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Jesus Research: New Volume

March 20, 2015

For those interested in latest developments in “Jesus-research” (which = especially research on the historical figure of Jesus), a recent volume comes recommended: James H. Charlesworth (ed.), Jesus Research: New Methodologies and Perceptions. The Second Princeton-Prague Symposium on Jesus Research. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014.  The publisher’s online catalogue entry is here..

Especially in a time when old-and-long-ago-refuted ideas of a “mythical” Jesus are again circulating (this time, thanks to the Internet, with rapidity and without critique, and with little awareness that they’re not new), I sometimes get asked what do scholars in the main think of matters.  This multi-author volume will serve as an indication of what scholarship in the field is up to, what methods are used, what texts are studied, and, generally, what conclusions seem cogent.

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  1. Hugh Scott permalink

    I have (not yet?) bought this book, but I have been dipping into the pages available on my computer. May I comment on the first essay, by the late Geza Vermes. Vermes ends his essay saying: “In fact, Jewish tradition knew nothing of a dying and rising Messiah, so we are dealing with a Christian apologetic midrash’.

    This is a long-held position of Vermes. I quote from a book, ‘The Messiah Before Jesus’, by Israel Knohl, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (published in 2002). Knohl quotes Vermes’s ‘Jesus the Jew’ (1981, p. 38): “Neither the suffering of the Messiah, nor his death and resurrection, appear to have been part of the faith of first-century Judaism” (Knohl, p. 106, Notes). But Knohl then says (page 2): “In this book I intend to counter these claims. I propose to show that Jesus really did regard himself as the Messiah and truly expected the Messiah to be rejected, killed and resurrected after three days, for this is precisely what was believed to have happened to a messianic leader who had lived one generation before Jesus”.

    But, though I value Knohl’s claims for the existence of this messianic EXPECTATION in the Qumran community, Knohl destroys his case by claiming that these messianic claims were FULFILLED in an obscure Menahem, who was killed in an anti-Roman revolt in 4 BC.

    Amazingly,in 1999, , Michael O. Wise of the University of Chicago published a book called ‘The First Messiah’, attributing messianic claims and fulfilment to an invented figure whom he then equates with the Teacher of Righteousness of Qumran, and who would have died about 76 BC.

    These two claimants are totally unconvincing. The one convincing claimant to be the Messiah remains Jesus of Nazareth. See, for example, the writings of Joel Marcus.

    • Hugh: “Convincing” is in the eye of the beholder, obviously. Most Jews have never accepted Jesus as Messiah. Part of the reason is that he doesn’t fit the expectation. The world appears to be unchanged. But, yes, Vermes is a much better indication of the data on the question of whether a suffering/dying Messiah was expected in ancient Jewish tradition. It’s not till the Messiah ben Joseph traditions, which post-date early Christian preaching, that we see anything that comes close.

      • Hugh Scott permalink

        Thank you for your comment. I’m afraid that I must disagree with much of it.
        You say: “‘Convincing’ is in the eye of the beholder”. Of course. But that observation does not end the matter here. Surely it is the task of scholarship to examine which beholder has the clearest eye on this or that particular issue, when there is not absolute unanimity. In this particular instance, I respectfully submit that Vermes’s verdict that “Jewish tradition knew nothing of a dying and rising Messiah, so we are dealing with a Christian apologetic midrash” is only the view of his ‘eye’, which is flatly contradicted by two other scholars skilled in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Michael Wise and Israel Kohl.
        Each of these authors puts forward his (different!) candidate, Knohl’s for 4 BC, Wise’s for 76 BC, who, they claim, applied to themselves the prophecies of the Isaianic Suffering Servant and other OT texts, and who accepted that they would suffer and die for their belief that each of them {unconnectedly, of course] was the Saviour of Israel foretold by the OT prophets, and who would in some mysterious way continue to lead saved Israel after their salvific deaths. But both of them died without thier ‘crisis cult’ followers leaving any significalnt trace in history.
        Although, I repeat, the claims put forward by Wise and Knohl for thier candidates are totally unconvincing, I do not accept Vemes’s blanket statement that ‘Jewish tradition knew nothing of a dying and rising Messiah’ before Jesus’. Wise quotes and quotes and quotes from the Dead Sea Scroll that this was indeed a very live issue, and Knohl’s book explicitly targets Vermes’s view as being incorrect.
        In a word, I do not believe that modern ‘Jesus Research’ supports Vermes.

      • Hugh: Let it go, please. This isn’t the issue of the posting. Also, your comment is puzzling. You don’t accept Vermes’ claim, but also you don’t accept the claims by Wise and Kohl. But, as I say, let it go. I know of no one other than Wise and Kohl in the Qumran scholarship community who assent to their claims. Vermes isn’t the maverick, they are. But enough.

  2. Mark Lamas Jr. permalink

    Dr. Hurtado,
    I am currently reading through the aforementioned work (into it about 350 pages), and I was curious if you could recommend any sources for current/new theory of historiographical methodology? Particularly, application outside of Biblical Studies. I am thinking along the lines of Dr. Porter’s chapter, though it only makes mention of a few “older” works…

    Thanks for you time.

    Mark L.

    • One recent study is this: Elizabeth A. Clark, History, Theory, Text: Historians and the Linguistic Turn (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004). She reviews various methods from 19th century approaches to latest “post-structuralist” ones.

  3. Brian permalink

    It’s nice to know Logos has the ebook for a more affordable price, for those who have Logos:

  4. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Which chapters in particular defend the idea of a historical Jesus? I can’t see any that suggest they do. The historical Jesus is always assumed and never proved in mainstream scholarship. It’s quite frustrating for people who would actually like to read both sides of the debate. Historicists just won’t lay their cards on the fable.

    • Donald: To ask that scholars in the field satisfy you and every Johnny-come-lately by going over the many bases for the view that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure is like asking for proof that the earth isn’t flat. The refutations of the “mythicist” case have been made periodically, each time the idea emerges (as if new): E.g., I have a copy of H.G.Wood, “Did Jesus Really Live?” (London: SCM,1938), which effectively answers the “mythicist” claims that had surfaced in the early 20th century (a re-emergence of claims from earlier times). More recently, Ehrman and Casey wrote books refuting the latest “mythicist” hoorah. Scholars of any faith/non-faith standpoint agree that Jesus was a real historical figure, on the bases of the various sources and factors. So, we get on with our work. Live with it.

  5. It works like a charm now – thank you! Looks like a must-have book. A definitely impressive list of scholars..

  6. I am afraid the link doesn’t work

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