Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Fourth Quest for the Historical Jesus?

I am teaching "Jesus and the Gospels" this semester, and on Tuesday I was discussing the Third Quest with my students. As I spoke, I realized that we have really entered the Fourth Quest, which I think can be defined as a reaction to the Third Quest, particularly the notion that Jesus can be from first century Palestine but look nothing (or very little) like other Jews from his era.

So I am beginning to bundle the Third Quest in terms of the 1980s and 1990s, dominated by the work of Crossan, Borg, Patterson, Funk, Mack, Downing and the Jesus Seminar, but also including Horsley, Kaylor, Witherington, Meier, and so forth.

The Fourth Quest appears to me to be reactionary and pushes several items to the forefront.
  • Jesus is a Jew
  • there is an apocalyptic dimension to Jesus' teaching (as in, the world is coming to a quick end) that cannot be dismissed
  • there are serious problems with the dissimilarity principle and it should be replaced with or corrected by a criterion of historical plausibility or incremental change - that there must be connections between Jesus and Judaism and between Jesus and the early Church
  • there is an experiential aspect to Jesus' mission that we must address
  • the historical Jesus cannot continue to look like or sound like a hippy from the 1960s or a college professor
  • we have to take seriously studies in orality
There is no clean line to the beginning of the Fourth Quest. Some scholars like Alan Segal, Maurice Casey, E. P. Sanders, and Jimmy Dunn already were sounding some of these warnings in their writings before 2000. But I see a real movement now in scholarship (thank goodness) to address these issues as a community of scholars. So I think we are in a Fourth Quest with the work of Bart Ehrman, Dale Allison, Paula Fredriksen, A.J. Levine, Jimmy Dunn (I'm thinking particularly of his book, Jesus Remembered) and Gerd Theissen (I'm thinking particularly of his book co-authored with Dagmar Winter, The Quest for the Plausible Jesus). I would also put N.T. Wright in this category, although his work is too apologetic for me.


gnox said...

Dr. D.,

When you describe the Fourth Quest as "reactionary", do you mean mainly that it is reacting against those features of the Third Quest which you list? Or (as in the Marxist usage) that it aims to "go back" to some position of the past (presumably before the Third Quest)? Either one seems problematic if you are including yourself in the Fourth Quest (as i gather you are). It sounds like a swing of the academic pendulum rather than a way of carrying forward the scholarly traditions which you represent.

John Shuck said...

Scholars do bundle and categorize! Funk bundled and categorized a bit differently. For him, Schweitzer ended the first quest.

Kasemann started the new quest in seeking to connect HJ with early Christian proclamation.

The third quest Funk suggested is the group of scholars who see Jesus as an eschatological prophet and who see continuity between Jesus and the primitive church. In this group belongs Allison, NT Wright, Sanders, Meier, Witherington. So says Funk.

Then says Funk, the renewed quest is based on Amos Wilder and the parables and aphorisms of Jesus. His article is on-line, Milestones in the Quest

My quest, call it "Johnny Quest" is that HJ is a black hole. Any quest based on the personality of Jesus will not lead anywhere, because he has no personality. At best, we can uncover the varied strands of communities that used his "person" for their theological agendas.

The Jesus Seminar is now embarking on a search for Christian origins. I think it would be great if you shared your scholarship with them. JS is open to all scholars. But all scholars do seem to group into bundles!

By the way, your book on Thomas just arrived in the mail. It is a scholarly work and a challenge for a simple country preacher, but I am going to do my best. Also, looking forward to Judas in the Fall!


Nicholas Kiger said...

I don't see such an apocalyptic figure in Jesus, or his teaching. I'd argue that he was rather counter-apocalyptic in his teachings.

April DeConick said...

Dear "gnox,"

I used the term reactionary in the sense of reacting against the Third Quest which tended to see Jesus in non-eschatological terms, as a philosopher sage more connected to Hellenistic models than Jewish.

I think the Fourth Quest is trying to refocus on a Jewish Jesus with an eschatological-apocalytpic message of some sort.

I don't really consider myself a scholar of the historical Jesus. The entire quest appears nearly hopeless to me. But I am glad to see a Jewish Jesus begin to emerge, and the reconnection of his teachings to the apocalyptic tradition in Judaism.

April DeConick said...

Dear Mr. Kiger,

Your position is that of the Third Quest then.

Nicholas Kiger said...

So where do Bultmann, Lord and Dundes fit into this new quest? And will there ever be a break in the dichotomy between the Historical Jesus and the Christ of Faith?

April DeConick said...

Dear Mr. Shuck,

Thanks for your comment. I hope that the Thomas book is readable enough. If questions come up, feel free to e-mail me at the university and I'll try to answer.

I wrote the Judas book for the general audience, so it should be more accessible to everyone. At least that was my intent.

April DeConick said...

Dear Mr. Kiger,

Bultmann was in the period between the First and Second Quests. He was part of the No Quest. He thought that the Christ of faith was what mattered, and that the Quest for the historical Jesus was next to impossible in terms of success beyond general themes Jesus may have talked about.

