Posts Tagged ‘Historical Jesus’


Jesus, if the Jesus tradition contained in the synoptic gospels is at all a reliable witness to the Historical Jesus, proclaimed the arrival of the kingdom of God and also issued a warning of the judgement which would soon fall, on the nation, the city and the temple. We follow George Caird and Ben Meyers in stressing that Jesus’ message, like John the Baptist, and that of his disciples, differs considerably from contemporary evangelism.

The disciples [and we may add Jesus and John the Baptist] were not evangelistic preachers, sent out to save individual souls for some unearthly paradise. They were couriers proclaiming a national emergency and conducting a referendum of national survival. 1

It is historically out of the question that John [and Jesus] conceived judgement along the individualistic lines characteristic of later Western thought. Rather, he conceived of judgement in collective, or better, ‘ecclesial terms’. ie. in terms of God’s people Israel. To miss this is to miss the context-a massive tradition- in which John [and Jesus] consciously and publicly situated himself and out of which came his every word and act.’ 2

All of this can be said without actually turning to the eschatological discourse of Mark 13. However, when we do, anticipating the interpretative task that follows, we see that Jesus announced that the coming destruction and downfall of Jerusalem and its temple would be followed by a time of blessing in which the Messiah, as the embodiment of YHWH, is vindicated (Mark 13:26-27) and the elect, arguably the exiled people of God, are gathered together. In other words, the cities destruction is part of the necessary tribulation which must take place before the arrival, in some sense, of the eschatological age.

In this last sentence I use the word ‘tribulation’3 deliberately to denote a second temple eschatological concept and not simply as a substitute for the words ‘suffering’ or ‘hardship’.

Brant Pitre’s recent doctoral thesis republished as Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of Exile4, demonstrates that this concept of tribulation is firmly established within the texts of late second temple Judaism and that it is plausible that Jesus, along with many of his contemporaries, shared such an eschatological view. Pitre reaches this position by studying a variety of texts composed between 200BC to 30AD such as Epistle of Enoch, Testament of Moses and several documents from the Dead Sea Scrolls5. From his analysis of these texts Pitre draws together a number of aspects of the concept of tribulation in late second temple Judaism.

1. The tribulation is tied to restoration of Israel and the End of Exile.

2 . A righteous remnant arises during the tribulation.

3. The righteous suffer and/or die during the tribulation. This sometimes includes the suffering and/or death of a

messianic figure.

4. The tribulation is tied to the coming of the Messiah, sometimes referred to as the ‘Son of Man’

5. There is a tribulation which precedes the final judgement.

6. The tribulation is depicted as the eschatological climax of Israel’s exilic sufferings, often through the imagery of the

Deuteronomic covenant curses.

7. The tribulation has two stages (1) the preliminary stage, and (2) the Great tribulation.

8. The tribulation precedes the coming of the eschatological kingdom

9. An eschatological tyrant, opponent, or Anti-Messiah arises during the tribulation.

10. Typological images from the Old Testament are used to depict the tribulation

11. The tribulation is tied to the in gathering and/or conversion of the Gentiles.

12. .The tribulation has some kind of atoning or redemptive function.

13. The Jerusalem Temple is defiled and/or destroyed during the tribulation.

14. The tribulation precedes the resurrection of the dead and/or a new creation

Pitre is to be applauded for his significant study which offers contributions to both Second Temple scholarship and New Testament studies. However, it is problematic to sketch out a second temple view of ‘tribulation’ on texts from late second temple Judaism (200BC – 30 AD). Firstly, we do not not actually know how mainstream these non-canonical books were, and whether there content was known by the general population. However, we do know, with a relateviely high degree of confidence that signifcant parts of the Old Testament (Law, Prophets,) were widely read by the population at large. Would it not make more sense, therefore, to look, not only at texts from late second temple Judaism, but also at tribulation themes within the Old Testament? Secondly, and more positively, I suggest that a thorough study of ‘the day of the Lord’ should take place alongside an Old Testament study of tribulation6 for the concept of the day of the Lord has the potential of bringing together the bi-polar themes of judgement and blessing, and may be an appropriate tool, like that of tribulation, for bringing a coherency to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom and his warning of imminent catastrophe.7

It is my belief, alongside Pitre, that Mark 13 and Mark 10:35-45 are further examples of this tribulation theme and will be studied in this, and the following, chapter. In the light of Pitre’s study I want to suggest that the concept of tribulation, and the related theme of the ‘day of the Lord’ are part of Jesus’ narrative world, and that any attempt to understand Jesus’ kingdom proclamation or his forecast of the imminent catastrophe which is to befall the nation, without paying due attention to the eschatological narrative world of tribulation is a historiographical and exegetical mistake.

Mark 13: Hypothesis, Dialogue and Verification8

Those familiar with the exegetical and hermeneutical landscape of Mark 13 will no doubt realise the serious challenges which are to be faced by the interpreter. The literature is vast, the issues are complex, the battle lines have been drawn,and, of top of all this, it cannot be studied in isolation from other biblical minefields9. However, the complexity and length of this study is curtailed by focussing our attention on an overarching hypothesis10. Our hypothesis is,

Hypothesis: ‘In Mark 13 Jesus prophecies, amongst other things, the coming destruction and downfall of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. This suffering is part of the eschatological tribulation—the negative side of the Day of the Lord—which precedes the arrival, in some sense, of the eschaton, in which the messianic Son of Man, as the embodiment of YHWH, is vindicated and the exiled people of God are gathered in’.

This hypothesis does not take place in a scholarly vacuum but is in dialogue with a number of scholars. In agreement with R.T France11 and N.T Wright12, who emphasise the prophecy has its focus on the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, I reject the interpretation of Mark 13, followed by Edward Adams13, Beasley-Murray14 , the modern day Schweitzer, Dale Allison15, and the historical Schweitzer16, in which Jesus is predicting a global apocalyptic cosmic catastrophe and his own literal parousia. However, I part company with Wright and France in their understanding of the ‘coming of the son of man’. They are right,in my opinion, to reject the mainline scholarly ‘visible parousia’ interpretation but are misguided, in my opinion, to simply interpret it as vindication. In contrast to both of these positions, I seek to put forward and defend the view that Jesus believes that after the destruction of the temple he will re-visit the nation, in some sense, as the embodiment of YHWH—for the Day of the Lord has arrived!

It is now time, given we have a hypothesis and suitable dialogue partners, to wade into the exegetical waters of Mark 13, with the hope that we may emerge with a fish or two, namely plausibility and coherency, as verification.  To be continuued…..

1 Caird, G. B. “Jesus and the Jewish Nation.” Athlone, London (1965). also Wright JVOG 320-339,

2Caird, “Jesus And The Jewish Nation,”also see N. T Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (London: SPCK, 1996), 320-339.

3 Within Biblical Scholarship this concept has lacked some conceptual and terminological clarity. It is referred to in various ways such as ‘the final ordeal and confusion’(Emil Schurer), ‘Messianic Woes’ (R.H Charles), ‘prelude to the messianic age’ (Joseph Klausner), ‘preliminary time of Evil’ (Hartman). It is Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement (Baker Academic, 2006)., and to a lesser extent Dale C. Allison, End of the Ages Has Come: Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (Fortress P.,U.S, 1985)., who bring precision and conceptual clarification to such scholarly disorder. See JTEE 1-31

4Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile.

