Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Historical Jesus 4: Third Quest

posted by xscot mcknight

The historical Jesus debate, as we have seen, has three (or four) phases: the old quest (Reimarus to Schweitzer), the no quest of Bultmann and the new quest following Bultmann, and then what Tom Wright dubbed the “third quest” of the present day, though there are plenty of “new” questers still around. What is the 3d Quest?
First, it is concerned with a more positive appropriation of the Gospels and a less skeptical approach to them.
Second, perhaps most significantly, its driving force seems to be showing the Jewishness of Jesus and how Jesus fit into the socio-political currents of his day. A major criterion now seems to be “How does the Jewish world explain this fact about Jesus?” Some are calling this the plausibility criterion — how plausibly does Jesus fit into a Jewish world (and this sort of consideration when making historical decisions).
Let me sketch this a bit:
The era of Bultmann and the New Quest was concerned with separating Jesus from the Church in what is usually called the Jesus of history vs. the Christ of faith. The No/New Quest was not really centrally concerned with anchoring Jesus in his Jewish context. And what Jewish context was used was rooted in Strack and Billerbeck’s famous set than anything direct.
But, that era came to a halt with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the revival of interest in 1st Century Jewish sources and the 1st Century Jewish context. Suddenly study of Jesus was being shaped by these discoveries. In the middle of the hey day of Bultmann a Welsh scholar by the name of WD Davies, famous for his Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, was one scholar who carried the torch for a more Jewish approach. But that was not the concern of Jesus scholars until the 50s and 60s.
Third, during the Bultmann era there was one major Jesus scholar who resisted Bultmannian hegemony in Germany and his name was Joachim Jeremias. He’s not often given the credit he deserves for the arrival of the Third Quest, but his famous book, NT Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus, was the climax of forty years of brilliant studies on Jesus.
Fourth, then came a flurry of major studies on the Jewishness of Jesus that in many ways built on and reacted to Jeremias:
G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew, deserves first place.
E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism.
G.B. Caird, Jesus and the Jewish Nation and then later in NT Theology.
Two major students of Caird:
N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God.
M. Borg, Jesus: A New Vision.
Fifth, by the 90s the tide had turned. Everyone was trying to “outJewish” one another in their Jewish portraits of Jesus. I could list many other books, but these are some of the major players. Today most of us live and dwell and have our being in this Third Quest — this Jewish Jesus approach to the historical Jesus.
Still, the portraits are historical portraits and they are shaped by the distinction of the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of history.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(36)
post a comment
RJS

posted August 16, 2007 at 12:45 am


More books to read.



report abuse
 

Timothy Goering

posted August 16, 2007 at 2:37 am


Nice post, once again. Great summary.
I personally find this ‘third Quest’ fascinating and illuminating whenever I approach the Scriptures again, and can find myself re-reading them in a very new and refreshing light. The stress of the historical Jesus strongly controvenes the principles of an existentialist mode of thought (Bultmann, etc.) that I believe has dominated for too long in German and to a great extent in American theology.
If anyone is interested: N.T. Wright has a great 4-series-lecture on Jesus that he later compiled into the book: “The Challenge of Jesus”. Check it out here:
Jesus and the Kingdom
Jesus and the Cross
Jesus and God
Jesus and the World’s True Light



report abuse
 

MartyS

posted August 16, 2007 at 3:30 am


Has anyone ever read a book by Robert L Lindsey called ‘Jesus, Rabbi & Lord: The Hebrew Story of Jesus Behind Our Gospels’? I have been trying to get hold of a copy after it was recommended to me.
Scot would this be one of the many other books you were talking about? Have you read it?



report abuse
 

John Byron

posted August 16, 2007 at 7:27 am


Marty,
Yes I have read it, but it was while I was studying in Israel. Lindsey had a close friendship with David Flusser, who contributed much to the study of Jesus from a Jewish perspective. There is a book entitled “Jesus” written by Flusser and one of his students, R.S. Notley. You can find it on Amazon.
Lindsey, Flusser and what has come to be called “The Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research” have promoted, among other things, the hypothesis that Jesus spoke primarily Hebrew rather than Aramaic. Their work has much value but it suffers from a lack of critical engagement with other scholarship. This has much to do with where they have published their work as well as being overlooked by other scholars.
JB



