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Reviewed by:
  • Jesus and the Historians by Alexander J. M. Wedderburn
  • Christoph Stenschke
Wedderburn, Alexander J. M. 2010. Jesus and the Historians. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. WUNT 269. Cloth. ISBN 978-3161507083. Pp. xi + 383. 99 €.

In the present volume one of the senior figures of European NT studies addresses crucial issues in the study of the historical Jesus. He examines the methods and presuppositions applied in this quest, which are often more assumed than explicit. Wedderburn’s point of departure is the observation and claim by some that a decisive change in the understanding of historical knowledge and historical method has occurred or is occurring which abandons the assumptions of modernity and embraces postmodern notions of history. Against this backdrop, Wedderburn surveys major and/or representative contributions to the recent study of the historical Jesus in the hope that confronting historical theories and epistemologies with the concrete requirements and problems of this particular historical study of the life of Jesus may help to shed light on their strengths and weaknesses, particularly if one bears in mind the repeated lament that the theorists and philosophers are out of touch with the practice of historians. The theorists and philosophers, of course, reply by accusing the historians of a lack of reflection on what they are doing.

Whether I have reflected sufficiently or not, it seems to me that many of the old questions involved in the historical study of Jesus are still valid, even if they should be posed in a more nuanced and at the same time more tentative and self-critical way, and that they must be posed even if the answers that they yield may cause considerable discomfort for theologians. And it is this possible discomfort that arouses in me the suspicion that one of the attractions of newer historiographical theorizing for some may be the possibility of evading such unwelcome implications of historical criticism.

(Foreword) [End Page 240]

Some of the issues to be discussed are addressed in the foreword by interaction with F. Watson and J. G. D. Dunn’s approach of Jesus Remembered. On his own focus, Wedderburn notes:

If there is a thread running through this work and holding it together, it should perhaps be seen in the uneasy feeling mentioned above, that we run the risk, with “postmodern” epistemology and historical theory or with the use made of such factors as orality and memory, of blunting the challenges that historical work still presents and … must present for traditional views of Jesus’ work and nature.


In the first chapter “Α Historical Quest and the Question of ‘History’” (1–56), Wedderburn examines representative positions in the current study of Jesus (N. T. Wright, J. Schröter, E. Schüssler Fiorenza, J. D. G. Dunn, D. L. Denton, and S. McKnight). After a brief comparison of these different approaches, Wedderburn concludes that there seems to be a basic uncertainty and hesitancy with regard to the epistemological basis of historical work:

That basis is, however, important and it would be unfortunate if one were to embark on the study of the life of Jesus, or indeed of any other historical work, without reflecting on such problems. In the case of work on the life of Jesus the matter is perhaps complicated by the potential tensions between the implications of such historical research on the one hand and the traditions of Christian theology and Christology as well as the expectations of Christian faith on the other. If “post-modern” approaches can indeed be a form of a “flight from history,” to use Dunn’s phrase, then there would be a temptation to blunt the edge of the challenges to theology and faith presented by historical research by casting doubt on the standing of the results of such research and relativizing their validity and status, a temptation to which some may well have succumbed as we shall see. That danger, as well as the many problems involved in actually carrying out such research, justify a fresh look at the assumptions and the methods that are appropriate to such research.


The second chapter surveys “The Historiography of the ‘Old Quest’” (57–79; Schweitzer and historical research, Troeltsch and historical...


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pp. 240-243
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