Monday, 7 July 2014

The Third Quest

The end of the second quest was brought about by the exposure of the romanticism of the quest itself. The idealism held by Robinson and Käsemann had an impact on much of the New Testament scholarly community, including how one looked at the kerygma of the text, but additionally it brought about the realization, at least for a period of time, that by either separating the kerygma from the text, or by leaving it in, there was no way to establish with any sort of certainty the historical Jesus. But with the second quests failures, the next generation of historical Jesus scholars were ready to start the new crusade to find him; all they needed was a catalyst to ignite the flames once again. That catalyst was the former-monk-turned-New-Testament-scholar John Dominic Crossan.

There had been books previously published before 1991, for example Morton Smith published his book on who he thought was the historical Jesus in 1982, entitled Jesus the Magician. E.P. Sanders had published his book Jesus and Judaism. Geza Vermes also published a book similar in concept to Sanders called Jesus the Jew: A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels in 1981. These books were either floaters of the failures of the second quest, or in themselves attempts at reinitiating a quest. Their unsuccessful attempt at renewing the quest was not due to their writing or their scholarship. Instead, they lacked a push that Crossan received in 1991 from the New York Timesreligion reporter, With a front page review, this article helped springboard the sales of Crossan’s book, although it would be a falsehood to say that was completely the reason, and also launched the new, third quest for the historical Jesus.

The Historical Jesus was more than just a singular perspective of a historical Jesus; it was a critical review of the Gospel accounts, and the first attempt to really be popularized to expose the individual theological perspectives of the various Gospel authors. Robinson, but not to Crossan who writes, “It is precisely that fourfold record that constitutes the core problem. If you read…them horizontally and comparatively, focusing on this or that unit and comparing it across two, three, or four versions, it is disagreement rather than agreement that strikes you most forcibly. And those divergences stem not from the random vagaries of memory and recall but from the coherent and consistent theologies of the individual texts. The gospels are, in other words, interpretations.” 

With that last sentence, he exposed the new thinking of the new quest. Originally, the two previous quests had assumed to some degree that the gospel of Mark at the very least was written with some actual memories of Jesus, and the other gospel authors drew upon the kerygma of the church to enhance these memories. Crossan, drawing from a Catholic background as opposed to Bultmann’s Protestantism, deterred from the assumption that the sayings of Jesus were the foundation of the historical Jesus, in fact makes this apparent in his autobiography. Instead, Crossan put forth the idea in his Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography the foundation of some of the gospels were scripture reinterpretation and had absolutely nothing to do with kerygma at all, which he erroneously only ascribes to Matthew and Luke. This is a divergence from the original quests, as there had been no way to note this usage, mostly because both quests failed to examine the time period socially and anthropologically, as the first quest had an ill-established historical methodology, while the second was engrossed in romanticism. Additionally, the New Testament scholarship of both earlier quests had not yet caught up to Old Testament scholarship established primarily by Wellhausen, which had prompted the shift in viewpoint that the Old Testament was actual history to the Old Testament being redacted reinterpretation of other ancient Near Eastern mythology and folklore.

At the time of the second quest, the debate on the historicity of the patriarchal narratives was still raging, with a slow but steady slide towards ahistoricity. New Testament scholarship was simply not yet ready to take the same leap at that point, and for many Bultmannians engaged in this romanticism, the concept of ahistoricity on any particular level was unthinkable.

It may have been the introduction of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic apocrypha that ultimately lead to a more critical look at the New Testament, as well as a variety of Roman period material, including some pseudepigrapha and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. With the translations of these texts, it was discovered that there were more perspectives than simply the synoptic gospels, John and the epistles on who Jesus might have been, and it is only right to give the credit of the induction of the Gnostic manuscripts to the Jesus quest to a key player in the second quest, James M. Robinson himself. But more specifically, the shift between the second quest and the third, most recent, quest is the dismissal of Bultmannian theology of this singular, universal credo or kerygma based on a historical Jesus and historical events that drove the foundations of the early church, to a more segmented kerygma, such as the development of oral tradition that third quest scholars suggest can be found in various textual verses and phrases. Many of the third quest scholars seem to defer to this early “Christology;” that this oral tradition was handed down, altered, and changed to reflect confessions related to initiation into the Christian religion, and are no longer considered as singular as Bultmann had thought.

Following the induction of the seminar, many fellows of the seminar went off to write their own conclusions concerning the historical Jesus. This was the vanguard of the third quest, which has finally started to wind down. The conclusions of the seminar and the third quest itself were the most stunning to the conservative wing of scholars working to hold on to the preservation of the New Testament as historical works. Out of all three quests, the third was the most critical, and left in its wake an array of retaliatory books and quests to dismiss the quest and many fellows.