report abuse
 

Andrew Kenny

posted August 16, 2007 at 7:51 am


Scott, I thought I would share a funny story which I’m sure you’ve heard before. I thought the story was about Bultmann but it was actually Paul Tillich. I hope your readers will be amused as I was and I’ll not be banned from posting.Here goes:
One day the Pope received a phone call from an archaeologist in Palestine. “Holy Father,” the voice said, “I don’t quite know how to tell you this, but we have discovered what prove beyond doubt to be the very bones of Jesus!” Hanging up, the Pope convened his closest advisors. Explaining the situation, he asked the stunned clerics for suggestions. One stammered, “Holy Father, I believe there is a theologian in America who might be able to help us. His name is Paul Tillich.” Wasting no time, the Pope called Tillich’s office in New York. “Herr Tillich, I’m afraid we have quite a problem here, and we hope perhaps you can advise us. Archaeologists in the Holy Land have discovered the bones of our Lord Jesus!” Silent seconds passed, followed by Tillich’s heavy German accent: “Ach… he lived?”



report abuse
 

Matthew

posted August 16, 2007 at 8:06 am


Scot,
A question that I hope I can ask correctly. Shouldn’t postmodernism blunt the edge of the search for the historical Jesus? Postmoderns say that objective history was a Modern fiction. And I think they are partly correct. Think of it this way – If I were 2,000 years old and had known Jesus and wrote the complete and unabridged story of his life, it still wouldn’t be accepted as authority. It would still be a biased work from my male or female, Jewish or Gentile, rich or poor, religious or apostate, etc. etc. etc. perspective. Shouldn’t I be just as skeptical of any historical reconstruction from any other viewpoint as everyone else would be of mine? or is that a dumb question that misses the point?



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted August 16, 2007 at 8:21 am


Matthew,
Every presentation of Jesus, every historical sketch — including the Gospels, has “bias” or “angle” or “perspective” or “point of view.” So, yes, the postmodernist both recognizes this and doesn’t try to get behind it to where it is all objective, uninterpreted facts. Some will say it is “interpretation” therefore “wrong.” Others, the wise, will say “everything is interpretation and that’s the world into which God placed us. Glory.”
Modern presentations, then, really aren’t the “real” Jesus but “yet another attempt to put his life into meaningful shape.”
Question: Of what value does a modern/postmodern attempt have? Is there any reason to shed the Gospel perspective for another perspective? Is the recognition of “perspective” not the recognition of the way the Church, inspired by God’s Spirit, understood Jesus? And what does this say to our current reconstructions of Jesus?



report abuse
 

Matthew

posted August 16, 2007 at 8:44 am


Scot,
I think one’s view of inspiration will color one’s answer to your question in #7. My thought is that the gospels contain more than human perspective. Although written by humans in a human situation, they are also infused with God’s perspective of that situation. This is why I get nervous about sifting the gospels too critically. Even if I could effectively extrapolate what I would have seen or written then, or else what the gospel writers would have seen or written had it all happened today, how could I extrapolate the God’s-eye view part of the story? (as in, I can’t)



report abuse
 

Jacob Paul Breeze

posted August 16, 2007 at 8:50 am


Matthew #8,
I think you are right that God’s perspective is included in the Gospels, but even He is not objective. He certainly interprets reality from somewhere with a particular worldview. I’m not sure that a “God’s-eye view” means a view from nowhere or is unbiased. It probably means quite the opposite.



report abuse
 

Matthew

posted August 16, 2007 at 9:10 am


Jacob,
Interesting thought. I think of worldview as the result of social and cultural experiences that shape a person’s view of reality. Everyone is born into some culture; everyone has that culture impressed upon them in many different ways. God was not born into any culture, nor did anyone raise him or shape him. Rather, he created all and holds it all together (Col 1:15-23, for example). I believe that God knows everything, even the what-ifs. I see God’s perspective as the ultimate reality and our own realities are small windows, tinted by worldview. All this to say, I think I don’t agree that God has a worldview. He has more like an omni-view. If he does have a worldview, then it is tinted by ultimate love, righteousness, faithfulness, etc.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted August 16, 2007 at 9:11 am


Or as someone interested in history, to say that an account has a point of view is simply to say that it’s an account. Now let’s talk about what it says.



