listening to a beautiful piece of orchestral music. The different movements are designed to enchant, challenge, shake, delight, confound, and uplift (sometimes one feels all of these things at once, such is the striking depth of language and craftsmanship in expression) until we are ultimately led into silence, which is, of course, the right response to the enigma of Being and of finding oneself before the mystery of I AM.” —The Melbourne Anglican

“The existential Jesus is a person whose very being is such that an encounter with him clarifies the existence and flaws in the being of those engaged… The encounter is with pure being, not with esoteric teaching or purifying knowledge. I was struck by the freshness of this encounter, the willingness to pursue what was found using the tools of textual analysis to unlock the themes, the courage to let the text speak and then, having unpacked it, to just let it be.” —The Age, Melbourne

“Carroll’s Jesus is different from the cosy redeemer of the Matthew and Luke gospels, and is therefore more acceptable to our own time, especially to the troubled agnostics who want an answer but cannot find one, those whom T. S. Eliot described as the children at the gate, who will not go away and cannot pray.” —Courier Mail

“Any doubts John Carroll is one of Australia’s most creative and original thinkers will dissipate after a close reading of this book… In a word: illuminating.” —Herald Sun

“I envisage John Carroll’s work as a high-powered, articulate sermon—assertive, passionate, listenable—on one of the greatest subjects about which it is possible for a person to speak: the meaning of Jesus.” —The Monthly

“An unusual work which kept me excited was John Carroll’s The Existential Jesus, burrowing deep into the Gospels as narratives.” —Chris Wallace-Crabbe, The Age Best Books of 2007

“Though the word deconstruction is likely to get the police around these days, that is exactly what Carroll’s account is: as exciting, difficult, and contradictory as the best of Jacques Derrida… The Existential Jesus stands like a monolith among the barbarians. Consciously linking passages of Jesus’ life to the Dionysian—the chaos of upending the money-changers’ tables being more important than the moral lesson about corruption—Carroll invites us to encounter the revelatory disorder it suggests.” —The Australian Literary Review

The Existential Jesus broadens the debate about Jesus beyond the restrictive framework of traditional church teachings.” —Weekend Australian

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