Tag Archives: Historical Jesus

Jesusforschung in vier Jahrhunderten: Texte von den Anfängen historischer Kritik bis zur “dritten Frage” nach dem historischen Jesus

9783110318432This inexpensive volume may be worth your research library’s obtaining or even something you would wish in your own collection.  The table of contents and front matter is available for your viewing pleasure here.  It’s a massive and impressive looking production.

The Quest for the Real Jesus: Radboud Prestige Lectures by Prof. Dr. Michael Wolter

Brill have sent along for review this new publication- The Quest for the Real Jesus: Radboud Prestige Lectures by Prof. Dr. Michael Wolter.

51132The Radboud Prestige Lectures in New Testament 2010 were presented by Prof. Michael Wolter (University of Bonn). His prestige lecture was entitled: ‘Which is the real Jesus?’. In this lecture he challenged many of the current views within the historical Jesus research by critically evaluating the approaches in various categories. Afterwards this lecture was presented to a variety of scholars from different disciplines who approach the problem from their particular perspectives, thus bringing a rich texture of insights, apart from engaging critically with Wolter’s views. Thus one can appreciate the role the quest for the historical Jesus plays within a wider framework. This resulted in interesting articles that not only deal with historical, but also with philosophical and hermeneutical issues.

My review of this volume is here.

“Jesus: Rise to Power” – An Interview with the Writer and Presenter, Dr. Michael C. Scott

Michael, if I may, first let me thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about National Geographic’s upcoming Jesus: Rise To Power set to air on March 28 here in the United States.

JW: First, would you mind telling readers a bit about yourself (aside from being Assistant Professor in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick).

ac_studies_picMS: I did my undergraduate + graduate work at Cambridge University UK and was also the Moses Finley Fellow in Ancient History at Darwin College, Cambridge before coming to Warwick. I work on different aspects of Greek and Roman culture, particularly religion. I believe strongly that it is an important facet of academia for academics to spend part of their time communicating their ideas and research to as wide as audiences as possible.

JW: What drew you to a television special on the Historical Jesus?

MS: This is not so much a series on the Historical Jesus – I am not a biblical scholar. I am a Classicist. In these programmes, I am interested in how Christianity develops in the 1st – 4th centuries AD within the Roman world. Romans were normally pretty good at absorbing other religions and cultures that they met. The interesting question is how and why this did not happen with Christianity. Indeed, how did the opposite happen: Christianity taking over the Roman empire?

JW: Why is it titled ‘Jesus: Rise to Power’?

MS: It fits the visual difference in the representation of Jesus from the time of his crucifixion – when he is suffering the ultimate punishment metered out by the Romans – to the way he is represented in images of the 4th century AD and later: in the style of a Roman emperor. He has – in his visual representation within the Roman world – risen to power.

JW: Aside from serving as Presenter for the show, do you interview biblical scholars, historians, and archaeologists in the course of the program?

MS: I am the writer and presenter of the show – I always work very closely with the production team on the scripts to ensure accuracy and good argument. I wont ever accept a script constructed for me! Likewise, it would be mad not to consult and talk to a wide range of scholars on all aspects of this programme, to name but a few who contributed: Prof John Curran, Prof Shaye Cohen, Prof Judith Lieu, Prof Elaine Pagels, Prof Dirk Obbink, Dr Helen Bond, Dr Boaz Zissu.

JW: That’s a fantastic cast of scholars.  I would even say, stellar.  How do you see this special? As an examination of the Historical Jesus or as an examination of the ‘wake’ (in the sense of a ship which has passed) left after the appearance of the historical Jesus?

MS: The focus is on the ways in which, and the reasons why, Christianity developed as a religion within the Roman empire from the 1st – 4th centuries AD. The key questions are what enabled its development and why did it spread? How, in under 400 years, did it become the official religion of the Roman empire?

JW: Many such specials end up doing something of a disservice to the subject since oftentimes the views of the experts are edited in such a way that their views are distorted. In this special, are the experts allowed to have their say in the final version?

MS: I would not work on a programme that tried to misrepresent scholars’ view, or indeed my own.