report abuse
 

ChrisB

posted August 16, 2007 at 9:39 am


I like living in the third quest. Though there are still those who want to “demythologize” the gospels, there are plenty of people who take the text seriously and treat the material there as snapshots of Jesus rather than snapshots of scribes.
And I find reading the gospels with historical context as a lens makes them burst into technicolor. It’s a wonderful experience.



report abuse
 

John W Frye

posted August 16, 2007 at 10:02 am


Matthew (#10),
You wrote, “I see God’s perspective as the ultimate reality and our own realities are small windows, tinted by worldview. All this to say, I think I don’t agree that God has a worldview.”
How can you think that God doesn’t have a worldview, but has an “omni-view”? All we know about God has come through Scriptures written by people with ANE worldviews or Hebrew-Roman-Hellenisitic influences. Does “inspiration” cancel the Bible’s authors’ worldviews? I don’t think so.
How do you escape out into “ultimate reality”?



report abuse
 

Rick

posted August 16, 2007 at 10:55 am


That tension of how to bring the spiritual aspect (in this case, inspiration) into historical studies is one I had to deal when writing a research paper.
This post today brought to mind a series of interviews dealing with this issue, and includes a discussion with Scot.
That topic and the interviews can be found at:
http://www.cafeapocalypsis.com/?cat=6



report abuse
 

Tim

posted August 16, 2007 at 11:07 am


Another book that should be mentioned is “The Aims of Jesus” by Ben F. Meyer. Written back in the 70′s, it can be said that this is one of the main books to kick-off the Third Quest. I know that NT Wright speaks very highly of it, because of its emphasized the Jewish background of Jesus and his relationship to the coming “Kingdom of God” which was his aim.



report abuse
 

Matthew

posted August 16, 2007 at 11:08 am


John #13,
Not sure I follow your question. You ask how I can think God doesn’t have a worldview, but then you comment on the nature of our information about him. Finally you state that inspiration does not cancel out the human author’s viewpoints.
I am sorry but I don’t get the connection – The fact that God used people with ANE worldviews to communicate to those of us with say, postmodern worldviews – what does that fact demonstrate about God’s own worldview?



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted August 16, 2007 at 11:09 am


Tim,
Thanks for this. I read Meyer in the first year of my PhD studies and thought it was brilliant — and still do.



report abuse
 

Jacob Paul Breeze

posted August 16, 2007 at 11:12 am


Yes,
Meyer’s Aims is great! In many ways it taught me “how to think” about studying Jesus which probably helped me stray from some of the previous quests’ ways of approaching.



report abuse
 

John W Frye

posted August 16, 2007 at 12:44 pm


Matthew (#16),
My comment (#13) can be summarized like this: Where do you learn God’s “ultimate reality” worldview? I am not convinced you learn it from the Bible which is written by “small windows” worldview people.



report abuse
 

Randy Barnhart

posted August 16, 2007 at 1:45 pm


Scot,
What’s your take on the sayings attributable neither to Jesus nor the evangelists? I am guessing you don’t subscribe to a fluid tradition sort of view.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted August 16, 2007 at 2:13 pm


Matthew (6) and Scot (7),
“Shouldn’t postmodernism blunt the edge …”
I try never to forget that 50 years from now our grandchildren or great grandchildren will think that the “postmodernism” and postmodern thinking was oh so stupid and misguided. (Actually I think it will be sooner than that – within 10 to 20 years – but not my grandchildren then). Of course the “new” thought will represent some new evolution containing some truth and some absurdity (as is true with both “modernism” and “postmodernism” and all that came before).
I enjoy reading books on the historical Jesus and wrestling with ideas, always remembering that most vetted ideas contain some truth – but are not universally true. Hardest task in college is to teach students to read and think intelligently and critically.
As to your questions Scot, “Of what value does a modern/postmodern attempt have? …”
Doesn’t each generation (perhaps each individual at some level) need to wrestle with these questions? We don’t grow and learn by memorizing and swallowing the ideas of others. In fact we will never even understand the earlier perspectives without the work of wrestling on – developing new perspectives ad infinitem – many of which, in whole or part, are more a reshuffling than an innovation.
On the other hand I think that our current reconstruction of Jesus – at least in its theological impact – must be in dialog with Gospel perspectives and with evolving church perspectives.



