Thursday, April 12, 2007

Historical Jesus Poll

Now that we are thinking about the historical Jesus and whether or not we might be in a Fourth Quest, I wonder whose reconstruction of the historical Jesus you think is most convincing and why? This is actually one of my final exam questions for my students taking "Jesus and the Gospels." What is your opinion?


Loren Rosson III said...

Dale Allison's apocalyptic prophet is pretty convincing. Christianity seems to have evolved much in the way we would expect of a millenarian movement. I.e. Such movements appeal to disaffected people, are revivalistic; believers think they will be saved, and others damned; they break taboos and defy sacred custom; they're nativistic; they favor of "fictive kin" over clan and family; they demand rigorous and unconditional loyalty; they think the coming utopia can be experienced partly in the present; and they constantly cope with failed expectations, and revise accordingly (later gnosticism was a more dramatic way of turning away from the futile millenial dream) -- all of these features are preserved in the NT (see Allison's Millenarian Prophet, pp 81-94). But I also like Bill Herzog's take on Jesus as a social prophet acting out of the canons of honor and shame.

I admit, however, that I become more skeptical every year about the amount of gospel data which can be securely traced back to Jesus.

Unknown said...

I vote for Dale Allison's view as well, mainly because it seems to me to be the least agenda driven, and also because I have been part of millenarian movements myself, and seen these things in operation "on the ground," so to speak. One thing that I have found from my own reading is that no matter how thorough methodologically (Crossan-and yes, Loren, he absolutely did rip off the Context Group)or theologically (Wright), they all seem to come up with the Jesus they need to come up with. When I look at the texts of the NT, I see a Jesus that is far from consistent, frequently combative, and firmly convinced that the end is near. I think a sociological analysis of the
Quest(s) themselves would be interesting. What I also find fascinating is the unwillingness of most of these writers to see that they have looked long and hard at the evidence, and then painted the Jesus they knew was there all along. Save yourself the time and just write a tract, instead of a 500 page (or 1000, or 1500, or 2000-how many volumes is Meier up to now?). The end result would be the same. I think they all in some way realize how alien Jesus is to us, and are terribly frightened of that. This is a challenge I face every Sunday morning from about 11:30 AM to 11:55 AM. How do I make this make sense to people who don't give a rip about Quest(s), and who just need to get by in this world? I am really shooting myself in the foot this week, because I am preaching on the reading from Revelation.

Loren-I have never posted on your blog, but I love it. It is always one of my first stops in Blogosphere. I really like the "hopeless pagan hero" take on LOTR.

Unknown said...

I need to wait to post till I am done thinking. It strikes me as interesting how much so many of the questors, in some profound way, really NEED Jesus. They are like broken-hearted sinners at a Pentecostal Camp Meeting responding to an altar call. They all certainly "found Jesus" didn't they.

Don't get me wrong, I am the same way, and just as desperate. But what bugs me is their facade of analytical distance, to which I make no claim. I know I have an agenda. And I don't kill a lot of trees trying to prove that I don't. As much as I respect him. I think Crossan is the most guilty of this. I wish, more than anything else, they would all just fess up to their need.

However, is it possible to have no agenda? The lack of a theological agenda is not the lack of an agenda period. Maybe all works on historical topics related to NT studies and Jesus need to have a disclaimer on the first page that requires the author, and at least 2 other people, to list as completely as possible that author's agenda.

Crossan's would read thus: "WARNING: the book you are about to read on the "Historical Jesus" has been written by an ex-priest that left the RCC because he did not want to be hemmed in by dogmatic constraints. He is a radical, a product of an oppressed people who are typically wry, witty, tragic, and drunk. His Jesus is therefore a radical who goes to a tragic end spouting wry and witty aphorisms. He is also frequently drunk."

Wright's would read simply: "WARNING: all of your Sunday School teachers were right."

Meier's would read: "NOTICE:the reading of all the volumes of this work on the Historical Jesus will result in a plenary indulgence for the reader for any and all time he might spend in Purgatory. Reading (or just carrying them around) these books, for those in Opus Dei, may be considered an act of corporal mortification of the severest kind."

I am also considering putting nothing but quotes from Monty Python's Life of Brian on my church sign for the next month. How about this first: "There's no Messiah in go away." At least that would be in keeping with the church's mission statement for the last 20 years.

I am feeling a bit saucy today, I suppose.

Nick Kiger said...

This is a good question, and I think the elements of many can be the best. Because of the nature of Historical Jesus research, I think it would be dangerous to identify the best. In "The Meaning of Jesus" Borg is balanced by Wright and Wright balanced by Borg. That balance should never be taken away.