JW:  I can’t tell you how important that is to myself as a student of the Bible.  There are so many television specials which really don’t seem to care whether or not scholars and their scholarship are fairly displayed.  As a historian history clearly matters to you. Is this presentation historically ‘faithful’?

MS: Every fact in a Nat Geo production has to be supported by a range of primary and secondary evidence. Nat Geo has an entire team which checks that we have done our homework.

JW: What do you think viewers will learn about Jesus’ rise to power that will surprise them most?

MS: I think what is most interesting is first the very varied Roman response to Christianity (it was not all Christians and Lions all the time), and second the clear evolution of Christian belief and practice during those first centuries (e.g. the Gospels we know today were not brought together as a canon until the 2nd century AD).

JW: How do you think this special is different from the numerous specials which air around Easter and Christmas?

MS: What I hope it offers is a story about an incredibly important time in human history that – whether Christian or not – viewers can find interesting, engaging and thought-provoking.

JW: Do you have plans to do further work in the subject of early Christianity for television? And if so, along what lines or about which topics?

MS: I am – and always will be – a Classicist. I was interested in this programme because it offered a chance to look at the issue from the perspective of the Roman world. I will continue to make programmes about the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, including later this year for the BBC in the UK.

Thank you again, sir, for your time, and your responses.  The program, “Jesus: Rise to Power” airs on the NatGeo channel here in the States on March 28th from 8-11 PM Eastern Time.  And check out Dr. Scott’s website here.

Le Donne Gets Bultmann

Unlike so many who only (foolishly) read ‘about’ Bultmann (usually from the point of view of some feckless unlearned fundamentalist who is barely capable of reading one or two letters of the Greek alphabet and who has never seen a Hebrew text in his life), Le Donne has read, and for the most part rightly grasped, Bultmann’s program  (Bultmann was about a LOT more than simple ‘demythologization’ and the limitation of any attempt to understand him only concerning that issue is both short sighted and skewed).

Give his essay a read and then go and read some Bultmann for yourself.  Start with his sermons (which are brilliant and really moving) and then take a look at his New Testament theology and then digest fully his book on Jesus (which is better than any study of the historical Jesus ever written).  When you’ve done that, read his commentary on John and 2 Corinthians and then his collected essays in Glauben und Verstehen.  Then do yourself the favor of picking up his correspondence with Barth and then with Gogarten.  Finally, then, read his book reviews (because he reviewed books like you wouldn’t believe).

When you’ve managed all of that, then you can consider yourself equipped and capable of commenting on his work.  But not until.  For until you’ve read Bultmann, you’ve not earned the right to have an opinion about him.  But if you go ahead and express an opinion anyway, well, you’ll just be mocked because, in all honesty, that’s what you deserve to have happen to you.

Reading one page of Bultmann and declaring yourself an expert on his theology is like reading one page of Romans and declaring yourself an exegete.  Actually, what you are in both cases, is a dilettante.

A Fantastic Essay by Mauro Pesce on the Fate of The ‘Historical Jesus’ Since Vatican II

Here, at Academia.edu.  In sum-

“Il fatto che la ricerca di oggi su Gesù sia rappresentata da studiosi di chiese diverse sta a significare che l’esigenza di una profonda riflessione religiosa è radicato nei diversi cristianesimi ed è sintomo di un mutamento culturale. Ciò che è comune a tutti i tentativi è il bisogno di rimanere all’interno del cristianesimo cercando in Gesù i valori cristiani fondamentali che si fatica a trovare nelle rispettive chiese. La percezione dell’incapacità delle chiese di rispondere ai bisogni religiosi della situazione contemporanea, la percezione che la rappresentazione ecclesiastica di Gesù non corrisponde a quello che egli effettivamente e fece e disse, a quello che volle essere. La percezione anzi, della dissomiglianza tra il comportamento delle chiese e quello di Gesù.

In sostanza, il periodo successivo al Concilio vaticano II ha conosciuto due tendenze. Una hanno proposto di portare avanti la riforma iniziata cercando di portare fino in fondo il progetto di ritorno alle fonti, considerato finalmente in modo veramente integrale: un ritorno non più alla chiesa antica ma a Gesù stesso. Questa esigenza è stata minoritaria. E’ prevalsa invece la linea che rivaluta le continuità el Concilio Vaticano II con il concilio di Trento, una linea che ne stempera la novità e ricaccia il cattolicesimo nella situazione di essere senza risposta di fronte ai grandi problemi posti dall’età moderna: come fondare la trascendenza della parola di Dio e di Gesù rispetto alla chiesa, come ripensare il cristianesimo all’interno della cultura umanistica e scientifica moderna.

