Sunday, January 22, 2006

American Jesus scholarship coming of age?

I am preparing a lecture at the moment on the contemporary scene in Historical Jesus scholarship (having taking a lecture on Schweitzer, then a lecture on Bultmann, Käsemann and the new quest, then a lecture on Geza Vermes and Ed Sanders) and as I re-read some materials on the Jesus Seminar, I am struck by this comment from the late Robert Funk, just a little over twenty years ago:
Perhaps most important of all, these developments have taken place predominantly, though not exclusively, in American scholarship. We need not promote chauvinism; we need only recognize that American biblical scholarship threatens to come of age, and that in itself is a startling new stage in our academic history. We may even be approaching the time when Europeans, if they know what they are about, will come to North America on sabbaticals to catch up, rather than the other way around. It is already clear that Europeans who do not read American scholarship are falling steadily behind. (Opening Remarks of Jesus Seminar Founder, Robert Funk, 21-24 March 1985)
It's interesting to read that prophecy of not so long ago, and in many ways Funk has been proved right. In Historical Jesus studies at least, one's mind naturally turns to Germans, and a handful of Brits prior to 1970. But the last thirty years or so have been quite different.

I'm wondering about geographical affiliations of Jesus questers in recent times. I suppose that a surprising number of so-called third questers have an association with the U.K., Geza Vermes, Anthony Harvey, Tom Wright. Ed Sanders had written Jesus and Judaism prior to coming to Oxford in 1984, but it was published in 1985. Then there's Gerd Theissen in Germany. There are of course many prominent Americans too, Ben Meyer, John P. Meier, Paula Fredriksen, Dale Allison and more. Jesus Seminar folk, on the other hand, tend to be almost exclusively based in the US, and perhaps that is no coincidence in the light of Funk's remarks above.

An aside on the same topic, I have struggled with attempts to categorize recent Jesus scholarship and I am inclined to agree with Dale Allison in "The Secularizing of the Historical Jesus"* that the now standard division into three quests is misleading and unhelpful. Nevertheless, I was struck today to see that Lane McGaughy consciously aligns the Jesus Seminar's work with the work of the New Quest (The Search for the Historical Jesus: Why start with the sayings?). I was struck because I had thought that Tom Wright's category "renewed new quest" in his inventory in Jesus and the Victory of God was a kind of marginalizing of the work of Crossan et al. I had not realized that it was in the Jesus Seminar's own self-description. Notice, in particular, the following:
The agenda of the Jesus Seminar thus evolved from the New Quest and its attempt to reconstruct the teaching of the historical Jesus. In distinction from the so-called Third Quest which is attempting to locate Jesus within the religious and social world of first-century Judaism, the work of the Jesus Seminar may be seen as a renewal and extension of the New Quest (though some members of the Jesus Seminar may see their own work as part of the Third Quest). In chapter four of his recent book Honest to Jesus, Robert Funk refers to the work of the Jesus Seminar not as part of the Third Quest, but as the Renewed Quest for Jesus . . . . The work of the Jesus Seminar can thus be seen as the continuation of the New Quest for the historical Jesus.
I'm really surprised by the explicit acknowledgement that there are others who are engaged in a different enterprise, and the apparent distancing from the task of "attempting to locate jesus within hte religious and social world of first-century Judaism". I thought that everyone took for granted that one of the very reasons for the collapse of the new quest was its negative evaluation of what it so shockingly called "late Judaism".

* This was on-line on Dale Allison's homepage for ages, but it seems that it is no longer there, nor are any of his other articles (and there's a new pic.). Google locates a version here but I don't know if it's legitimate or not. Anyway, if you have a copy of Resurrecting Jesus (and if you haven't, why not?), it's the first essay in there, and a cracking read, as is the whole book.


Andrew Criddle said...

For earlier version of Dale Allison's site see:

For article "The Secularizing of the Historical Jesus" see:

Michael F. Bird said...

Mark, in "Honest to Jesus",Bob Funk deliberately dissassociated the Jesus Seminar from the Third Quest, and in fact, he had little nice to say about the Third Quest. If you're interested I can try to find you the page numbers

Michael Pahl said...

Mark, I did a short review of Resurrecting Jesus on my blog a couple of weeks ago, and in it I generally agreed with Allison on his criticisms of these categories, although I still think there are identifiable "family characteristics" among current questers which distinguish some general lines among them.

Anonymous said...

For "'Third questers' as N. T. Wright calls them ... like Raymond E. Brown and John P. Meier ... Faith seems to make them immune to the facts ...[whereas for] renewed questers ... everything is at stake."
Funk HTJ pp. 65-6.