5 The full list is 1 Enoch 93:1-10;91:11-17, 1 Enoch 91-107, The Book of Daniel, The Book of Dreams , The book of Jubilees, The Third Sibylline Oracle, the Psalms of Solomon, The Testament of Moses, 1QH, 4Q171, 4Q174 & 4Q177, 1QS, CD, 1 QM, 4Q246, 1 Enoch 37-71

6For our current interests of Mark 13 we may note in the judgement oracle against Babylon found in Isaiah 13:6,9 makes reference to the day of the Lord ( éåÉí éäåä,? ?μέρα κυρίου LXX) On this day, which will come upon people like a woman in labour, the Lord will come and strike Babylon with his wrath and fierce anger, on this day the stars will not give light and the sun will be dark, (Is 13:10). Similarly, in Mark 13 the destruction of the city will is described in terms of a cosmic catastrophe (Mark 13:24-25) and of birthpangs (Mark 13:8). This will be discussed again later in this chapter, but for now I simply want to make the point that the concept of the day of the Lord may prove a fruitful a area as the distinct but interrelated study of tribulation by Brant Pitre. We may also note, as a supportive argument, that Mark, in his prologue brings together Ex 23:20, Is 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 with the introduction ‘As is is written in the prophet Isaiah’. Joel Marcus and Rikki E Watts have demonstrated that this is not a error but the author of Mark is trying to make a theological point, namely, that the gospel, and Jesus’ ministry, are to be understood against the backdrop of ‘the way of the Lord’. We simply note in passing, whilst agreeing with the thrust of Watts and Marcus, that the ‘way of the Lord’ (Marcus) or Isaiah’s new exodus(Watts) is tightly related tot he concept of the day of the Lord. Malachi 3:1 is set in the context of the day of the Lord (Mal 3:2) and YHWH’s comign in judgement against his temple, whereas Is 40:3 is also about YHWH coming to his people in mercy and restoration (Is 40:9-11). We see that Mark, like Jesus’ kingdom proclamation and warning of imminent catastrophe, has brought together the twin themes of YHWH’s return, that of judgement and restoration. See R. E. Watts, Isaiah’s new Exodus and Mark (Mohr Siebeck, 1997), 4; Joel Marcus, The Way of the Lord (T.& T.Clark Ltd, 2004), 2.

7 See the article in ABD 2:82 by Richard Heirs in which he breaks the ‘day of the Lord’ material into the following categories.

1) YHWH’s judgement of the foreign nations

  1. YHWH’S judgement against Israel, Judah or the Jewish People

  2. Future deliverance or Blessing for Israel, Judah, other nations, and all creation.

8From a methodological point of view opt for a hypothesis-verification approach to historiography. I follow N.T Wright, contra to naïve or positivist realism, in seeing knowledge of the past is achieved through a method of hypothesis and verification. A hypothesis: ‘is essentially a construct, thought up by a human mind, which offers itself as a story about a particular set of phenomena, in which the story, which is bound to be an interpretation of those phenomena also offers an explanation of them.’

For a historical hypothesis to be a good hypothesis, and receive verification, it must

1. must include all the data [evidence]

2. must construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture

3. prove itself fruitful in other areas

N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God v. 1 (SPCK Publishing, 1992), 99-109.

9 A useful literature survey and history of scholarship has been provided by G.R. Beasley Murray. His latest book on this topic is George R.Beasley- Murray, Jesus and the Last Days: Interpretation of the Olivet Discourse (Paternoster P., 1994).which is based upon his earlier works, G. R. Beasley-Murray, A commentary on Mark thirteen (Macmillan, 1957); G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Future (London: Macmillan, 1954).As scholarship does not stand still we must add to this the more recent contributions of R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: a commentary on the Greek text (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002); N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: v. 2 (SPCK Publishing, 1996), 339-367; E. Adams, “The Coming of the Son of Man in Mark’s Gospel,” TYNDALE BULLETIN 56, no. 2 (2005): 39; TR HATINA, “The Focus of Mark 13: 24-27: The Parousia, or the Destruction of the Temple?,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 6 (1996): 43-66; T.J. Geddert, Watchwords: St.Mark 13 in Markan Eschatology (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement (Continuum International Publishing Group – Sheffie, 1989).

10I will not focus any attention on issues raised from either source or form criticism. I treat Mark 13 as a literary whole and seek to interact with it from a literary historical perspective. Questions of original form and composition history have been taken up by other scholars, including my research supervisor. D. Wenham, The rediscovery of Jesus’ eschatological discourse (JSOT Press, 1984). Lloyd Gaston, No Stone on Another: Studies in the Significance of the Fall (Supplements to Novum Testamentum; Leiden: Brill, 1970), 41-64.

11R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament: his application of Old Testament passages to himself and his mission (Regent College Publishing, 2000), Appendix A; R. T. France, Divine Government, 2003; France, The Gospel of Mark.

12Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God.

13Adams, “The Coming of the Son of Man in Mark’s Gospel”; Edward Adams, The Stars Will Fall from Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe and the World’s End in the New Testament and Its World (Library of New Testament Studies): Cosmic Catastrophe … Its World (Continuum International Publishing Group – T & T C, 2007).

14Beasley-Murray, A commentary on Mark thirteen; Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Future; Murray, Jesus and the Last Days.

15Dale C. Allison, The End of the Ages Has Come: Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (New Ed.; T.& T.Clark Ltd, 1987); D. C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: millenarian prophet (Fortress Press, 1998); “A Plea for Thoroughgoing Eschatology,” http://www.jstor.org/stable/3266712.

16Albert Schweitzer and Walter Lowrie, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God: The Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship and Passion (London: A. & C. Black, 1925).

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Here is an essay which I am working on concerning the methodology of N.T. Wright. It is a work in progress. Comments and critique would be gratefully appreciated.

Read this document on Scribd: N T Wright’s Methodology

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Just been reading the opening chapter of McKnight’s Jesus and his Death

I seek to follow a method known as critical realism which seeks to avoid the pitfalls of a modernist approach whilst not allowing a full postmodern position such as that espoused by Keith Jenkins.

McKnight offers this summary of the two positions.

“If the postmodernist, someone like Jenkins, wants to usurp the Object with the Subject by contending that history is narrative, history is rhetoric, and history is ideology, the modernist wants to blanket the Subject and find the Object, pure and simple and untouched, and build on the disinterested knowledge for a better world. Let this be said before we go further: what the modernist wants to do cannot be achieved in its pure form’ page 19

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Historical Method: Hypothesis and Verification

Knowledge of the past is achieved through a method of hypothesis and verification. A hypothesis s: ‘is essentially a construct, thought up by a human mind, which offers itself as a story about a particular set of phenomena, in which the story, which is bound to be an interpretation of those phenomena also offers an explanation of them.’1 For a hypothesis to be a good hypothesis, and receive verification, it must

  1. must include all the data

  2. must construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture

  3. prove itself fruitful in other areas

For Wright the ‘inclusion of data is ultimately the more important of the two criteria’2.