It’s a fantastic essay.  It’s long and articulate and marvelous.

Coming Soon: Three Contests and Three Chances to Win a Fantastic New Volume From T&T Clark

T&T Clark are sending a copy of each of the following volumes for me to give away to very lucky readers.  First, there’s

Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity.  The internationally renowned authors of this book examine the nature of this new debate and present the findings in a cohesive way aimed directly at making the coalface of Historical Jesus research accessible to undergraduates and seminary students. The book’s larger ramifications as a thorough end to the Third Quest will provide a pressure valve for thousands of scholars who view historical Jesus studies as outmoded and misguided. This book has the potential to guide Jesus studies beyond the Third Quest and demand to be consulted by any scholar who discards, adopts, or adapts historical criteria.


The Mother of the Lord.  Are there Old Testament roots of the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary? Margaret Barker traces the roots of the devotion to Mary as Mother of the Lord back to the Old Testament and the first temple in Jerusalem. The evidence is consistent over more than a millennium: there had been a female deity in Israel, the Mother figure in the Royal cult, who had been abandoned about 600BCE. She was almost written out of the Hebrew text, almost excluded from the canon.   This first of two volumes traces the history of the Lady in the Temple, and looks forward to the second volume in which Barker will show how the Lady of the Temple is reclaimed in the advent of Christianity, and becomes the Lady in the Church. The result is breathtaking, and like all Barker’s work, is impossible to put down.

And third, and confessedly the one about which I am most excited (pacé Le Donne and Goodacre)

Canaan and Israel in Antiquity.  This comprehensive classic textbook represents the most recent approaches to the biblical world by surveying Palestine’s social, political, economic, religious and ecological changes from Palaeolithic to Roman eras. Designed for beginners with little knowledge of the ancient world, and with copious illustrations and charts, it explains how and why academic study of the past is undertaken, as well as the differences between historical and theological scholarship and the differences between ancient and modern genres of history writing. Classroom tested chapters emphasize the authenticity of the Bible as a product of an ancient culture, and the many problems with the biblical narrative as a historical source. Neither “maximalist” nor “minimalist'” it is sufficiently general to avoid confusion and to allow the assignment of supplementary readings such as biblical narratives and ancient Near Eastern texts. This new edition has been fully revised, incorporating new graphics and English translations of Near Eastern inscriptions. New material on the religiously diverse environment of Ancient Israel taking into account the latest archaeological discussions brings this book right up to date.

Details about the contests will appear in due course.  Just prepare yourselves to be clever and creative and who knows, you might win a copy.

Philip Enters the Phray

(Sorry about that, I couldn’t resist).

In a new essay Philip Davies writes

I cannot resist making a contribution to the recent spate of exchanges between scholars about the existence of Jesus—these mostly on the internet and blogosphere, and so confined to a few addicts, but the issue has always lurking within New Testament scholarship generally. Shortly before his death, Robert Funk had approached me about the possibility of setting up the equivalent of a ‘Jesus Seminar’ for Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, perhaps a ‘Moses Seminar’? I couldn’t see any scope for such an exercise (and still can’t), but have often thought how a ‘minimalist’ approach might transfer to the New Testament, and in particular the ‘historical Jesus’, who keeps appearing to New Testament scholars in different guises.

Read it all.

The Quest for the Historical Peter

IVP Academic writes on the Facebook-

Take a look at the first chapter of The Life and Witness of Peter, forthcoming from Larry R. Helyer: http://ivpr.es/NUGO3I.  Helyer embarks on a comprehensive study of a much-neglected figure in New Testament studies in this single-volume treatment of the Apostle Peter.

I don’t want to seem a Debbie Downer and perhaps the book will have loads of info unknown heretofore.  But we can scarcely know anything at all about the historical Jesus (and truth told, absolutely nothing that isn’t filtered through a theological sieve).  What hope can there be that we can uncover the ‘life’ of Peter?