report abuse
 

Brian

posted August 16, 2007 at 2:20 pm


The fact that worldviews are not static suggests a real limitation to the post modern perspective. As knowledge increases worldviews adapt or die out. This suggests that there is a basis from which to critique worldviews and detect their inadequacies.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted August 16, 2007 at 2:27 pm


Randy,
Help me. Not sure what you are asking.



report abuse
 

Matthew

posted August 16, 2007 at 3:07 pm


John #19 – no, you don’t get it from the Bible, you have to pay for that from large religious seminars!
I didn’t mean to imply we can look through God’s window. Only God does that. My point about inpsiration was that the final product of the Scripture is a fusion of human and divine effort. Going back to Scot’s question about shedding the gospels for another perspective, I was trying to say that the gospels contain more than only the human perspective on the Christ event. This should lead us to treat them differently than other documents such as Josephus’ writings. There is more to them than meets the eye and they will continue to be meaningful long after post-post-post-postmodernism is dealing with whatever it is dealing with.
The other thought this ties into was about God’s worldview. My point there is that God wasn’t raised into a culture and nobody shaped his perception of reality. People sometimes write of worldview as a prison. I don’t think God is limited by one.



report abuse
 

Jacob Paul Breeze

posted August 16, 2007 at 3:19 pm


I love G.B. Caird’s words from his Ethel M. Wood lecture (March 9, 1965):
“Anyone who believes that in the life and teaching of Christ God has given a unique revelation of his character and purpose is committed by this belief, whether he likes it or not, whether he admits it or not, to the quest of the historical Jesus. Without the Jesus of history the Christ of faith is merely a docetic figure, a figment of pious imagination. The Christian religion claims to be founded on historic fact, on events which happened sub Pontio Pilato; and having appealed to history, by history it must be justified.”



report abuse
 

Diane

posted August 16, 2007 at 3:24 pm


RJS,
I was first exposed to postmodern thought in the very early 1980s and not much in it or the reception to it has changed, except that it has become much more disseminated, diffused, popularized and, I would say, often watered down. My husband and I, who were fellow Phd students in English lit in the 80s, roll our eyes and say, we could step right back into graduate school and nothing, but nothing, would have changed. And that lack of change is a total change from our experience of the entire map of our worlds changing in the midst of our educations.
If postmodernism really represents a paradigm shift (and I believe it does) our children and grandchildren will still be building on it. Yes, they will be merciless in exposing and rejecting the false, timebound and faddish elements, just as we today (and even in the early 1980s) corrected for some of the 1960s excesses, especially of French postmodernism. Reality did impinge, as when Foucault was one of the first to die of AIDS … and reality will continue to provide correctives… The reason I don’t think postmodernism will go away as a worldview, however, is that it does self-consciously include the perspectives of the marginalized and because it has made us so self-conscious about the limitations of language. Without imposing some sort of totalitarianism, I don’t know how those things can go back in the bottle nor how they can help but change how we look at the world. But as Paul wrote and perhaps what you are alluding to, we can’t stake much of a claim on postmodernism, modernism, empirical science, the medicine du jour, etc. as all this will pass way, except for love.



report abuse
 

Randy Barnhart

posted August 16, 2007 at 3:24 pm


Scot,
I was referring to Bultmann’s thesis (History of the Synoptic Tradition) that sayings of Christian prophets (which were neither created by the evangelists nor authentic to Jesus) quickly found their way into the (more or less fluid) tradition. These became part of the “Jesus” tradition because the earliest Christians saw no distinction between the words of the prophets and of Christ himself. Both belonged to the risen Lord. Dunn, I’m sure you know better than I, agreed with the basic thesis, questioning only the extent of the phenomenon.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted August 16, 2007 at 3:27 pm


Randy,
I thought you might be thinking about the prophetic sayings. I think it is wild red herring that have almost no capacity to be proven.



report abuse
 

Dana Ames

posted August 16, 2007 at 3:50 pm


I understand why Jesus got split into “the Jesus of History” and “the Christ of Faith”. It escapes me why so few theologians seem to think there is something wrong with keeping the split going, except for me to make speculations about the psychology operating in each of their lives, which I am loathe to do.
Jesus still has such a hold on most of them that they can’t let loose of him or say that the Christian way is total rubbish.
It’s a mystery to me. I’m glad God will sort it all out for those theologians as persons. In the meantime, how does an earnest student of Jesus make his/her way?
(I’m not so much looking for an “answer to this problem” as much as a place to express my dismay/chagrin/wonder about it within this conversation…)
Dana



report abuse
 

Ted Gossard

posted August 16, 2007 at 3:52 pm


N.T. Wright’s “The Challenge of Jesus” revolutionized my theology, and Scot- you came along (though I had read you earlier) and kept me from surrending that gain.
Thanks for the post and I’m enjoying reading the thread. Quite interesting and informative stuff.



