The ‘New Quest’
‘There was a time when at which even the suggestion that a return to the ‘Quest for the Historical Jesus’ might be possible was too far fetched to be taken seriously’1
Stephen Neil The Interpretation of the New Testament
Kasemann (1906-1998) offered a rallying call for scholarship to engage more seriously in the ‘Quest’ when he delivered a lecture to former Bultmann students entitled The Problem of the Historical Jesus. Bultmann had led his ‘school‘, so Kasemann argued, to a docetic tendency which failed to find coherence between the Christ of Faith and the Historical Jesus, that is between early church kerygma and actual events. Kasemann urged scholarship to pursue the historical Jesus, as ‘the gospel is always waged on two fronts’ that of the ‘earthly Jesus’ being ‘understood in the light of Easter’ and ‘that Easter cannot be adequately understood unless account is taken of the earthly Jesus.’2
James Robinson, in his summary of the methods and procedures of the new quest, summaries contribution of Kasemann,
He moved beyond a recognition of the validity of much of Bultmann’s position, to argue that since something can be known about the historical Jesus, we must concern ourselves with working it Out, if we do not wish ultimately to find ourselves committed to a mythological Lord. The crucial issue is identified in ‘the question as to the continuity of the gospel in the discontinuity of the times and the variation of the kerygma’, i.e. whether the proclamation of the exalted Lord through the Church is in some kind of recognizable continuity with the preaching of the historical Jesus, and consequently whether the exalted Lord is in continuity with Jesus of Nazareth.3
The church, Robinson argues, has two avenues available to Jesus. The first avenue is through an existential response to the kerygma, in this sense faith ‘is not dependent on historiography’. Yet this kerygma, Robinson goes onto say, needs to be connected to history, and thus Jesus can be approached by way of historical critical method.
[The New Quest] is committed to a kerygma which locates its saving event in a historical person to whom we have a second avenue of access provided by the rise of scientific historiography since the enlightenment4
This new quest, like Bultmann, tended to work with the teachings of Jesus, but sought through a variety of methods and criteria to gain access to solid historical data. The gospels, in the methodology of the ‘new questers’ are analysed, in a piecemeal fashion, to find authentic Jesus tradition by using criteria, such as the criteria of dissimilarity and multiple attestation, to provide a firm bedrock of Jesus tradition.
The door to historical Jesus research was now firmly open, the locks of dialectical and existentialist theology could not resist the desire of those who sought to look beyond tradition at the ‘historic Christ’.
How is it possible for faith to be content with mere tradition, although that tradition be set down in the Gospels? Faith must break through, and ask the questions that lie behind the tradition. It is impossible seriously to suggest that the Gospels and the traditions contained in them forbid us to ask the question regarding the historic Jesus. They not merely permit the attempt; they positively require it.5
1 Stephen Neil The Interpretation of the New Testament 288
2 E Kasemann Essays on New Testament Themes (eng trans 1964) 25 cited in Neil,Wright Interpretation of the New Testament 290
3 New Quest of the Biblical Jesus by James M. Robinson http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=2073&C=1905
4 Robinson, Chapter 4 http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=2073
5 G Borkamm Jesus of Nazareth (Eng Trans. 1960, pp9,22) cited in Neil,Wright The Interpretation of the New Testament 291