Maybe Helyer has the answers.

What’s Going On With Bart?

Bart Ehrman posted this bit in which he describes his experiences writing his latest book.

Stephanie Fisher posted, or rather attempted to post a comment, which was bizarrely rejected by Bart because, in his words (in an email to Fisher), “Your comments are mean-spirited and not appropriate for the blog. If you want to try again in a more temperate tone, I would consider including them. As you might imagine, I do have a response to your points.”.

If you can find anything mean-spirited or inappropriate in Steph’s remarks you’ve got a vivid imagination.  Here’s what she wrote:

“You say that New Testament scholars have never taken mythicists seriously, they have never seen a need to argue against their views. This is false. Case and Goguel for example explicitly demonstrated with argument and evidence the mythicist arguments to be flawed in 1912 and 1925. Maurice Casey’s Jesus of Nazareth introduces Price, Doherty and Zindler for example and explicitly provides evidence for their mistakes. His forthcoming volume later this year is also a refutation of the main mythicist arguments. Also you claim NT scholars have never tried to prove the existence of Jesus and have simply assumed it. This is untrue of Case, Goguel and the entire life work of Maurice Casey who has never assumed the existence of Jesus at all and has dedicated his life’s academic research to providing argument and evidence. I know what the book is about – I helped edit it. Just read the ded and preface. You made some unusual assumptions about Aramaic in your latest book and didn’t engage with the most recent critical scholarship which is a shame because so few New Testament scholars are competent Aramaists.

“However I did enjoy reading Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. I bought it when it was release in the nineties and I had graduated. It inspired my direction to a degree and I still find it useful at times.

“You say “The book you’re referring to here is a fairly full exposition of what he thinks is historical information about Jesus, a nice contribution to the field.” – Hardly a fair description of an academic career devoted to Aramaic research culminating in a book designed for a wider audience and providing argument and evidence to demonstrate the existence of a historical figure, simultaneously engaging with mythicist arguments which argue the contrary, is it?

“I feel compelled to add that your derogatory insinuations about New Testament scholars are false and offensive.

Responsible New Testament scholars around the world do take mythicists seriously. They do read the published work and even the blogs. They do not just dismiss them. That would be irresponsible. Jesus scholars do NOT assume the existence of the historical Jesus. I gave you three scholars spanning a century. I could give you three hundred more – or even more. And actually we read the German edition of Schweitzer (including his other work). You then say “many scholars in the field, I would venture to say, until my book had not even heard much about [mythicists]” which is an extraordinary outburst of self-confidence, effectively your own assumptions without evidence. It is utterly false – ‘until my book’?!”

Now to be fair to Stephanie, there’s not a shred of either mean spirited-ness nor inappropriateness in a single line. Her points are well made and accurate. Which is why I think they deserve a response. Maurice Casey does as well. He writes

“Ehrman’s blog comments are extraordinarily self-centred, and make one wonder which New Testament scholars he has ever talked to about the existence of Jesus. For example, he comments, ‘before writing the book, like most New Testament scholars, I knew almost nothing abut the mythicist movement’. Most of us knew perfectly well that there was a massive attack on the existence of the historical Jesus in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Until recently, however, we thought that the work of Case and Goguel, supported by lots of detailed comments in other scholarly works, made it unnecessary for us to keep publishing about it when we were trying to make a contribution to knowledge, not just to repeat what had been written before. Among much modern scholarship with which he seems unfamiliar is recent work on the term ‘Son of Man’: his comments (Did Jesus Exist?, pp. 305-7) imply a complete lack of familiarity with Aramaic sources from the Sefire Inscriptions through the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Yerushalmi and the literature of the Syriac-speaking church, as well as recent secondary literature.

“The notion that none of us has read the work of recent mythicists again makes one wonder again which New Testament scholars he has ever talked to about the existence of Jesus. He comments again, ‘no scholar of the New Testament has ever thought to put together a sustained argument that Jesus must have lived.’ Most of us have spent a regrettable amount of time becoming regrettably familiar with their regrettable outpourings, some of us have discussed it with each other, with varying opinions about what needs to be done, and I have a book in an advanced state of preparation for publication by T & T Clark/Continuum, hopefully before the end of 2012. We don’t expect or want Ehrman at meetings of British New Testament scholars, but does he not attend SNTS either?”

