Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thoughts on the historicity of Jesus

I’m still doing reading in the field of “the quest of the historical Jesus” and just finished reviewing one of the texts I’ll use for the class, The Historical Jesus:  Five Views (IVP Academic, 2009), edited by James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy of Bethel University. The five views range from Robert M. Price (denial of the very historical existence of Jesus) to John Dominic Crossan (Jesus as a non-violent anti-imperialist) to Luke Timothy Johnson (what matters is not the historical Jesus but the Jesus of faith constructed by the Evangelists) to James D. G. Dunn (what matters is not the historical Jesus but the Jesus remembered in the church’s “living tradition”) to Darrell L. Bock (evangelical view which upholds continuity between the historical Jesus and the presentation of him in the canonical Gospels).

As for Robert Price’s revival of the “Jesus Myth” theory, here is Albert Schweitzer’s assessment of this view as it was presented in his day:

It is clear, then, as a matter of fact, from the writings of those that dispute the historicity of Jesus that the hypothesis of His existence is a thousand times easier to prove than that of His nonexistence.  That does not mean that the hopeless undertaking is being abandoned.  Again and again books appear about the nonexistence of Jesus and find credulous readers, although they contain nothing new or going beyond Robertson, Smith, Drews, and the other classics of this literature, but have to be content with giving out as new what has already been said (Out of My Life and Thought, p. 129).

Even arch-skeptic Bart Ehrman in his most recent book, Did Jesus Exist?  The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (HarperOne, 2012) vigorously affirms the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, even as he rejects with equal vigor orthodox confessional claims about him.  Ehrman’s point seems to be that you might not believe in Jesus, but you ought at least believe that he did exist as a historical figure.

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