I begin a course on the Historical Jesus at Duke tomorrow and I am putting together the teaching materials at the moment. As I introduce the topic, my mind turned to why it is that we have to spend such a lot of time trying to get our heads round this topic. Here are my summary reasons as to why the Historical Jesus Quest is such a massive task:
(1) So much data is missing, e.g. there is so little on Jesus’ life before 30.
(2) The data we do have is highly prejudiced, mainly pro-Christian propaganda.
(3) The sources we have are disputed -- different scholars value the sources differently
(4) The sources are sometimes contradictory and difficult to interpret.
(5) Our distance from the data is so great – we read our own prejudices into the texts.
(6) And now there is so much secondary literature available that it is difficult to navigate our way through it all.
(7) Jesus is a figure in whom so many have a stake, and the quest is often controversial.
I will go on to tell the students, though, that the news is not all bad. We are actually surprisingly well informed about Jesus compared to many other figures from the ancient world.