I want to ask, Can we ever include all the data?

A good hypothesis will find verfication from the data. Yet a hypothesis, about anything, cannot make sense of all the data, but makes sense of a selection of the data. This may be illustrated with the example of a detective looking for evidence in a house robbery. A detective may develop a hypothesis about the burglar which includes some data including footprints, a broken window. However bright, methodological or scientific this detective is she cannot include all of the data,but only needs to include the relevant data. The complexity of life, objects and historical artefacts, cannot be be known in totality, nor do we need to have all data available before us before a judgement. Wright is wrong to say that a hypothesis must include all the data for the establishment of data, in an exhaustive sense, is an infinite task. We simply can do history, whether it be historical Jesus research or WWII, without knowing the full, or even the knowable, arithmetic, spatial, kinematic, physical, biotic, sensitive, analytic, historical, lingual, social, economic, aesthetic, juridical, ethical or pistic aspects3. In historical Jesus research we may say off hand that we must include all the data, but we quickly realise that we simply mean the relevant data. For instance we may say Jesus must be understood against the geographical backdrop of Galilee4 yet this not mean that we need to pursue to a full extent topological and biotic data.

Wright accepts that the ‘stack of data to be included is vast and bewildering5 and accepts that ‘seeing and assembling the data is a monstrous task’. 6 This assembling, surely involves selection, which brings with it, even at the data level, an amount of subjectivity, for what is relevant data to one community is irrelevant to another.

1NT&POG 99

2NT&POG 105

3Particularly helpful in this regard is the theory of modal aspects developed by Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven.

5NT&POG 100

6NT&POG 101

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N.T. Wright seeks to apply the insights of Critical Realism to the task of doing history which brings with it its own epistemological challenges.

History, which is understood by Wright as the what people write about what happened in the real world, is understood as a ‘kind of knowledge’ which neither proceeds down the road of simply giving bare facts, nor does it fall into the wayside of subjectivity. Instead the task of history is the ‘meaningful narrative of events and intentions’.1

Wright rejects both the ‘pre critical’ and the ‘chastened positivist’ approaches to historiography. These are represented, by Wright, diagrammaticality


Observer                Evidence                 Past Event

———>             ———–>

simply looking at the evidence…..and having direct access to the ‘facts’

N.T Wright is not original in his critique of a pre theoretical or a positivist approach as these matters have long been discussed in courses and books on historiography. E.H Carr, in one of the standard texts for those who are interested in historiography, comments, and then critiques, this ‘common-sense view of history’.

History consist of a corpus of ascertained facts. The facts are available to the historian in documents, inscriptions and so on, like fish on the fish monger’s slab. The historian collects them, take them home, and cooks and serves them in whatever style appeals to him’ 2

There is simply no uninterpreted history,

‘The myth of uninterpreted history functions precisely as a myth in much modern discourse -that is, it expresses an ideal state of affairs which we imagine erroneously to exist, and which influences the way we think and speak. But it is a ‘myth’, in the popular sense for all that. ‘ 3

All mainstream, as opposed to fundamentalists, schoalrs would reject the pre-critical view of historiography but may still adopt a more sophisticated positvist viewpoint, which differs from the pre-critical in the sifting of evidence.


Observer Evidence Past events

———–> ————->

looking at the evidence, sifting it


rejecting some bits


and accepting others

This approach, however, is a dream and does not take into account the subjectivity of the knower. In Historical Jesus research the criteria approach resembles the positivist approach. I offer the following explanatory diagram.

Observer Jesus Tradition ‘Real Jesus’

———–> ————->

Putting the ‘Jesus Tradition’ through a series of criterion


rejecting some bits


and accepting others

For Wright the path of history is to be arrived at by a recognition of the valid role of subjectivity for all history involves selection, a spiral of knowledge in which interpreter and source dialogue. There is no neutral position in which the historian can simply arrive at knowledge or fact for all historians have a point of view, and all histories involve interpretation through a particular set of lenses.4 Wright offers the following summary of his historiographical approach,

‘History, then, is real knowledge, of a particular sort. It is arrived at, like all, knowledge, by the spiral of epistemology, in which the story-telling human community launches enquiries, forms provisional judgements about which stories are likely to be successful in answering those enquiries, and then tests these judgements by further interaction with data.’ 5

1NT&POG 81

2What is History? 9 The positivist position is defended by Leopold Von Ranke ‘You have reckoned that history ought to judge the past and to instruct the contemporary world as to the future. The present attempt does not yield to that high office. It will merely tell how it really was.”

3 NT&POG 85, ‘the Myth of Objective Data or of Presuppositionalist History, and the purpose of my present argument is to challenge it, there is in fact no such thing as ‘mere history’. There are data. Manuscripts exist, even very ancient ones. Coins and archaeological data are available. From these we can know quite a lot about the ancient world, with a good a knowledge as we have of anything else at all. But in order even to collect manuscripts manuscripts and coins, let alone read, translate or organise them into editions or collections, we must engage in ‘interpretation’…My present point is simply that all history is interpreted history’ NT&POG 88 ‘Intellectual honesty consists not in forcing an impossible neutrality, but admitting that neutrality is not possible’ NT&POG 89

4NT&POG 86-92

5NT&POG 109, It is worth reading Wright’s definition alongside Keith Jenkins ‘Re-thinking History’ : ‘History is a shifting, problematic discourse, ostensibly about an aspect of the world, the past, that is produced by a group of present -minded workers (overwhelmingly in our culture salaried historians) who go about their work in mutually recognisable ways that are epistemologically, methodologically, ideologically and practically positioned and whose products, once in circulation, are subject to a series of uses and abuses that are logically infinite but which in actuality generally correspond to a range of power bases that exist at any given moment and which structure and distribute the meanings of histories along a dominant marginal spectrum.’ 26, For Keith Jenkins history is about ‘power’, for Wright ‘knowledge’ and for Von Ranke ‘telling what really happened’.

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Just picked up my latest cd-rom from logos. Its called Studies in Jesus and the Gospels and contains 23 different monographs. I purchased them as a pre-pub and in the process saved myself some money. The idea is that you commit to buying the product before it has been published. As an electronic resource its easy to pull out quotes, highlight the text and they are fully searchable.

I started reading one last night by Sean Freyne which seeks to show Jesus’s ministry in the context of a historically reconstructed Galilee. There is some discussion of Galilee and Roman imperial rule. I found the follwoing quite stimulating.

“‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’—a call to accept Caesar’s rule, or a declaration that only what belonged to God was of any consequence? There seems little doubt about Jesus’ answer to his own question. Unlike some of his co-religionists who belonged to the retainer class, he was not prepared to accept the inevitability of Rome’s rule as expressed in its propaganda (JW 2.348–361). Like other kingdoms, it too was doomed to pass. Despite Rome’s claims, their peace could not be imposed. ‘They make a desolation and call it peace’ are words put on the lips of a British general Calgacus, by a Roman historian, Tacitus (Agicola 30.3–31). Jesus was not prepared to share the violent response to such conditions, espoused by many Jews throughout the first century, which eventually plunged the nation into a disastrous revolt. He believed in the power of symbols and symbolic action because he believed in a God of whom, unlike Caesar, no image could be made, and yet who summoned people to trust in his presence and his power. This was the risk of faith that Jesus was prepared to take. His was a faith that was grounded in a trust in the goodness of the creation as he had experienced it and reflected on its mysterious but hidden processes. It was also a faith that had been nourished by the apocalyptic imagination that this creator God was still in charge of his world and had the power to make all things new again. No human empire could be compared with this power, no matter how dominant it and its agents appeared to be. Caesar could have his image engraved on the coin of the tribute, but he could not control the power of the imagination that was fed by the tradition of God’s mysterious but powerful presence in the world, to which no image could do justice.”

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Criteria of ‘Multiple Attestation’


The criterion of multiple attestation is a major player in the ‘Historical Jesus’ world and is used, amongst others, by Sanders, Meier, Ludemann and Crossan1 as a method which helps to discern the authenticity of a passage.

‘A passage is more likely to go back to Jesus if it has been preserved in two or more sources which are independent of each other.’2 Sanders & Davies


The criterion of multiple attestation focuses on those saying or deeds of Jesus that are attested in more than one independent literary source and/or in more than one literary form or genre. The force of this criterion is increased if a given motif or theme is found in both literary sources and different literary forms.’3 Meier


Plural Attestation in the first stratum pushes the trajectory back as far as it can go with a at least formal objectivity.’4 Crossan


The criterion of multiple attestation (CMA), as with the CDD, is a criterion which contains two different criteria. As the above quote by Meier illustrates the CMA has to do with whether a saying or action is attested in multiple sources (CMS) and/or whether it is found in multiple forms (CMF). The higher number of attestations the more likely the the saying/action of Jesus is authentic.


Criteria of Multiple Sources (CMS)

CMS, based upon a two source solution to the synoptic problem, was developed by F.C Burkitt5

We need, therefore, a kind of starting point for the consideration of our Lords doctrine, some external test that will give us a general assurance that the Saying we have before us is really from Him, and not the half-conscious product of one school of His followers. Where shall we find such a test? It appeared to me that the starting point we require may be found in those Sayings which have a real double attestation. The main documents out of which the Synoptic Gospels are compiled are (1)the Gospel of Mark, and (2) the lost common origin of the non-Marcan portions of Matthew and Luke, ie. The source called Q. Where Mark and Q appear to report the same Saying, we have the nearest approach that we can hope to get to the common tradition of the earliest Christian society about our Lords words. What we glean in this way will indicate the general impression His teaching made upon his disciples.6

Using Mark and Q as separate sources Burkitt identified 31 sayings of Jesus that were attested in both sources. This multiplicity in witnesses, that is Mark and Q, can increase the confidence, so Burkitt argued, in the saying stemming from authentic Jesus tradition.


As synoptic studies developed a four source hypothesis, using special Matthew and Special Luke as independent traditions, has increased the number of sources . In recent years some scholars have been restricted the sources to that of the synoptic gospels but include Gospel of John, Agrapha, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, etc. This inclusion of apocryphal gospels was discussed in an analysis of the methodology of Dominic Crossan.


Critique of CMS


1) Meier accepts that this ‘criterion cannot be used mechanically and in isolation’7. Meier does not accept the objectivity of this criteria as ‘In an individual case it is not a priori impossible that a saying invented early on by a Christian community or prophet met the needs of the church so perfectly that it rapidly entered into a number of strands of the tradition’8 , or as Stein puts it,


Another criticism of this criterion is that all that one ultimately can be sure of is that, if a tradition is found in all or most of the various sources laying behind our Gospels, that tradition is deeply embedded in the earliest traditions of the early church. Multiple attestation does not prove absolutely that the tradition is authentic! On the other hand the criterion of multiple attestation can, if we are able to establish the existence of various sources lying behind the Gospels, establish the probability that. such a motif is authentic.9

CMS, taking on board Stein’s comment, is a useful tool in uncovering material which is present in the Jesus tradition prior to the source which is being studied. However, to state that a periciope/saying is present in earlier tradition is not he same as saying it authentic. An early date does not of itself guarantee authenticity.


2) CMS does not allow for a study of the authenticity and the trustworthiness of the sources themselves. In a court of law it would not matter if their were multiple witnesses to a crime if all the witnesses were untrustworthy, or if all witnesses were basing their testimony on an earlier inaccurate witness. Likewise one trustworthy witness would be sufficient to bring conviction. This raises the basic question ’Are the synoptic gospels trustworthy? Are the apocryphal gospels trustworthy? In a court of law a trustworthy witness could be someone who has access to the data, someone who had no motive to change the tradition, and a witness whose credibility could be challenged by others if they strayed from other peoples memory of the events.

[A] Plurality of independent sources attesting a particular tradition is no guarantee of the authenticity of a tradition (no matter how numerous such sources may be), but only the authenticity of its age.10

2) The CMS is dependant on a particular solution to the synoptic problem. Usually this has taken the form of Markan priority. Markan priority, although having scholarly consensus, is not without its detractors.11 The objectivity of CMS is removed once it is seen that it is itself based on a highly contested hypothesis. Any change to the priority of Mark and the existence of Q would drastically change the results achievable by the CMS. CMS is used, by, amongst others, Meier, Sanders and Crossan, as part of a classical foundationalist epistemology. Can a criteria which is itself based on Markan priority, which is at best highly probably, provide a sufficient foundation for developing a reconstruction of Jesus.


3) The criteria, at times, is used in a negative way, in that a pericope/saying which is only singularly attested can not be used to form a part of the bedrock of Jesus tradition. This in my opinion, as with Stein, is an inappropriate use of this methodology for ‘to assume the inauthenticity of such a witness is to assume that anyone who testifies to any event without collaborating evidence is to be assumed a false witness.’12

Burkitt himself concedes this point,

Now I am not going to claim that the list of sayings [those that have multiple attestion] which I have read to you are the deepest or the most original of the recorded Sayings of our Lord. It may be very well be that some of the most profound of the sayings of His that have survived at all are recorded only by a single evangelist.13

4) A complete abandonment of the CMS is not needed as, with a recognition of its subjective nature due to its building upon on at best a probable solution to the synoptic problem, it can be used as testimony and corrective against contrasting portraits, as Burkitt affirms

At least it will be useful to us a corrective: any other Portrait of the Lord which we may draw must not be inconsistent with the portrait attested by the mouth of our two witnesses [Mark and Q]


Singly attested sources, if adopting a piecemeal approach to the gospels, can be judged as more likely to be authentic if they do not contradict the multiple attested sources. As with Moule ‘I see no reason to reject a tradition merely because it appears in only one stream, provided it is not intrinsically improbable or contradicted by the other’14. However in the light of point 2 above no claim to objectivity can be made.


5) M. Eugine Boring sought in 1988 to see an expansion of the CMS to include that of the extracanonical sources.

