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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Quests for Jesus

Chris Tilling has (nicely) argued against Scot McKnight and Markus Bockmuehl, suggsting that the so called 'third quest' for the historical Jesus is not running out of steam and that restoration eschatology has much to lend the discussion. The comments on Chris' post are worth pointing out too. Doug Chaplin (here's your Xmas present Doug) pointed to Dale Allison's point that there never was a 'no quest' period (Casey made a similiar point). I'm not great fan of the periodisation either and many of the stresses ('Jewishness', social context etc) reflect NT studies more generally. Anyway, this is going to be a bit incoherent but just some assorted thoughts...

We certainly are living in different times. Think of the 80s and 90s: Sanders, Crossan, Jesus Seminar, Wright, Meier etc. There's nothing quite like that stir this decade. I maybe wrong here, but it seems to me that the big radical scholarship in the US is associated with Mack and the Christian origins group at SBL. Their questions seem to have Jesus as holding minimal importance and the stress is on myth making. In terms of historical Jesus this is significant because they put some stress on distancing from the historical Jesus. There have also been other similar trends of scholars moving into more general Christian origins and in some case HJ scholars moving on, with Jesus being one part of the story (e.g. Crossan, Wright, Dunn).

The use of non-canonical gospels also interesting. While there was some desire to use this material for historical Jesus studies (in many ways sort of hijacked by HJ studies), non-canonical now seems to have attracted plenty of scholars not originally associated with non-canonical studies to study the material in its own right or to see its C2+ function. Is that fair?


This decade has seen the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus and Bauckham's book did cause a major stir so...

I think I would probably agree with John Poirier ('the enterprise has momentarily slowed down') and Doug Chaplin ('Maybe these things just ebb and flow, but I can't see it going away') - see the comments on Chris Tilling's post.

3 things I would like to see that I have probably said before...

1. I've definitely said this too many times but one for the new year: I would like to see more serious attempts at a history that looks at broader historical explanations and (ironically?) not so much emphasis on the individual Jesus (cf. the Christian origins group above).

2. A genuine interest in Jesus as Jew. What I mean by this is a shift away from the easy rhetoric of Jesus being 'very Jewish', 'thoroughly Jewish' and viewing Jesus in his Jewish context before Jesus somehow transcends something or other in his Jewish context (Arnal's book on the Symbolic Jesus is important here). What I mean by this is that the scholarly construction of 'Jewish context' is often designed to make sure Jesus is better than it. This often involves conspicuously ignoring parallel Jewish evidence. Vermes' Jesus really was a threat and it seems to me that his challenge was taken on while at the same time made safe by scholarship. I'll have a lot more to say on this subject in 2008.

3. More and more on the ideological, social and historical location of Jesus scholarship. Not just the standard histories of scholarship but more and more on scholarship in context. I'll have loads and loads to say on this subject in 2008 so turn away now if bored already...


Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

Thanks for the Xmas present. You are clearly a man of many talents!

January 02, 2008

Blogger Leon said...

I agree with you that there is a lot of rhetoric about Jesus as a Jew, even thoroughly Jewish, and then the same scholars go on to show Jesus transcending Judaism.

All good science is essentially simple. My own approach is this: There are far too many similarities between Jesus' words in the Gospels and Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism to be mere coincidence. The Pharisaic/rabbinic approach could be summed up this way: God gave us the written Torah so that we could continue to wrestle with it and develop it, figuring things out for ourselves without "interference" from heaven. This is Jesus' approach as well. There are a number of places where he can be seen to be defending oral Torah (probably against Sadduccean criticisms of oral Torah). The Gospels light up this way. The major obstacle is that there is still a strong Christian fear that this sort of Jewish Jesus will undermine Christianity. It won't, but that's the fear. Until scholars face this fear, there is no hope of any good work on Jesus' Jewishness.

Leon Zitzer

April 12, 2008


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