Let’s conclude the series here on the Quest for the Historical Jesus. We’ve looked at Quest history, some common Quest portraits of the historical Jesus, and the criticism leveled at the Quest by its most determined recent critics. We have two posts left to go. In these last posts, I’ll look at a technique that has emerged in recent studies of the historical Jesus: the effort to understand Jesus history as a product of human memory.
Your response here might be a resounding “d’oh!” Of course history is a product of memory – it’s impossible to imagine a history of something that no one remembers. Moreover, even if things other than memory can be used to create a history — audio and video recordings, original documents in archives and libraries, stuff dug up by archeologists – we’d still need access to things remembered in order to complete the history, fill in the gaps and explain the other source material.
Let’s continue our discussion of the Quest for the Historical Jesus. In part one of this series, we considered the history of the Quest, and in part two I described some of the work produced under the current “Third Quest”. Throughout this series I’ve referred to Quest critics who deride the “profitable trade” in sensational and supposedly controversial material about Jesus. In response, I’ve suggested that diverse portrayals of the historical Jesus reflect our rebellious religious personality. At least in the United States, many of us are religious questers by nature, so the Quest will go on, no matter what the critics say.
But let’s look a little deeper at the criticism directed at the Quest by recent scholars. Here, I am indebted to a terrific book edited by Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, “Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity”, that includes chapters by Dale Allison, Mark Goodacre and other leading scholars of early Christianity. But for the Quest critique, I’ll rely mostly on the book’s introduction, written by Morna Hooker.