While not so objective as it first appears, this criterion does seem to have some usefulness, but independent extracanonical forms of the sayings must be considered among the witnesses examined. These were all but ignored in the earlier period. The recent resurgence of interest in the extracanonical gospels in general and the Gospel of Thomas in particular, stimulated especially by Helmut Koester and his students, has increased the usefulness of this criterion.15

In theory this may seem like a perfectly appropriate idea but unless it the source is itself trustworthy it is, like criticism two above, of little use.



The Criteria of Multiple Forms


The second and related form of CMA , CMS, was developed by Dodd and sought to affirm the historicity of a part of Jesus ministry by noticing that it is attested in number of forms.16 The example below shows how this criteria is used.




Eg. Did Jesus welcome outcasts and outsiders?17

Dodd answers, in History and the Gospel, this question by appealing to both CMS and CMF. The gospels are understood as being, not only a collection of multiple sources, but also a collection of multiple forms. The gospel pericopes are placed, as with form criticism, in various groupings such as parables, poetical sayings, pronouncement stories. These pericopes are analysed to see how widespread the view of is of ‘Jesus’ welcome of outsider‘ . After analysis Dodd finds the ‘welcome of outsiders’ present across the forms and sources.


This aspect of Jesus’ teaching is found in a ‘great variety of traditional ‘forms’-aphorisms, parables, poetical sayings, dialogues, stories of various kinds [CMF] -taken from all four strata of the synoptic gospels (Mark, Q, Matthew’s Special Source, Luke’s special source)[CMS]18

This method allows Dodd to provide an answer to the above question.


‘We may say surely say, on strictly critical grounds, that we have here [Jesus welcome of outsiders] a well attested historical fact.’19

It is interesting to note that this does not, in Dodd’s opinion, guarantee the authenticity of any of the individual pericopes, but does allow us to speak authoritively on the broad message behind the text for ‘this fact [Jesus welcome of outsiders] stands independently of the historical status’ of the stories used.’20



Critique of CMF


A) CMF proceeds by a form critical method which seeks to place the gospel materials into different form critical categories (parables, pronouncement stories). The use of forms within the gospels is not in itself a hard science, as within form-critical scholarship ‘[N]o universally agreed-upon list of forms exists.21 and even when these categories are in place ‘[M]any passages, however, do not easily fall into one of the primary form-critical categories. Many seem to mix together several forms22. This debate over classification will thus impact the level at which a passage is judged authentic by CMF. Therefore, CMF is not simply a method which givens universally agreed results, the results will be as diverse as that of form criticism.


B) CMF, as with CMS, does not guarantee the authenticity of a ’theme’ and cannot be a criteria in which a passage is judged objective. However, CMF is useful in placing a given theme of Jesus (embrace of the outcast, kingdom of God) into a point earlier than the gospel composition. As with Stein,


The appearance of this motif in multiple literary forms of the materials does not “prove” conclusively its authenticity, but at least ‘the criterion has some value in distinguishing comparatively early from comparatively late traditions, ’23

C) CMF shows that a theme is earlier in the tradition than the date of gospel composition, but it does not, as Dodd noted, allow us to speak any more authoritatively on the historicity of any given pericope. The CMF does not take us back to the ‘voice of Jesus’ but to the overarching themes of Jesus life and ministry.









1 Crossans use of this criteria is discussed elsewhere in this paper

2 Sanders, Ed Parish ; Davies, Margaret: Studying the Synoptic Gospels 323

3 Meier, John P.: A Marginal Jew : Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Vol. 1 The Roots of the Problem and the Person. New York : Doubleday, 1991 175

4 Crossan The Historical Jesus xxxiii

5 Burkitt, F. Crawford: The Gospel History and Its Transmission. 2nd ed. Edinburgh : T&T Clark, 1907

6 Burkitt The Gospel History and Its Transmission 147

7 Meier, John P.: A Marginal Jew : Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Vol. 1 The Roots of the Problem and the Person 175

8 ibid 175 See also G Petzke Die historiische Frage nach den Wundertatun Jesus NTS 22:1975-1976) 180-204, ‘There is no reason to think that something is more reliable historically because it is reported a number of time’ (Mehrfact). Trans by Meier

9 Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” R.T. France & David Wenham, eds., Gospel Perspectives, Vol. 1, Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1980. pp.225-263. 222 Also Porter, Stanley E.: The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research : Previous Discussion and New Proposals 86 ‘the point has been raised that multiply attested tradition points to an earlier stage in the tradition, but it does not necessarily indicate authenticity, which must be determined through other criteria.’

10 Theissen and Winter The Quest for the Plauible Jesus 14

11 In support of the Two Source (Greisbach) Hypothesis , Farmer, William R., The Synoptic Problem (Dilsboro, N.C.: Western North Carolina Press, 1964) (2d ed. 1976), McNicol, Allan J., et al. eds., Beyond the Q Impasse — Luke’s Use of Matthew: A Demonstration by the Research Team of the International Institute for Gospel Studies (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press Int’l, 1996)Orchard, Bernard J. & Riley, Harold, The Order of the Synoptics: Why Three Synoptic Gospels? (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1987) also The Case Against Q Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem Mark Goodacre Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002 which seeks to defend Markan priority whilst critiquing and dispensing with Q

12 Stein 232

13 Burkitt The Gospel History and Its transmission 167-168 see also

14 Moule The Phenonomeon of the New Testament 71

15 Charles W. Hedrick, ed ; Charles W. Hedrick, ed ; Society of Biblical Literature: Semeia. Semeia 44. Atlanta, GA : Society of Biblical Literature, 1988 (Semeia 44), S. 13

16 Dodd, C. H.: The Parables of the Kingdom. 1st. ed. London : Nisbet, 1935 26-29 but more fully developed in Dodd, C. H.: History and the Gospel in which Dodd guides us through six examples.

17 The example of the Kingdom of God is given by Stein The Criteria of Authenticity An example of the use of this criterion might be to see if Jesus’ teaching that the kingdom of God was realized in his ministry meets the criterion of multiple forms. Thus we shall see how broadly based such a teaching was in the gospel traditions. In this instance it is evident that this motif is found in: pronouncement stories (Mark 2:18-20; Luke 11:14-22); miracle stories (Luke 5:36-39); and sayings (Matt. 5:17; 13: 16-17).Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” 233

18 Dodd History and the Gospel 93

19 Dodd History and the Gospel 94

20 Dodd History and the Gospel 94

21 Green, Joel B. ; McKnight, Scot ; Marshall, I. Howard: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 1992, S. 243

22 Green, Joel B. ; McKnight, Scot ; Marshall, I. Howard: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 1992, S. 245

23 Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” 233

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J.P. Meier A Marginal Jew1

Meier seeks to provide a reasonable sketch of the historical Jesus2 By historical Jesus Meier means the Jesus who appears after serious application of the historical-critical method. This Jesus is not a Jesus reconstructed from the an uncritical use of all four gospels, for these Gospels [synoptic gospels] are suffused with the Easter Faith of the early Church and were written forty to seventy years after the events narrated.3 Meier sets out to find authentic Jesus tradition from within the synoptic, an authentic tradition is obtainable by using ’criteria of authenticity’.