What I hope to see is that the myth surrounding the Christ of Faith can be seen as a historical element that runs parallel to that of the Historical Jesus. To me Bultmann was right about myth in a sense, but also wrong. Myth cannot be dismissed as un-historical because it is myth. It in fact can tell us much more about the world early Christianity functioned in much more than the Historical Jesus can. I am not saying the Historical Jesus is unimportant. I am only saying that there is history about Jesus to be found in the myth surrounding him.

Jim Deardorff said...

I'll vote for whomever's view holds that the man was a wisdom teacher, a prophet especially of apocalyptic events, a great healer and "miracle" worker, a chastizer of false teachings, and one who did much traveling in the course of his teaching mission.

Jim Deardorff

paulf said...

I am a long-time Christian who has come to believe the apocolyptic prophet model. I haven't read Dale Allison, but I think the Bart Ehrman-James Tabor model of Jesus as failed Messiah is the most defensible from a historical point of view.

I still attend church. On Easter Sunday, my pastor preached about how Jesus' death is the only thing that counts, you can basically ignore his words. I'm sure I would have found that non-offensive at one time, but really it is crazy. If God send one part of himself to die as a human, why mislead everyone by preaching stuff for years that throws people off the right direction? Even according to the gospels, which may or may not be true, Jesus didn't preach his death until the end, and then only to a select few. Why talk for years about the Kingdom if the Kingdom doesn't exist? Why say anything and not just die and get it over with?

It's the only way prophecy makes sense. Jesus thought the world was about to end. It didn't. He was wrong, not just about the timing, but about everything.

As much as I would agree with the politics of the Borgs and the Spongs, I don't think their version of Jesus makes sense. It puts him in a modern context.

Alan Gregory Wonderwheel said...

I'll be honest and say I think my own reconstruction of the historical Jesus is the most convincing. This is probably along the lines of what Brian K. says about each of us writing our own tract.
1. Jesus was a human not a god-son, except in the mystic sense each of us is a god-child.
2. Jesus grew up as an Essene in the Nazareth-Mt. Carmel area in which radical communitarianism was preached and practiced and baptism was also practiced. As an Essene (and contrary to the practices of the Pharisees and Sadducees) Jesus was taught the OT (of course not called that) at an early age which is why he surprised the non-Essenes with his knowledge and which is why he was so well versed in Isaiah and the other books of the Prophets.
3. Jesus did learn and also shared much if not most of the messianic sentiments of the Essenes. Another reason he was so fond of quoting Isaiah.
4. At some point Jesus decided that the Essenes were too closed off as a community and that much of what he learned was good for the whole of Jewish society.
5. Jesus did travel extensively including travel to the Essene communities at Qumran and Alexandria, and he learned from the available mystic streams and schools that he came into contact with.
6. Jesus had a personal transformation experience and realized his unity with the non-dual basis of reality and based on this experience he felt ready to try to share his experiential message to others in the Jewish communities. His great dilemma was how to communicate his experience within the confines of Jewish biblical knowledge, tradition, and symbology where the Father was the prevailing God-myth and only prophets spoke to "Him" and there was no tradition or accepted path for personal transformation and personal unity with the Father within non-esoteric Judaism. He resolved this dilemma by using the bridging metaphors and symbols of being the son of the Father and offering a way for his being the son to provide a way for others to the father. For those who had ears to hear, each person was also a child of the Father and able to personally enter the kingdom has he has as his equal.
7 Jesus was not much interested in preaching to non-Jews but did see that his experience and transformation was relevant on the human level and not just to Jews so he encouraged others to teach to non-Jews and he saw the moral values of humanity as not being dependent on Jewish beliefs (e.g., the good Samaritan).
8. Jesus had 12 "showcase" disciples that he used as a demonstration project or experimental group for his teaching mission. These disciples for the most part did not have much of a clue what he was doing. Only Judas was brought into the real planning of the mission. Only Thomas had the personal direct insight of the transformative experience that Jesus was teaching through the use of parables and sayings.
9. There was another circle of mostly unnamed disciples, including Joseph of Aramathea, who were privy to Jesus' plans for the crucifixion (e.g. tying up the donkey and preparing the house for the last supper, preparing the tomb ahead of time, etc.) There was also a greater network of supporters and followers who provided the food and shelter as Jesus' group went from place to place.
10, At some point Jesus became exasperated at the inability of the Jews to understand the transformation message of the baptism of the spirit that he was teaching and so Jesus came up with the plan to enact the sacrificial lamb scenario to act out a messiah drama. The plan for the crucifixion was never a suicidal plan which is why the timing was to get Jesus into the tomb quickly. Jesus was drugged to appear dead. But Jesus was prepared for it to be suicidal if it came to that.
11. Jesus did not die in the tomb, but was revived and made a few appearances to create the myth and then faded away into personal privacy so the myth could live. -OR- Jesus died by mistake, the two helpers in white (and mistaken as angles) took him away and a double posed as him to create the myth of resurrection. -OR- The body was simply removed and the myth of resurrection was created by the extreme emotional need of the disciples who did not know the real plan.


