Historical Jesus 4: Third Quest

This is the fourth post on Scot McKnight’s series on the Historical Jesus reasearch.

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 “out Jewish” 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.

3 Kommentaar

Filed under Die Christelike Lewe

3 responses to “Historical Jesus 4: Third Quest

  1. From a South African perspective the works of Albert Nolan (Jesus Before Christianity and Jesus Today) should be read. Especially the last one, that concerns itself with spirituality.

  2. Cobus: I do agree that Nolan gives a South Africa perspective in the sense that he highlights the problems of our time in comparison with the problems Jesus had in His time.
    Reading NT Wright and others I get the impression that this is what the historical Jesus is about – discovering the Jesus in the times and world where He lived and moved an had his being. In my opinion (Not pointing any fingers here) the problem is that theologians and pastors teach Jesus asif he lived in our time and not in the beginning of this age. If we understand Jesus in His time we will be able to understand Him better in our time – unfortunately, that asks for a lot of work. And unfortaunately, somebody like me stil has a long way to go.

  3. Alec

    Sonder dat ek dit geweet het is ek deel van hierdie laaste groep. Ek probeer vernaam vir Paulus beter verstaan deur na hom te kyk as ‘n Jood in die jaar 0

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