Who Was the Historical Jesus? Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D. Professor of Biblical Studies & Early Christianity John Carroll University
HISTORICAL CONSCIOUSNESS DEFINITION: The awareness that all human phenomena are particular, defined in themselves by the particular time, place and circumstances by which they are constituted and circumscribed. In order to understand them accurately, this must be considered. -- Ernst Troeltsch
CONSEQUENCESof Historical Consciousness There is no such thing as a completely autonomous individual self. Each individual is strongly affected by the time, place and culture in which one exists. The individual person is at root social, a responding self -- each act of an individual is responsive to the impact of world, others, society. It becomes difficult to design a definitive anthropology; universalizing tendencies are held in question (i.e., trying to define “human nature as such”). When this is attempted, the result is either so abstract as to be useless or contradicted by actual historical existence. Historical human existence is characterized by disorder rather than order, always ambiguous to an extent.
CONSEQUENCESfor understanding texts Texts need to be read in terms of the particular historical and social conditions that gave them birth. It is impossible to reproduce in our own consciousness the consciousness of the authors of texts. We cannot put ourselves into a past age. We bring our own presuppositions to our reading of the texts of the past according to our own ways of thinking, and the historical and social conditions of our own time. 18th century awareness of historical consciousness set into motion the Quest for the Historical Jesus.
THE NATURE OF HISTORICAL RESEARCH Dependent upon testimony (texts, archaeological evidence) Absolute certainty is never its end result. Why? Testimony is never identical to the actual facts testified to; it is already an interpretation of fact. Historians interpret the testimony. We bring our own presuppositions to the interpretations of historians. It is possible to build up an image of the past (an hypothesis) -- usually a broad, general picture with a few details helping to flesh it out.
Roman Catholic Teaching on the Historical-Critical Method 1943: Pius XII’s encyclical DivinoAfflanteSpiritu encouraged scientific study of Bible. 1964: Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Historical Truth of the Gospels, outlines 3 stages in the formation of the gospels. 1965: Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum on Divine Revelation, emphasized the importance of scripture for Catholics; encouraged historical-critical study of Scripture.
WHY IS THE HISTORICAL JESUS IMPORTANT? Christianity claims to be an historical religion, based upon God’s activities in history; it is not primarily mythology or philosophy. It is based on the actual encounter between Jesus and his followers. The early faith proclamation of the NT (the kerygma) refers to the pre-Easter Jesus. We must take Jesus’ humanity seriously; otherwise we are tempted to Docetism. Without taking the actual historical Jesus seriously, Jesus becomes a kind of blank screen upon which to project our own desires, attitudes, values.
STAGES IN GOSPEL FORMATION Original words and deeds of Jesus (c. 30 CE) Historical criticism Oral proclamation (c. 30-70 CE) Form criticism Actual writing of the gospels (c. 70-100 CE) Redaction criticism NB: In the gospels, we have primarily #3; we can only speculate about #1 and #2. Such speculation is a legitimate area of scholarship.
The Synoptic Problemor Two-Source Theory Using the material from Mark and Q, there were many attempts to write biographies of the life of Jesus.
HISTORICITY OF THE “SAYINGS TRADITION” (Q) The contexts given for Jesus’ sayings are not historically reliable. The church felt free to put on the lips of Jesus what they later understood about him. We can assume some continuity between the Jesus of the ministry and the words attributed to him. Gospel sayings probably do not reflect Jesus actual words verbatim. They do reflect the general sense or spirit of what he was trying to say.
CRITERIA FOR HISTORICAL AUTHENTICITY Aramaicisms Brevity Principle of dissimilarity Principle of multiple attestation Principle of coherence Based on such criteria, scholars established an historical minimum of facts about Jesus.
The Second Quest Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976) Made a rigid distinction between the Jesus of history & the Christ of faith. Impossible to know much about the historical Jesus. The Jesus of history has no relevance for Christian faith. The Christ of faith alone is important. Christianity began, not with the historical Jesus, but with the Christ of faith.
RESPONSE TO BULTMANN The Second or New Quest for the Historical Jesus Protest by some of Bultmann’s students No full biography of Jesus can be written; not enough data. The New Quest is content with a general picture of him, with a few historical facts about him. Impossible to get an uninterpreted Jesus, unaffected by the faith of the church. Important to demonstrate a line of continuity between the historical man Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ of faith as confessed by the church.
The Third Quest Interested in placing Jesus as a figure in his social history. Jesus is interpreted as a Jew of first century Palestine -- interest in the writings, archaeological discoveries of the period which can shed light on the figure of Jesus. Attention to non-canonical as well as canonical sources. Two main trends: non-eschatological picture of Jesus or Jesus as a figure of “restoration eschatology.” Criterion of plausibility replaces the criterion of difference as a methodological foundation of research: What is plausible in the Jewish context of Jesus and in the rise of Christianity may well be historical.
Putting Jesus in His Place Galilean Judaism “Galilee of the Gentiles” New city of Sepphoris Effects of Romanization
Jesus’ “Way” Jesus creates a fence around the Torah E.g., antitheses of Matt 5:21–48 Stringent “social” ethic Proclamation of imperial rule of the one, true God v. “divine Caesar”
Caesar “Augustus” (worshipful)son of the Divine Julius
AN HISTORICAL MINIMUM OF FACTS ABOUT JESUS Native of Nazareth in Galilee Raised in a pious Jewish family; was a practicing Jew, and a reformer of the Jewish religion. Baptized by John at about age 30. Was understood and probably understood himself as a prophet. Had a close relationship with God, whom he called “Abba.” Was a charismatic preacher, healer, & exorcist. Associated with people of all social classes, but with special concern for the poor, sinners, & marginalized with whom he practiced table fellowship. His main message concerned the coming Reign of God. Gathered disciples, whom he instructed to continue his message. Entered Jerusalem amid acclamation. Overturned moneychangers’ tables in Temple (a prophetic act). Denounced by some of the Jewish leaders (Sadducees) to the Romans. Crucified by the Romans as a messianic pretender “King of the Jews.” Some of his followers---initially women, and then men as well---claimed they saw him after he was raised to life from the dead
HISTORY & THEOLOGY JESUS IS Historical human Of I CE Palestine Events of his life What happened? THE GOSPELS ARE A COMBINATION OF BOTH OF THESE THE CHRIST God’s Anointed Initiator of God’s Kingdom Theological interpretation What does it mean? WITH EMPHASIS UPON THE LATTER.