‘the function of the criteria is to pass from the merely possible to the really probable, to inspect various probabilities, and to decide which candidate is most probable. Ordinarily, the criteria cannot hope to do more.’ 4

As this quote shows the method aims for probability and not objectivity. Objectivity is aimed for but never achieved. Meier appears to distance himself from the extreme form of an enlightenment historiography which simply tried to show things as they were for ‘there is no Switzerland of the mind in the world of Jesus research5. However he presses towards the goal of objectivity by admitting ‘one’s own standpoint, to try and exclude its influence’6,… knowing one’s sources, having clear criteria for making historical judgements about them, learning from other questers past and present, and inviting the criticism of one’s peers.’7


Meier offers five primary criteria and five secondary criteria. Secondary criteria may at times provide post-factum confirmation of decisions we have already reached on the basis of the five primary criteria.8

J.P. Meier Criteria for Authenticity
Primary Criteria Secondary Criteria
Discontinuity: Traces of Aramaic
Multiple Attestation Palestinian Environment
Coherence Vividness of Narration
Embarrassment(Movement Against the Redactional Tendency) Tendencies of the developing synoptic Tradition
Rejection and Execution Historical Presumption

Little weight is given, by Meier, contra Crossan, to the non-canonical gospel or agraphra. .

The four canonical Gospels turn out to be the only large documents containing significant blocks of material relevant to a quest for the historical Jesus1Contrary to some scholars, I do not think that the rabbinic material, the agraphra, the apocryphal gospels, and the Nag Hammandi codices (in particular the Gospel of Thomas) offer us reliable new information or authentic sayings that are independent of the NT2

Classical Foundationalist Epistemology and Historical Jesus Research


Meier adopts a ‘bottoms up’ inductive method. Once the criteria are applied, and authentic data is revealed an ‘overarching interpretation of Jesus and his work emerge gradually and naturally out of the convergence of the data judged historical.’3. This displays a classical foundationalist epistemology which does not take seriously the influence of his own subjectivity, for an ‘overarching interpretation of Jesus appears naturally.’4


Meiers epistemology resembles that of, foundationalist assumptions of Locke who ‘thinks we must make whatever facts we do know our evidential base for determing the probability of our other beliefs. Some of our beliefs may rest on other beliefs [For Meier read ‘interpretation of Jesus ‘], but the total structure of belief must rest on facts that known with certainty [for Meier read ‘authentic Jesus tradition based on use of criteria‘] if our epistemological house is to be in order.”5

The Routledge Encyclodeia of Philosophy offers the following description of Foundationalism.

Foundationalism: The process of giving reasons could be such that not every reason is supported by another reason because there are basic reasons which have no need of further reasons supporting them.6



Craig Evans The Historical Christ and Jesus of Faith states that ‘foundationalism requires at least three things’7

A) We must have a body of highly certain facts that is sufficient to be the foundation of our beliefs.

B) We must be able properly to determine what evidential support these facts lend to our other beliefs

C) We must also have the ability to regulate our beliefs so as to conform to the evidence.

Being aware of a classical foundationalist methodology we may mirror the above points with the methodological procedure of Meier.


A) Criteria reveal the highly probable facts. The revealed authentic tradition serve as a foundation of our belief

B) Authentic tradition reveals ‘naturally’ the life of Jesus, the Interpretation of Jesus, This evidence is built upon using the criteria of coherence.

C) Bias and subjectivity needs to be excluded from the interpretation, so that the evidence simply speaks.


This can be represented diagrammatically. See diagram 1 Meier and Foundationalism


It is not the scope of this essay not the expertise of the author, to offer a lengthy critique of a foundationalist epistemology, however I do want to suggest that there are alternatives to the foundationalist position such as the critical realism of Ben Myer and N.T. Wright (discussed later), and that of ‘coherentism’.


In contrast to foundationalism, coherentism claims that every belief derives its justification from inferential relationships to other . All coherentists hold that, like the poles of a tepee, beliefs are mutually reinforcing. Some coherentists, however, assign a special justificatory role to those propositions that are more difficult to dislodge from the web of belief . The set of these special propositions overlaps the set of basic propositions specified by foundationalism.8

Coherentism, at least in my understanding, highlights the interdependence of beliefs. These beliefs are coherent within themselves but this does not necessarily make them true. Thus a coherentist understanding of Meier would recognise his method but would stress that the resultant picture is on the basis of method, and not on the truthfulness of his foundation stones. This web of interdependence is quickly discovered when we notice.

1) The reliance on Markan priority which in itself based on non-provable

2) The gospels are not eye witness testimony.

3) The criteria of authenticity, such as multiple attestation, are dependant on above

4) The reconstructed Jesus is dependant on the above

5) The criteria of coherence is used enlarge the bedrock of tradition and to further enlarge the reconstruction of Jesus.


Higligithing the interdependence of Meier’s methodology, could be seen as conherentism. Meier’s methodology and resultant picture (P1) are coherent within itself. Coherence within itself is not the same as objectectity as another scholar could produce another portrait of Jesus (P2) using another coherent, but unprovable, methodology.9 The question then becomes ‘What makes P1 more acceptable than 22?’ with the question of objectivity becoming more marginalised.


It is important though, says Evans who rejects a ‘coherentist’ epistemology10 to highlight its ability to lead one away from ontology and reality. A persons beliefs, including that of beliefs in the ‘historical Jesus’ ‘depend on some relation to the external world, and not simply the coherence of my own beliefs’11

Critical Realism, which will be discussed later, provides an alternative to a classical foundationalist epistemology and coherentism, as it takes ontology and subjectivity seriously.


Footnotes: Although they are slighty out of sink with the text. you should be able to figure it out


1 MJ Vol 1 139

2 MJ Vol 1 140

3 Mentor page 14 Check this

4 Joel Willits Presuppositions and Procedures 80-82

5 Evans Historical Jesus and the Christ of Faith 209 although Meier is more an heir of Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza who see the role or reason as dominant, whereas as Locke assumes an empirical method.

6 KLEIN, PETER D. (1998). Knowledge, concept of. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Retrieved March 07, 2008, from http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/P031SECT4 .

7 ibid 210

8 KLEIN, PETER D. (1998, 2005). Epistemology. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Retrieved March 07, 2008, from http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/P059

9 I.e. Matthean Priority, Use of Non-Canonical Gospels, Use of different criteria

10 Evans The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith 224

11 Evans The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith 224

1 This criticism of historical Jesus research as being classical foundationalism is based on Joel Wittus Presuppositions and Procedures

2 Companion page 9

3 Meier Marginal Jew Vol 1 168

4 Meier Marginal Jew Vol 168-169

5 ibid. 5, Distances himself from the scientific historiography of Von Ranke who famously said that in his work he “wants to show only what really happened (wie es eigentlich gewesen).”

