and Luke; M is the source of Matthew's unique material and L of Luke's. As for John, that gospel is later, whether dependent or not, so, the natural assumption being that the best picture of the historical Jesus lay in the earliest sources, it could be largely disregarded. Conveniently, given the scepticism of the questers about myth, Mark and Q have no birth narratives or post-resurrection appearances, and M and L are different at these points; so source-criticism appeared to facilitate attempts to go back to Jesus' teaching and the events of his public ministry. In the 'liberal lives', Mark's outline was taken as the basis for writing a chronological account of the public ministry. Yet, at the point where Schweitzer demolished the liberal accounts ofJesus as projections, Wrede59 showed that Mark was itself the product of post-resurrection faith. The gospel presented the message of the church about Christ the Saviour, and this was quite different from the message of Jesus about God and his kingdom. The Markan device of the 'messianic secret' was deployed to conceal this.
Besides, there was still a gap between the sources and the life of Jesus. So there arose form-criticism: the attempt to analyse the oral traditions behind the discrete units in the written sources. Notoriously this led one of its greatest practitioners, Rudolf Bultmann, to declare, I do indeed think that we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus.'60 Everything in the gospels was remembered and shaped to serve community needs. So interest shifted to plotting the way in which the gospel writers crafted their accounts, whether out of previous written sources or disparate oral units (redaction criticism). Jesus was elusive, since all that was available were the portraits painted by his faithful followers or their followers, coloured by the emerging beliefs of the early church. The stages in the development of christological doctrine constituted the new history to be written. A sharp break was drawn between the Jewish context ofJesus' life and ministry and the Greek environment of the spreading Gentile church, and this drew upon the theories of the History of Religions school61 to attribute to Hellenistic culture the development ofChristianity as a religion focused on Jesus Christ as Lord, a cult regarded as inconceivable within the context of Jewish monotheism. Paul became the 'founder of Christianity', and both he and the author of the gospel of John were regarded as influenced by Gnosticism. Importantly, espousing
59 Wrede, The messianic secret.
60 Jesus and the Word, 8. The classic form-critical analysis of the gospel material is Bultmann's History of the synoptic tradition. Despite his much-quoted remark, Bultmann did sketch a picture ofJesus both here and in his Theology of the New Testament.
61 See Neill and Wright, Interpretation of the New Testament; Bousset (see above) is a representative of this school.
Was this article helpful?