Let’s conclude my long-running review of Chris Keith’s Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict. I won’t try to summarize everything I’ve written so far – you can read it in all of its wordy detail here, in parts one, two and three. But briefly: Keith argues that Jesus’ teaching in synagogue drew comparison to the Jewish scribes, because it generally fell to Jews who were scribal-literate to read and explain Torah in synagogue. But Jesus was not scribal-literate (according to Keith), and this raised questions about his ability and authority to teach in synagogue. This questioning eventually became pointed and hostile and grew into full-blown conflict, with the result that Jesus wound up on the “radar” of the Jewish authorities as a potential troublemaker. Keith is quick to point out that he is looking at the issues that first brought Jesus to the attention of the authorities, which are certainly not the same issues that precipitated Jesus’ execution. Or as Keith bluntly put it, Jesus was not crucified “because of confusion over scribal literacy and scribal authority.”
I’ve already posted that I don’t fully agree with Keith’s take on “the origins of the conflict.” Nevertheless, I’m enthusiastically positive about Keith’s subject matter and the way he approaches it. Why? Because the topic of “Jesus Against the Scribal Elite” addresses one of my big New Testament questions: what’s so terrible about being a scribe?
In my last post I sketched out the history of The Quest for the Historical Jesus (yes, that history has a history of its own!). You may have wondered why I spent so much time describing what’s come before … one reason is that this history helps explain what we see now, in the present-day Quest.
Let’s talk about the present day. We are in the midst of what the scholars call the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus. Characteristic of the Third Quest is an effort to understand Jesus within the context of first century Palestinian Judaism, and to ask how the historical Jesus led to the rise of early Christianity. In this way, the Third Quest is a change in direction – the criterion of double dissimilarity (discussed in my last post) led earlier scholars to judge as authentic the acts and sayings of Jesus that differed from Judaism and the early Church.
I have been giving this blog a hard think. I’ve received positive critical reaction to this blog, but I have not received as much reaction as I had hoped for. I’ve heard from some that this blog is too intellectual, too hard to follow, and perhaps not personal enough. I’m thinking about what to do to make this site a friendlier place for people to speak their minds.
In the meantime, on the Earliest Christianity site, I’ve had on and off discussions with Bgglencoeok, a man of considerable intellect and great passion. Our discussions there have focused on the “Quest for the Historical Jesus”. At my invitation, Bgglencoeok has posted a comment here, and I promised to write a post to go with his comment. You’ll (soon) find his comment below. Perhaps this is a metaphor for how to build a blog audience! First you comment, then I post.
So here goes. What follows is a summary of the “Quest for the Historical Jesus.”