- Jesus Research: An International Perspective—The First Princeton-Prague Symposium on Jesus Research
Introductions to the historical study of Jesus often begin with a survey of the types of inquiry that have been involved. Reference generally appears to the period between H. S. Reimarus and Albert Schweitzer, when attempts were made—Ernest Renan's being the most prominent—to deduce reliable facts from the Gospels. But Schweitzer's observation that investigators were producing portraits that reflected their own concerns more than objective evidence brought about a period of reserve during the first half of the twentieth century, when Neo-Orthodoxy was influential, typified by the work of Rudolf Bultmann. Yet in the period after the Second World War, a self-described "New Quest of the Historical Jesus," championed by Günther Bornkam and Ernst Käsemann, emphasized the importance of crafting a portrayal of Jesus out of the Gospels, based not on a positivist historiography, but on the language Jesus used, and the language used about him, as precedent to the emergence of Christianity. This highly concentrated focus on the growth of the text of the New Testament was then challenged by Ben F. Meyer in 1979, whose Aims of Jesus insisted that Jesus could only be understood within the context of Judaism. That has resulted in what is frequently called a "Third Quest of the Historical Jesus."
The Third Quest has been marked by extensive experimentation, and a resulting increase in the portraits of Jesus that have been offered. Charlesworth and Pokorný refer to that phenomenon, but modestly do not call attention to the significance of the collaboration between North American and European scholars that their volume represents. The latter context helps to address the perceived problem of the plethora of portraits of Jesus in recent discussion.
Especially during the eighties and nineties, with the work of the "Jesus Seminar," the claim that Jesus was imbued with Greek culture, denied eschatology, and represented a form of Cynic philosophy was associated with North American scholarship. That association was never accurate, because most North American scholars did not belong to the Jesus Seminar, and in any case most participants in the Seminar did not accept John Dominic Crossan's portrayal of a Cynic Jesus. Nonetheless, European scholars sometimes assumed that the Seminar spoke for North America. In that a good deal of criticism is directed toward Crossan and some of the findings of the Seminar in this volume, and because several of the contributors are North American, perhaps an unhelpful shibboleth may be laid to rest. If so, that alone would be a major contribution. [End Page 570]
In addition to that, the volume contributes to scholarship by questioning the very paradigm of "historical Jesus" research that inspires the project. The fact is that the usual periodization—positivist historiography, theological reserve, the "Second Quest's" linguistic existentialism, and the "Third Quest's" sensitivity to Jesus's Judaic environment—is of only limited usefulness. Exploration of and comparison with Judaism was a feature of Christian theology for centuries prior to Reimarus, while positivist historiography has never been uniquely regnant, any more than Neo-Orthodoxy or existential linguistics have been. There have always been many exceptions to the model; it works only as a map of emphases, and conceals a more important consideration.
What is routinely called "the Quest of the Historical Jesus" is in fact part of a longer-term intellectual movement: historical engagement with Jesus. That engagement has been an aspect of Christian theology virtually from its beginning. All of the emphases of the various Quests—verifiable data, the impact of faith on the sources, concern with Jesus's meaning and with his Judaic environment—are by no means uniquely modern issues. Which emphasis is most appropriate varies with the nature of the evidence in a given case, as well as the concerns of the investigator. This volume brings that out, particularly in the conclusions of several of the essays, which demonstrate how historical...