report abuse
 

Randy Barnhart

posted August 16, 2007 at 3:54 pm


I think the theory makes some sense, even if unprovable (it is history, after all). Not sure how useful it is, though, and maybe that’s your point. NT study has enough theories built on conjecture as it is, imho. Thanks.



report abuse
 

Scott M

posted August 16, 2007 at 4:25 pm


I think that part of the problem may be that people have their idea of “proof” and “provable” shaped largely by the scientific method or the law court. And history, even the way we do it today, just doesn’t work that way. We are often most interested in singular, unrepeatable events and we build our understanding from those bits of daily life which are preserved. The further back we go, the less we have.
Still, since Christianity, more than most religions, makes specific historical claims, I can’t imagine trying to understand it outside the context of an actual historical setting. I came into Christianity well after the Dead Sea scrolls added to our knowledge of the second temple period. But we have known a fair amount about the larger region and Rome before that. And Jews and Judaism are still very much alive and have preserved centuries of texts. So are you saying that before the Dead Sea scrolls most scholars weren’t paying much attention to Jewish sources? I find that hard to fathom. If we can’t place Jesus in first century Israel and understand him and have him make sense in that context, I’m not sure you have much of anything left of Christianity.



report abuse
 

John Frye

posted August 16, 2007 at 5:40 pm


Matthew (#24),
I agree that there is “the breath of God” in the canonical Scriptures. So, yes, there is more to them than meets the eye. However, every book of the Bible was written by someone with human eyes (and culturally-conditioned thinking patterns) limited by a space and time worldview (small window) and a limited vocabulary. I don’t think the breath of God blows away the humanity of the biblical text. How, then, are you so confident to speak beyond these earthy realities about an “ultimate reality” or “God’s worldview”? I think suffering certainly shaped Jesus’ perception of reality–”…he learned obedience through the things he suffered.” Was God Jesus?



report abuse
 

Ish Engle

posted August 16, 2007 at 7:37 pm


Scott M #32,
Don’t forget, though, that after Masada and the revolution it symbolized, the early church made an overt effort to distance itself from Judaism. With the acceptance of Christianity by Constantine we saw a further Romanizing of the early church’s thought, and thus, a Christian theology born with very little Jewish trappings.
I think that is part of the NPP (from last week) that is so hard for many reformed theologians. After all, Augustine was from a pagan background, steeped in Plato, and got hold of a Roman Christianity, so he heard Plato in Paul, and not Hillel in Paul. As Augustine’s writings were formative to much of the next two millenia of Christian thought, Jewish roots/philosophy/theology/perspectives would naturally have become an afterthought.
As I understand it, we only recently realized that Jesus was a Jew. :-) I have many reformed friends that still blanch when I make that statement.



report abuse
 

Tony Stiff

posted August 16, 2007 at 9:11 pm


Reply to Tim #15, Ben Meyer’s contribution to the epistemology (‘Critical Realism and the New Testament’) of some of third questers like Wright is another good one to add.
Tim thanks for the ‘The Aims…’ reference, does Meyer’s have an article where he summarizes that piece anywhere?



report abuse
 

Matthew

posted August 17, 2007 at 7:39 am


How, then, are you so confident to speak beyond these earthy realities about an “ultimate reality” or “God’s worldview”?
John,
I have not intended to be combative in any way. I think that something I said strikes you as arrogant but I don’t know what. My point in #10 was that God does not have a worldview in the sense of having had his perception of reality formed and shaped by someone else. In response to this claim, you have asked the following questions:
-How can you think that God doesn’t have a worldview, but has an “omni-view”?
-Does “inspiration” cancel the Bible’s authors’ worldviews?
-How do you escape out into “ultimate reality”?
-Where do you learn God’s “ultimate reality” worldview?
-How, then, are you so confident to speak beyond these earthy realities about an “ultimate reality” or “God’s worldview”?
-Was God Jesus?
Help me out. What did I say that was wrong?



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.