6 ibid. 5

7 Vol 1 page 5

8 MJ Vol 1 168

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The end of the ‘Old Quest’: Albert Schweitzer


Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) is often portrayed as the man who put an end to the ‘old’ quest. It is certainly true that Schweitzer placed a nail in the coffin of the ‘romanticised’ portraits of Jesus but more conservative scholarship, with less tendency to either adopt a enlightenment epistemology or a romanticed sketch pad, seems to have continued unabated.1 If Schweitzer did hammer a the nail into the coffin of ‘Romanticised’ pictures of Jesus, then coffin, to continue the metaphor, was already in production as t 15 years previously when Martin Kahler rebuked the ‘entire life of Jesus movement [‘Old/First Questers’] for leading scholarship into a ‘blind alley’.2

However, the impact of Schweitzer is not to be minimised, as he sought to offer a comprehensive overview and devastating enthusiastic critique of previous attempts at ‘life of Jesus‘ scholars. Jesus, as Schweitzer saw it, was being portrayed as a preacher of ethical ideals and his Judaic eschatological message was being ignored.

           There was a danger that we should offer them a Jesus who was too small because we had forced him into conformity with our human standards and human psychology. To see that, one need only read the lives of Jesus written since the [eighteen] ‘sixties, and notice what they have made of the great imperious sayings of the Lord, how they have weakened down his imperative world-condemning demands upon individuals, that he might not come into conflict with our ethical ideals, and might tune his denial of the world to our acceptance of it. Many of the greatest sayings are found lying in a corner like explosive shells, from which the charges have been removed. No small portion of elemental religious power needed to be drawn off from his sayings to prevent them from conflicting with our system of religious world-acceptance. We have made Jesus hold another language with our time from that which he really held.3

In contrast to the ‘romanticised’ portraits of Jesus, Schweitzer sought to paint a picture of Jesus who was not acceptable to the modern world. This Jesus was a fiery eschatological prophet who was convinced that the end of the word was at hand. His message was less about ethical ideals but about the future kingdom which God would bring. Jesus goes to the cross to bring the kingdom of God, laying ‘hold of the wheel of the world to bring it to a close. It refuses to turn, and he throws Himself upon it. Then it does turn; and crushes Him.’5 Schweitzer’s Jesus is a ‘stranger and enigma’6 to both modern society and Christianity.


1 See Porter The Criteria of Authenticity 37 who offers a critique of the monolithic understanding of the history of Jesus research. Also Bock Studying the Historical Jesus 144-145 ‘To call this period one of ‘no quest’ is probably an overstatement’ 144

2 Kähler, Martin: The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, trans Braaten 46-71

3 Neill, Stephen ; Wright, N. T.: The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1986 215

 Eschatology for Schweitzer is

5 Schweitzer Quest for the Historical Jesus as cited in Dunn Jesus Remembered 47

6In either case, He will not be a Jesus Christ to whom the religion of the present can ascribe, according to its long-cherished custom, its own thoughts and ideas, as it did with the Jesus of its own making. Nor will He be a figure which can be made by a popular historical treatment so sympathetic and universally intelligible to the multitude. The historical Jesus will be to our time a stranger and an enigma.’ Schweitzer Quest for the Historical Jesus 399

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I have been doing some research on the methodology of those who are doing ‘Jesus Research’. In this posting I begin to look at the beginning of the quest for the historical Jesus attempting to pay attention to the influence of the enlightenemnt and romanticism. In future postings,  I will look at the rest of the quest and then offer an overview of ‘criteria of authenticity’ and Method by Wright, Crossan, Sanders, Meier…. and a detailed critique of criteria.  IF anyone has any thoughts, bibliographies, etc. Then please let me know.


Historical Jesus: Criteria of Authenticity



After all, whose experience of Jesus should be considered authoritative or normative for faith and piety? Should it be the Jesus of Jim Jones, the Jesus of ultra-Pentecostals, the Jesus of the Catholic Mass, the Jesus of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Jesus of American Fundamentalism, the Jesus of the Crusades? The danger is, to borrow William Lane Craig’s colourful turn of phrase, that we add a little bit of pixie dust, make a wish and believe anything we like about Jesus.1

The canonical gospels don’t simply present to the reader one perspective on the life of Jesus. Four separate canonical portraits of Jesus are given, reflecting the use of different Jesus traditions and their diverse, but overlapping, theological and literary concerns . Each gospel also contains dissenting views to the canonical norm a– Jesus who is described by some as working for Beelzebub, of betraying God’s law, and of being a drunkard.


Likewise, within the ‘quest for the historical Jesus’ various portraits emerge, with Jesus appearing simultaneously in peasants apparel, a magicians gown, in the garb of an eschatological prophet, and a host of other portraits2. Different portraits, different Jesus’- do we simply adopt the latest portrait for use in worship?, or do we reject all the images in favour of retaining our own pre-scholarship or dogmatic construction? We could also choose to take a post modern turn and adopt whichever portrait furthers own ideological standpoint, or reject all portraits as a claim to power and objectivity.


In contrast to each of these responses to the historical Jesus, I join with a host of others who want to critique certain portraits of the historical Jesus whilst putting forward, however tentatively, an authentic reconstruction.


There are a number of ways which these portraits, like a painting in an art gallery, can be assessed. A painting in an art gallery can be assessed for its ability to evoke a response to the reader, or it can be viewed from its location in the ‘history of art’ and in its specialist use of tools, textures and canvas. The paintings methodology can be assessed. Likewise in assessing a ‘portrait’ of the historical Jesus it is necessary not only to look at the overall picture which is produced but the methodology which allowed the construction to be formed. As Denton, who has a keen interest in historical Jesus methodology comments,

‘It will not do for us to compare contemporary portraits of Jesus if fundamentally different means were used to arrive at these portraits. Comparisons and contrasts on the former level will result in the portraits talking past one another, for one portrait can criticize another as historically illegitimate only on the basis of some criteria of historical legitimacy. Such criteria are found, in critical history, in the means by which the historian claims to investigate the historical object’ 3

It is the purpose of this essay to examine the methodology of a number of ‘Jesus questers‘. Before analysing specific individuals and methodologies it is necessary to comment, however briefly, onto what has become known as the ‘quest for the historical Jesus.’


The Quest for the Historical Jesus.4

Contemporary historical Jesus scholarship traditionally divides Jesus research into four distinct time periods which have become known as

1)‘The First/Old Quest’,

2) ‘The No Quest’

3)‘The New Quest’

4) ‘The Third Quest’,5

Characteristics of the ‘Old Quest’ 1778-1906

This period of the quest is traced from Herman Reimarus (1694-1768) , so the story goes, to Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965).