April DeConick said...

My gosh, I am delighted by all of your comments so far. Maybe we should collect these and publish them beyond this blog?

Please keep posting your opinions!

Rebecca said...

I have also always been partial to the idea that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, but one thing I think should be emphasized is the big role that healing played in the Gospels, especially Mark, so I would add exorcistic healer to the description as well. (Of course I may simply be revealing my personal interest in the study of magic this way). I don't agree with Morton Smith, who seemed to think that this made Jesus into a charlatan. I don't think that he was a feminist who came to save Jewish women from the evil patriarchal ways of Judaism. He was most definitely Jewish - the whole idea of his being a Cynic philosopher has always struck me as bizarre. He needs to be seen in a or in many Jewish contexts. (This is one of my big arguments with the dissimilarity criterion, which seems to me to be another way to disassociated him from Judaism).

John Shuck said...

I think I have to go with Robert Price, "The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man."

Without the Gospels, canonical and non-canonical, there is not much there.

Jesus, a Jew, probably connected at some point with John the Baptist, was executed by Rome for who knows what reason.

That's about it. He wrote nothing. We have no personality for him.

I think he was simply in the right place at the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time for him). In other words, the Jesus movements were not about his personality, but about the time period and the conditions that gave rise to a number of new social, religious, and political movements.

Jesus is a collage of portraits about him. They include the sage, the fiery apocalyptic, the dying/rising god, and the torah observant rabbi. They are all there. Whether any of them goes back to HJ, we may never know for sure.

Great exam question! I hope I don't get graded though! : )

Bob MacDonald said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob MacDonald said...

April, I have posted a comment at
I couldn't find your own essay which I read on Google Reader - the link doesn't work - so I took the liberty of quoting the salient paragraph.
[repaired the link]

Chris Petersen said...

The most persuasive reconstruction of the historical Jesus in my mind would be one that incorporates the works of three different scholars: E.P. Sanders, Dale C. Allision, and John Meier. In regards to Sanders I am especially convinced of his assertion that the principle paradigm that the historical Jesus operated out of was that of 'restoration eschatology'. As for Allison, I think he is quite correct in his analysis of the millenarian and/or apocalyptic aspects of the historical Jesus. Finally, with respect to Meier I find myself particularly drawn to his suggestion that the historical Jesus may have viewed himself as an Elijah like figure and I also found his analysis of the historical Jesus' various miracles to be fairly convincing.

Overall, though, I am particular to Sanders reconstruction but where he is weak on some areas the others complement him. I especially think that Sanders' methodology is the best of any historical Jesus scholar that I have read (on this score see the first of a series of posts at

Jeffrey P. Garcia said...

While I believe that any questions concerning the historical Jesus should consult the works of scholars like Sanders, Israeli/Jewish scholarship has been ignored for to long. The work of David Flusser, Shmuel Safrai and Robert Lindsey—the founders of The Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research—and their students work should be interacted with in any discussions regarding the historical Jesus.

Moreover, Jesus' Judaism needs to be the central starting point for all debate and interaction and not simply another category that we try to fit Jesus in. Therefore, Second Temple Judaism needs to be understood in its own right apart from Jesus. For this I would suggest that we reach out to Israeli/Jewish scholars who work in the same field and the students that have been trained under them, thus, including in the search for the Jesus of history.

For my longer opinion see my 2 part blog Markan-inferiority


April DeConick said...


Thanks for this information. I was not aware of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research. I will definitely check this out in detail. How are you affiliated?

Jeffrey P. Garcia said...

Unfortunately, many scholars are unaware of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Reserch. I have been a student and assitant of Steven Notley, former director of the Jerusalem School and current member, for the past five years. I am also acquainted with several members, some of which teach in North America.

Notley's most recent works are the The Sacred Bridge (Jerusalem: Carta) and Jesus' Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels (ed.; Leiden: Brill). The Jerusalem school remains based in Jerusalem and was founded by David Flusser, Shmuel Safrai (both former profs at Hebrew University in Jerusalem), and Robert L. Lindsey (former Pastor and resident scholar of the Narkis Baptist church in Jerusalem). They are a group of Jewish and Christian scholars who have spent years studying the historical Jesus.