In sum, it seems that Casey and Fisher take issue with Ehrman’s cavalier dismissal of substantial work done in response to ‘mythicists’.   Certainly Bart is free to include or reject whatever comments he wishes, on his blog.  Similarly, the rest of us are free to raise questions about publications and in fact we are obliged to- especially when they don’t tell ‘the whole story’.

Coming May 23rd- A New Academic Project in Quest of the Historical Jesus: The Jesus Process


A Consultation on Method and Madness in New Testament Studies

Essays by Maurice Casey, R. Joseph Hoffmann, Stephanie Louise Fisher are promised along with a listing of the ‘consultative committee’.  It will be something to keep an eye on I think.

James Crossley Reports on the British New Testament Conference

Right here. I especially liked this part-

Whilst perusing the bookstalls, there just so happen to be a promotional talk by Wright on his New Testament for Everyone. To add to the strange coincidences, and this came as a real surprise to me, someone actually asked Wright about his translation of 1 Cor. 6.9 (‘…practising homosexuals of whichever sort…’) and whether his theological presuppositions influenced his translation. It seemed to me to be a very serious question rather than a joke and the discussion was certainly a serious one. After the discussion, whilst looking on with a mixture of amusement and curiosity, the next question (again, a very serious one and not a joke) was on the same issue (I think it was something about ontology and the difference between non-practising and practising homosexuality but I couldn’t quite hear). Discussion of these questions at the promotion has been doing the rounds on Facebook, including some eyewitness testimony and some apparently verbatim quotations.

I’m surprised that the Wrightians didn’t tackle the questioner and hang him out in the field for blasphemy.

Jesus: The Cold Case – Deserving of a Dilly?

Another tv ‘special’ by some guy who lacks any real knowledge of the subject, as Deane shows plainly, is set to air in NZ on Sunday. I especially appreciate Deane’s observation-

… the list of biblical scholars demonstrates Bruce’s lack of knowledge of the field, his reliance on other people’s scholarship, and lack of first-hand knowledge of scholarship. Where are the current and most recent experts on the issue: Maurice Casey? Dale Allison? Roger Aus? They are nowhere to be seen, although they are obvious choices for anybody reasonably informed on current scholarship.

I’m kind of glad I’m not in NZ so I don’t have to watch.

Jesus: The Cold Case - New Doco on Who Killed Jesus This Sunday, 24 July 2011, at 8:30pm, Bryan Bruce will try to find out who killed Jesus, in a television documentary to be screened on New Zealand’s TV1. The documentary is one in an ongoing series in which Bruce examines old unsolved murders, and attempts to solve them … but with the twist that, here, the cadaver is 2000 years old … Read More

via Remnant of Giants

The Casey Colloquium: Excerpt Nine

This is the ninth excerpt in what will be a series of ten (with the entire series of excerpts available here) from Maurice Casey’s about to arrive volume titled Jesus of Nazareth.  It is, I have to admit, a very persuasive volume.  Being someone who doesn’t really think we can know much at all about the Historical Jesus (because the Gospels, our only real source for the life of Jesus aren’t biographies and were never intended to be read as if they were), I received the proofs of the volume with more than a little skepticism.  ‘Oh, here we go again….” I thought to myself, ‘another one of many in a long line of purely speculative works which somehow or other are able to make a suit out of a button.’

I’m glad to say that I’ve taken away from this volume a surer certainty that there are things we actually can know about the historical Jesus and that these things can truly be termed ‘historical’.

Is that to say that I agree with Casey on every point?  I can’t, and don’t.  But has there ever been anyone who agreed with someone else about every point?  Hardly.  What Casey does is present a solidly reasoned and well presented reconstruction of the life of Jesus that has more of the ring of truth to it than any that I’ve read (since Bultmann’s slim volume- which, to me, is still the high water mark).

Here’ the ninth excerpt.  The tenth and final comes tomorrow.

