Monday, August 06, 2007

Some Interesting Facts about Historical Jesus Research

Hello Everyone!

Sorry I've been away for so long, but, as Michael has pointed out, my wife and I just had our fourth baby and then--one week later--we took all four kids on a cross-country trip to South Bend, Indiana, where I taught a three week graduate intensive course on Jesus and the Gospels. It was great! But I'm still somewhat zapped, and have had no time to blog.

I'm back now, however, and am currently reading (for a review) David Gowler's new book, What Are They Saying About the Historical Jesus? (Paulist, 2007). So far, the book's pretty good, although Gowler is far more sympathetic toward the Jesus Seminar's scholarship than I think it deserves. In any case, the book is filled with all kinds of interesting facts about Historical Jesus research, which often don't make it into the standard surveys. Here are some of the more interesting tidbits I found:

* Herman Samuel Reimarus, usually considered the founder of the Quest for the "Historical Jesus" (as opposed to the "Christ of Faith"), was heavily influenced by English and Irish Deists. (One would never have guessed this, with the way the miracles have been treated.)

*David Friedrich Strauss was only 27 years old when he wrote his magnum opus, The Life of Jesus. It's amazing that the work of someone so young had such an enormous impact on his time.

*Albert Schweitzer omitted the most famous paragraph he ever penned--the one about Jesus "throwing himself upon the wheel of history"--from the 1913 revision of his Quest for the Historical Jesus. (Maybe he got tired of seeing it quoted over and over again?)

*Ruldolf Bultmann and Ernst Kaesemann got into a teacher-student scrap after Kasemann launched the New Quest in 1953. Mean words were used, such as accusations of "logical inconsistency" and "logical contradiction."

*Kaesemann wasn't very nice to Joachim Jeremias either; he played the nasty trick of consigning Jeremias' work to the "Old Quest," and was even more insulting when he referred to it as--dare I say it?--"dogmatic theology." What an insult! What could be worse than to be called out of date AND theological?

*Robert Funk, the founder of the Jesus Seminar, refers to members of the Third Quest as "pretend questers" who are engaged in an "apologetic ploy" for "creedal Christianity." (This one is spot on: We all know how E. P. Sanders loves to punctuate his writing by referring to Jesus as "God from God, light from light, true God from true God...)

*Funk also has referred to himself as "a new Martin Luther" calling for a a "powerful new reformation." (Any Lutherans out there ready to object?)

*The Jesus Seminar originally included some Southern Baptist (!) New Testament scholars who eventually dropped out.

The story of Historical Jesus research: often frustruating, sometimes funny, but always fascinating.


Michael Barber said...

Sanders as a dogmatic theologian--ha!

Great post!

Colin Brown is also working on a huge multi-volume work on the history of historical Jesus studies. I'm extremely eager for that to be published--he's shared a bit of it with me and it is very impressive and insightful.

By the way, he was also invited to be part of the original Jesus Seminar.

He declined.

Anonymous said...

Hello Michael,

Speaking of historical Jesus research. Ben Myers has just reviewed Gerd Ludemann's book on Pope Benedict's book.

Do you have any idea when Colin's book will be coming out? It sounds like a great resource.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments. I hope you enjoy the rest of the book. I should clarify for your readers, though, that I make clear that I disagree completely with the results of the Jesus Seminar's work--I am closer to Gerd Theissen, et alii. I wrote about the Jesus Seminar, however, in a very civil way, because I was dismayed at the vitriol in the previous critiques of them that did not focus on content as much as I thought they should. Hopefully, my disagreements with them were written in a way that does not attack them personally but makes my opposition clear.

With every good wish,
David B. Gowler

Brant Pitre said...

Dear David,

Thanks for the correction! I guess I was left with the impression that you had more sympathies than you do because of the space you devote to their work (the longest chapter in the book), and because I hadn't read your section on Theissen yet.

As for your desire to avoid ad hominem attacks, I think you were right on the mark. I was surprised and dismayed at how many of the critiques focused on the fact that the Seminar members did not belong to "prestigious" universities. Hopefully future debate won't descend to such levels, or professors who teach at smaller colleges like myself might as well hang it up now.

Otherwise, I'm almost finished the book, and am continuing to enjoy it (and learning some new things in the process!)

All the best,