In the Summing Up post, I want to quibble with a couple of things. First, Scot says:
Above all and over everything in historical Jesus studies is an echo of something Schweitzer said long ago: When historical Jesus scholars look down into the deep well of the evidence for Jesus they tend to see a Jesus that looks alot like themselves.Although this image is often attributed to Schweitzer, it in fact comes from George Tyrrell, who wrote:
The Christ that Harnack sees, looking back through nineteen centuries of Catholic darkness, is only the reflection of a Liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well.(George Tyrrell, Christianity at the Crossroads (London and New York: Longmans, Green and Co, 1909), 44 [world cat link]). I am grateful to Ken Olson for digging this out during an interesting thread on the topic on the Xtalk mailing list several years ago. Before then, I had myself often attributed the "well" image to Schweitzer.
Liberals find a liberal Jesus; conservatives find a conservative Jesus. No one doesn’t care — don’t let them fool you. Which means what? We need serious deconstruction every time we read a book about Jesus. Every time; every book; mine too. Everyone wants Jesus on their side.There is unquestionably a lot of truth in this, but I think we need to be careful. There are some historians who appear to have a better claim than others of not reconstructing Jesus sympathetic to their own views. I think E. P. Sanders is, again, the outstanding example here. But I would add that Dale Allison often confesses himself troubled by the historical Jesus, especially with respect to his imminent eschatology. I share that anxiety. I've noticed a danger in teaching related to this too. If one stresses too strongly the extent to which people construct Jesus in their own image, students can take it as an subtle invitation to do the same. It's one of the reasons I like to spend a good deal of time on Schweitzer in my opening class when I teach the Historical Jesus, to introduce students to the notion of struggling with what historical investigation can reveal.
One or two other queries:
Second, the driving force of the historical Jesus quest is the desire to wedge apart the Church’s beliefs about Jesus (the Gospels, the Creeds) and what “disinterested” scholarship can recover about Jesus on the basis of historical methods.Wouldn't Tom Wright go in this category? He resists the "wedge".
Fourth, I don’t think historical Jesus has any place in theological studies for the Church. To bracket off one’s theological views in order to study the historical Jesus and then to do theological studies on top of that bracketed-off-study-of-Jesus is a vicious circular argument. You won’t find the Church’s Jesus this way because you’ve decided the Church’s Jesus isn’t allowed at the table! Historical Jesus studies is for historians.Although I understand the point being made here, I would want to add that the doctrine of the incarnation itself gives sufficient reason for Christians to be interested in historical Jesus studies.
Fifth, still, nearly every historical Jesus scholar I know — and I know most of them — believes in the portrait of Jesus they construct on the basis of the historical methods. John Dominic Crossan and Marc Borg and Tom Wright and Dick Horsley et al believe, so it seems to me, in the Jesus they have constructed. (We all do this, don’t we?)I don't think so; cf. the example of Ed Sanders, for example. (Am I beginning to sound like a Johnny-one-note?). And if this is true, then it should be resisted and criticized, or we have not learnt Schweitzer's lesson, right?
One last point of interest (to me):
Sixth, historical Jesus studies have waned significantly in the last ten years. The hey day was the 80s and 90s but the creative work has been done, climaxing perhaps in Tom Wright’s big book, and mostly the conversation has grown stale. What used to attract hundreds to academic sessions now attracts 30 or 40.I hadn't thought of things like this, but it's a very interesting point. I wonder if there is a danger that we have rather domesticated and normalized historical Jesus studies too far. There is so much of it; it is so much in the mainstream that it has become somewhat less exciting. I am tempted to add that I have not seen anything in twenty years that begins to approach Sanders's Jesus and Judaism for stimulation and interest, but then I really would sound like a Johnny-one-note.