Albert Lord never was in the quest for the historical Jesus. As for Dundes, I'm not familiar.

As for your question about the break between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith, I think that this will and must be maintained, mainly because we can trace a development in the literature from a Jesus who was first understood as a man born naturally to biological parents, to a god who incarnates into the flesh. So the Christ of faith is really someone who becomes this as the early Christian tradition grows.

But this does not mean to me that there was not continuity between some of Jesus' teachings and some of the teachings of the early Christians.

Unfortunately other scholars who have written about the historical Jesus have not necessarily made this same distinction that I am making. They assume discontinuity, at least that is what I have understood from much of the literature generated on the subject.

Alan Gregory Wonderwheel said...

-- "there is an experiential aspect to Jesus' mission that we must address"

To me this point is the most important aspect of any quest attempt to understand Jesus. No other aspect of Jesus' mission has any real connection to Jesus as far as I can see. And I think the Gospel of Thomas is the key to understanding this experiential aspect.

To me the apocalyptic issues have always been either someone else's agenda or misunderstandings of the metaphors of human transformation that are within the apocalyptic symbology.

revvvvvvvd said...

I think John Shuck is on to something. Not that there's a strict taxonomy, but most people understand that Schweitzer ended the First Quest, Bultmann started the No Quest, Kasemann revived the New Quest, the Jesus Seminar continued it (but made it look like Quest 1), and the Third Quest (e.g., Sanders, Dunn, Meier, Wright) came along to re-emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus. So...your Fourth Quest sounds like the Third Quest: A Jewish, eschatological prophet Jesus.

huhwhatrightuhhh said...

Hi! I'm taking a class about the teachings of Jesus and right now we're learning about the various quests for the historical Jesus.

My teacher has briefly mentioned that in the third quest there has been a resurgence in NT scholarship supporting the validity of a non-apocalyptic Jesus. How is this possible if a characteristic of the Third Quest is that Jesus is seen as being distinctly Jewish? Wasn't an apocalyptic world view part of first century Judaism?

I've read Sanders' "The Historical Figure of Jesus" (well at least up till Ch 12 ;p) so I (for the most part) understand his logic as to why Jesus MUST have been eschatological (John = Jesus' apocalyptic predecessor; Paul = Jesus' apocalyptic successor). But, is this how most NT scholars determine that Jesus was of an apocalyptic world view?

Plus, considering all apocalyptic Kingdom of God sayings in the gospels, how Jesus could not be considered to have apocalyptic beliefs?

I've also read (most of) Borg's Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time Again and know he is of the latter position but in this book he does not explain why he believes this.

I've attempted asking my professor but she basically restated the explanation she already gave - which I unfortunately can't remember as it made so little sense to me. ;C

Leon said...

I realize that it is kind of late to being posting a comment here, but still I thought it might be worthwhile in case anyone surfs their way on to this spot.

I don't think the so-caled Fourth Quest has made any basic changes. I am sure that Jesus had some apocalyptic beliefs, but that is hardly the essence of his Jewishness. Still overlooked is his thorough immersion in Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism. A principle component of this Judaism was to regard the Torah as a living Constitution. God wanted Jews to create new things from this Constitution. The Gospels give more than enough evidence to show that Jesus participated in this by making his own contributions to these constitutional interpretations.

Another key point in this Judaism was to approach God with chutzpah. Again, plenty of evidence in the Gospels that Jesus also taught this.

All the so-called quests aim to cover up these most important aspects of Jesus' Jewishness. The guiding rule is still that Jesus must not become too Jewish. They only want Jesus to be Jewish enough to absolve themselves of the charge of prejudice, but absolutely no more Jewish than that.

Leon Zitzer

sloopr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sloopr said...

The best "historical Jesus" explanation so far is the simple one that a 7-year-old child can understand: Jesus did miracle cures and resurrected (after having been killed) and ascended into the sky. And using that same power he'll put you in Heaven. If you believe. Maybe.

All the theologians and scholars have still not come up with anything better than this straightforward account. Trying to explain it further than this only adds confusion and chaos.

In my own "quest" I have concluded that the Bethlehem birth stories must be total fiction, plus also the tradition that he was the son of Mary and Joseph.

The real son of Mary and Joseph is more likely to have been Jesus Barabbas, the militant revolutionary who was arrested for murder during an insurrection. In fact, he was probably the one who instigated the insurrection by a violent attack on the temple in Jerusalem, which the NT falsely attributes to the other Jesus who everyone is "questing" after.

But the more they search, the more he loses whatever they thought he had been. Some scholar (I believe the name was Perrin) once identified 2 or 3 quotes from Jesus which he was sure had to be original with JC, after peeling off all the stuff added to him from others who put words into his mouth. However, at least one of those has now been discovered to have come from the Dead Sea Scrolls and so is just another example of someone putting words into the teacher's mouth (and probably all the rest of the sayings of Jesus will suffer the same fate, so that he said absolutely nothing original).

No one knows the truth about it. But I hope they discover that he really said none of it, and that he was a performer of powerful superhuman acts, rather than a babbling theologian/prophet, of which we have had too many.