This post is adapted from an original from 7 July 2010 at www.thinkingmatters.org.nz called “The Jesus of History: The 2nd & 3rd Quest (part 3)” Here I describe the third quest for the historical Jesus and if it was successful.
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The Third Quest
The energy with which the second quest was taken up had deflated by the seventies. But not for long. Jesus scholarship in the eighties and nineties received a burst of new life. A convergence of factors is thought to be responsible for the growing confidence that the historical Jesus can be known. In part this is due to the application of new methodologies from other disciplines such as sociology, anthropology and linguistics. It is also due in part to the inclusion of non-canonical literature as evidence, such as the Gospel of Thomas, a relaxing of the prohibition to mix theology and history, and scholarly renderings of historical portraits of Jesus being made accessible to the general public. Beyond these generalisations, Martin notes, it is difficult to identify which schools of thought individual scholars belong, so diverse and popular is historical Jesus scholarship.
Distinctive features of the Third Quest have been to place Jesus in a Jewish context, and the jettisoning of the gospels as mythology: an idea that waxed so large from Strauss through to Bultmann. Since the release of Richard A. Burridge’s book What Are the Gospels? A Comparison with Greco- Roman Biography in 1992, something of a consensus among scholars has emerged, such that the gospel’s literary genre is now thought to be that of ancient biography. Many Jewish scholars have made their mark by interpreting Jesus as fitting within the first century Israeli cultural-milieu, particularly as a teacher of ethics, an eschatological prophet, a miracle worker and exorcist.
Today, the quest for the Jesus of history is alive and well; a marked contrast to the miserable state of historical Jesus research at the opening of the twentieth century. Of course, Jesus can be known apart from historical study, through a personal experience of the risen Lord Himself. As his presence and living reality can be made known to you in a properly basic way, similar to your experience of the natural world or the moral realm of objective facts, this is a wholly reasonable belief absent any defeaters. I will be dealing with possible defeaters in future posts.
- Martin describes it as a “a reluctant admission that theology and history are not mutually exclusive categories” Raymond Martin,The Elusive Messiah: A Philosophical Overview of the Quest of the Historical Jesus, (Perseus, 2000), 45, 209.
- William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2003), 294.
- Spearheaded by C. G. Montefiore (The Synoptic Gospels, 1909), Israel Abrams (Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, 1917, 1929) Joseph Klausner (Jesus of Nazereth: His life Times, and Teaching, 1922), and contemporary scholars such as Samuel Sandmel (We Jews and Jesus, 1965), Schalom Ben-Chorin (Bruder Jesus: Der Nazarener in Jüdischer Sicht, 1967), David Flusser (Jesus, 1969, Pinchas Lapide (Der Rabbi von Nazereth, 1974), Geza Vermes (Jesus the Jew, 1973; The Religion of Jesus the Jew, 1993). Non-jewish scholars with similar projects are E. P. Sanders (Jews and Judaism, 1985), Birger Gerhardsson (Memory and Manuscript, 1961) and Rainer Riesner (Jesus als Lehrer, 1981).
- Leaving aside the question of the miracles supernatural character, it is now generally regarded as acceptable for the historical portrait of Jesus to include miracle working and exorcisms. See Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, p. 295.