The belief that Jesus rose from the dead has been a central feature of Christianity from the earliest times. As Paul put it: But if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, and your faith is vain too (1 Cor. 15.14). Scholars have however found the origins of Christian belief in Jesus’ Resurrection very difficult to understand. Moreover, the subject is phenomenally controversial, because religious and anti- religious convictions about it are so strong. Conservative Christians believe not merely that Jesus rose from the dead, but that he rose bodily from the dead, leaving an empty tomb behind. This is in accordance with the witness of all four canonical Gospels. In recent years, there have been two outstanding scholarly defences of this tradition, the standard works of William Lane Craig, and of Bishop Tom Wright. Many educated Christians, on the other hand, believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, but not bodily. They follow what used to be a conventional view among critical scholars, that the disciples saw appearances of Jesus after his death, but that the stories of the empty tomb are not literally true. As Barnabas Lindars put it, ‘so far from being the origin of belief in the Resurrection, the empty tomb stories arose from this belief.’

Casey follows this observation with his final chapter – on the question of the resurrection. This chapter will be of great interest to many.

Will the Gospel of John Become the Foundation of a ‘Fourth’ Quest for the Historical Jesus

The Sheffieldians don’t seem to think so while Paul Anderson does seem to think so.  So this is quite a conundrum: on the one hand we have M. Casey’s new volume questing for an Aramaic Jesus and Michaels describing (in his new commentary on John) the importance of John for HJ studies, and Anderson and Thatcher’s interest in the Gospel of John as source for HJ reconstruction.

Fun times ahead!

[And I’ll go ahead and make the pre-announcement- that on the Biblical Studies list very early in the New Year we will host a colloquium with Tom Thatcher on the Gospel of John as source for the Historical Jesus.  A colloquium which will follow on the heels of our discussions with Maurice Casey.  The full announcement and details will appear in November].

The Casey Colloquium: Excerpt Three

This excerpt comes from Casey’s discussion of the ‘Jesus Seminar’-

The methods adopted by the Seminar were however sufficient to prevent these aims [i.e., the aim of discovering the Historical Jesus- J.W.] from being achieved. In the first place, some of the best scholars in the USA, such as E. P. Sanders, J. A. Fitzmyer and Dale Allison, were not members of it. The absence of these scholars was compounded by the actual membership, and by the method of deciding whether material in the Gospels was historically accurate. A number of ‘Fellows’ of the Seminar had only recently completed doctorates at American institutions, and the Seminar decided the authenticity of material about Jesus by majority vote, averaged out as the ‘Fellows’ did not agree with each other. In practice, this meant an averaged majority vote by people who were not in any reasonable sense authorities at all.

Casey’s discussion of the Jesus Seminar, Crossan’s work, and other modern contributions to the Quest all leads up to Casey’s own presentation. It’s the ‘here’s what’s come before and why it’s inadequate’ methodology we are all quite familiar with. Before you can build, you have to destroy. And Casey does a fine job of destroying insufficient approaches.

Once more, don’t forget, we’ve got a contest going offering a free copy of Prof. Casey’s book to the winner (as chosen by James Spinti and myself).

The Casey Colloquium: Excerpt Two

The second excerpt from Maurice Casey’s Jesus of Nazareth concerns the rise of the study of the Historical Jesus during the Nazi era. This is, for me, one of the most engaging and interesting parts of the book. But of course I’ve long been interested in that place (Germany) and that period (the 20th century). Casey introduces the section by writing-

The years after Schweitzer’s major contribution form the most disreputable part of the story of the quest, and one of the most illuminating episodes in the history of scholarship. This is however being concealed by an academic myth, according to which scholars are now working on the third quest for the historical Jesus. The first quest was supposedly torpedoed by Schweitzer in 1906, when he showed that the liberal quest of the historical Jesus essentially consisted of scholars looking in a mirror and finding in Jesus an image of themselves. Schweitzer’s demolition of the first quest was so devastating that it brought the quest to a halt. The second quest was begun by Käsemann in a 1953 lecture, published in 1954. It therefore seems at first sight reasonable that we should call the period between Schweitzer and Käsemann the period of ‘no quest’.

That’s an appetite whetter and the section doesn’t disappoint. To be sure, it does remind us that scholars always carry baggage with them. Sometimes that’s bad and so colors results that nothing useful is produced.

And don’t forget, we’ve got a contest going offering a free copy of Prof. Casey’s book to the winner (as chosen by James Spinti and myself).