Reimarus whose writings were published posthumously in ‘Fragments’ sought to split apart the faith of the first Christians (‘Christ of Faith‘) from the ‘Jesus of History’. As a philosophical descendant of Spinoza, reason became the litmus test for truth,. Reason, thus, being used as a critical tool which can be held up against faith beliefs. The gospels were analysed for ‘contradictions’ and consistency’. If a document is inconsistent or incoherent it cannot be used as historical testimony. James Dunn, making a link with contemporary Jesus research, summarises Reimarus’ (and Strauss’) methodological presuppositions,


”Where texts seemed to contradicts other texts or were inconsistent with the universal laws which were now known to govern the course of events, the accounts in these texts should be judged unhistorical on scientific grounds. Here scientific criticism in effect was posed from the outset as a contradiction to the traditional claims of faith, a contradiction still seen as such by most scientifically educated people today.;6

One example of contradiction in use by Strauss is found in his discussion of the resurrection narratives. He compares the accounts of the resurrection and find that contradictions abound. After discussing the guard at the Jesus’ tomb Reimarus comments,

From these many contradictions we now see that the guard whom Matthew posted before the tomb will not bear the investigation by a rational mind. Thus, these fancies that were intended to divert suspicion of fraud from Jesus’ disciples on the contrary strengthen that suspicion. The guards disappear at all events, and it is always possible and extremely probable, if one looks into the matter, that the disciples came to the tomb at night, stole the body, and afterwards said Jesus had risen.’7

The gospels are unreliable due to contradictions as, using a law court metaphor, he states

Witnesses who differ so greatly in the most important points of their testimony would not be recognised in any secular court as valid and legal.to the extent that the judge could reply upon their story and base his decision on it’.


This critical understanding of the life of Jesus continued in the writings of Strauss (1835-36). In The Life of Jesus Critically Examined he sought to present a picture of Jesus which stood against the dogmatic Christ of orthodoxy (supernaturalist) and those believers who sought a ‘rationalised’ form of the Christian faith–that is those who sought to do away with the miraculous whilst allowing for the authenticity of the gospels.


This is illustrated throughout his book, in particular Chapter IX, and I use his discussion of the multiplication of loaves an example. Strauss mentions the view of the rationalists who see the event as ‘an acceleration of the natural process’8, or that of ‘the distribution of bread by Jesus having led to a general distribution, the whole multitude were satisfied.’9 For Strauss, the attempt to rationalise the account to make it acceptable to enlightenment sensibilities is a misreading of the texts for ‘the natural expositor is put to the most extravagant contrivances in order to evade the miracle’.10

For Strauss the presence of miraculous cannot be avoided in the gospels for it cannot simply be explained away. Strauss, however is no ally to orthodoxy, for although accepting the miraculous in the canonical gospels he disassociates the miraculous from the ‘historical Jesus’. The feeding of the 5,000 ‘must be rejected, as unhistorical’11 on the basis of contradictions amongst the gospel accounts.12 The true rationalist understanding of this account is to see it as a ‘mythical derivation of this history of the miraculous feeding of the multitude’ from Old testament precedents.13



Reimarus and Strauss, whose Jesus’ stand out from the dogmatic Christ, needs to be understood in the light of an enlightenment epistemology. By enlightenment epistemology I mean a historiographical approach which works with History as a hard scientist would work with data within a lab. The historical-critical method followed an enlightenment epistemology

  1. Objectivity in History, allows history to be treated as an extension of the natural sciences, that historical facts are objects in history which can be recovered by scientific method

  2. The historian could be impartial, strictly objective in his treatment of historical facts

  3. Human reason is the sufficient measure of truth

  4. The cosmos is a single harmonious structure of forces and masses. All events are predictable, the effects of causes already observable, no room for divine intervention14


The ‘Quest’ continued in the works of Renan (1863), Weiss (1892), Harnack(1900) and Wrede (1901)15 . At risk of generalisations these scholars used the scalpel of ‘scientific-historical-enlightenment criticism’ to strip away the layers of early church mythology, and reveal the ‘real Jesus’ .


Yet the enlightenment was not the only philosophical position at work, for in response to rationalism came the arrival of ‘Romanticism’ and Kant’s stress on ‘Moral Consciousness’. This had the effect, within ’Old Quest’ Research, of stripping the supernatural from Jesus and although being sceptical about lots of the Jesus tradition, finding a Jesus who taught the romantic ideals of the fatherhood of God and infinite value of the human soul.

‘The highest consciousness of God which has existed in the bosom of humanity was that of Jesus’. Jesus’ ‘great act of originality’ was that, probably from the first, ‘he regarded his relationship with God as that , of a son with his father’. …. he established the universal fatherhood of God’. ‘The morality of the Gospels remains… the highest creation of human conscience–the most beautiful code of perfect life that nay moralist has traced’. ‘A pure worship, a religion without priests and external observances, resting entirely on the feelings of the heart, on the imitation of God, on the direct relation of the conscience with the heavenly father…”An absolutely new idea, the idea of worship founded on purity if heart, and human brotherhood, through him entered the world’16

The sketches of Jesus being offered differed from that of orthodoxy but also looked remarkably like that of post-enlightenment romanticised man. The zeitgeist became the driving force despite the objectivist claims of the authors. As Dunn observes, ‘The trouble was, we may say, it allowed the spirit of the age to dictate not simply the language but also the agenda.’17

1 Michael Bird, “Shouldn’t Evangelicals Participate in the ‘Third Quest for the Historical Jesus’?” Themelios 29.2 (Spring 2004): 11

2 A whole range of Jesus portraits have appeared in recent years. For an introduction to these portrait see see Witherington, Ben. The Jesus Quest : The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. At the risk of caricature we can say.

3 Denton, Donald L.: Historiography and Hermeneutics in Jesus Studies 7

4 This history, which has become somewhat of a assumed meta-narrative, has been rehearsed many times before. See, amongst others, Porter, Stanley E.: The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research : 28-62,also Dunn, James D. G.: Jesus Remembered 25-135, Darrel Bock Studying the Historical Jesus 141-153

5 This meta-narrative of research has been seriously challenged by Stanley Porter in his monograph The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research . Also, and with more force in a subsequent journal article. Stanley Porter Luke 17.11-19 and the Criteria for Authenticity Revisited Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 2003; 1; 201

6 Dunn, James D. G.: Jesus Remembered. 30

7 Fragment 171-172 From pages 177-194 he highlights ‘ten such obvious contradictions’ between in resserection accounts between the canonical gospels ‘ignoring the fact that many more could be given’

8 Strauss 512

9 ibid 513

10 ibid 514

11 ibid 515

12 ibid 515

13 ibid 517-518

14 See Dunn, James D. G.: Jesus Remembered 26-29 “It is important to remember

15 This is not an exhaustive list but a list of some of the ‘key players’. For a helpful timeline Porter The Criteria for Authenticity 60-62

16 Renan, Life of Jesus (London 1864) pages 82,83,87-88,90 as with Ritschl ‘‘The Kingdom of God consists of those who belive in Christ, inasmuch as they treat one another with love without regard to differances of sex, rank or race, therby bringing about a fellowship of moral attitude and moral proprieties extending through the whole range of human life in every possible variation’.A Ritschl The Christian Doctron of Justification 285 page 45 Dunn

17 ‘Since historical knowledge and hermeneutics are also dependant on such questions, questers of the ‘Historical Jesus; and readers of the Gospels at academic level need to be aware of the deep philosophical assumptions on which particular hypotheses are based and the unresolved epistemological issues and debates continuously rumblings below the surface. In this case, the most important principal at work was in effect the conviction that Jesus, the ‘historical Jesus’, the Jesus stripped of dogmatic accretion, would/must have something to say to modern man, and the consequential desire to provide a mouthpiece for the restatement of that message.’Dunn, James D. G.: Jesus Remembered. Cambridge, U.K.; Grand Rapids, Mich. : William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003 page 29


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