How to Proceed

How then to proceed? A review of predecessors, past and contemporary, confirms what might be expected anyway, that there are several dangers to be avoided. For example, we recall the criticism of the Liberal quest as too much predetermined by intellectual and cultural predispositions. In other cases the validity of the presentation has depended to an uncomfortable extent on the interpretation offered of a particular saying. For example, it is widely recognized that Schweitzer's reconstruction was largely based on Matt. and the influen tial German conviction that Jesus looked for vindication from the heavenly Son of Man has been overly dependent on Luke Form criticism encouraged an

3. Particularly Quest2357-60.

4. Bornkamm, Jesus 176; Todt, Son of Man 55-60; F. Hahn, Christologische Hoheitstitel undue focus on the individual sayings within the Jesus tradition. Consequently the 'new' questers saw the way forward in terms of identifying criteria which would provide a 'critically assured' core of Jesus' teaching. The question whether Q (or Q1) gives immediate access to the historical Jesus (just as first questers were able to rely on Mark) has not been regularly asked (or not asked enough) in the current revival of interest in Q. Of contemporary questers, Theissen has been overconfident that the primary level of Jesus tradition sought to inculcate the practice of charismatic vagrancy.6 Funk is equally sure that the quest should begin with the parables of Jesus ('In the beginning was the parable') and that recognition of the authenticity of aphorisms should depend on whether they cohered with Jesus' own parable tradition.7 Benedict Viviano works from the thirty-one overlapping sayings in Q and Mark to reconstruct a surprisingly complete picture.8 In contrast, Sanders has stressed the methodological desirability of being able to build primarily on 'facts about Jesus' and not just on sayings, and much of his own study of Jesus depends on his entry point into the tradition at the 'cleansing' of the temple.9 Crossan has no doubt that the conjunction of three vectors (a rather broadly conceived cross-cultural anthropology, Greco-Roman and Jewish history, and literary or textual analysis), plus his idiosyncratic stratification of the totality of Jesus tradition, gives him a sure way forward.10 And Wright is equally convinced that by reading the elements of the Jesus tradi

(Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1963, s1995) 33-36, 455; ET The Titles of Jesus in Christology (London: Lutterworth, 1969) 28-34. Hahn accepted this observation in a private conversation in the late 1970s.

5. It is key question posed repeatedly in the 49th vain Colloquium (2000) — Lindemann, ed., The Sayings Source Q and the Historical Jesus. For example, J. M. Robinson assumes the case for distinguishing from Q2 and confidently draws afresh the old Liberal picture of Jesus as a preacher of God's love, an insight soon lost from sight by the Q2 redactor with his contrary emphasis on God as God of judgment (as a result of gruelling experiences during the Jewish war of 66-70) ('The Critical Edition of Q and the Study of Jesus', in Lindemann, Sayings Source 27-52 [here 39-47]), while Kloppenborg Verbin repeats earlier warnings against too quickly reading off the historical Jesus from Q1 ('Discursive Practices' 149-90; see particularly his 'Sayings Gospel Q').

6. Theissen, First Followers ch. 2.

7. Funk, Honest 136, 165; Funk acknowledges his indebtedness to Patterson, The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus. Similarly Acts of Jesus: 'The parables and aphorisms form the bedrock of the tradition. They represent the point of view of Jesus himself (9, 11).

8. B. T. Viviano, 'The Historical Jesus in the Doubly Attested Sayings: An Experiment', RB 103 (1996) 367-410.

9. Sanders, Jesus 4-5, and ch. 1, 'Jesus and the Temple' (61-76). Cf. already Roloff, who likewise emphasises that we must reckon not only with the tradition of Jesus' words but also with the narratives and whose entry point into the tradition is the Sabbath conflict and the cleansing of the Temple

10. Crossan, Historical Jesus xxxi-xxxii; also Jesus xi-xiii; also Birth 146-49.

tion against his meta-narrative of Israel in exile and restoration, he has the necessary 'large hypothesis', a serious historical hypothesis, within which all the details of the Jesus tradition find their place, a whole which illumines the parts most

My own conviction, arising from the considerations of the preceding chapters, is that it would be wise to look first at the broad picture,12 or, drawing on term, to look for the 'characteristic Jesus' rather than the dissimilar sus.13 Otherwise we are liable to become quickly bogged down and lost in a mire of details over individual disputed sayings.14 It should be noted that the oral paradigm is equally susceptible to the same danger, since the variations of performance prevent any easy access to some 'original form' in individual cases.15 If I am right, however, what we are looking at in the Jesus tradition, and what we are looking for through the Jesus tradition, is one whose mission was remembered for a number of features, each illustrated by stories and teaching and performed in the disciple circles and church gatherings, though not yet (properly speaking) 'documented' (the literary paradigm).16

11. Wright, Jesus, e.g., 79 (cited below in § 12.6c at n. 416), 88, 225, 245, 517, 576-77 ('the controlling story: exile and restoration'). He has presumably been influenced by Meyer, who enunciates two principles of historical criticism: 'The technique of history is the hypothesis'; 'Hypotheses require verification' (Aims 90-91).

12. This is my variation of what Telford has categorized as the 'holistic' method and the tendency to ask 'broader questions' ('Major Trends' 50, 52, 57).

13. See above chapter 5 at n. 80. My proposal here echoes Dahl's suggestion that we should focus on 'cross sections' of the tradition: 'Cross sections of the tradition bring to the fore what was characteristic. . . . Words and reports of differing form and genre, transmitted within various layers of the tradition, mutually illumine each other and yield a total picture in which there appears something that is characteristic of Jesus. Whether the historicity of individual words or episodes remains uncertain is consequently of less importance. The fact that these words and occurrences found a place within the tradition about Jesus indicates that they agreed with the total picture as it existed within the circle of the disciples' ('Problem' 95). Cf. also Crossan's focus on 'complexes' rather than individual sayings (HistoricalJesus xxxii-xxxiv); but Tuckett illustrates how arbitrary is his composition of these complexes ('Historical Jesus' 266-68, 270-72). Patterson uses Funk's term 'typifications' (God ofJesus 57-58, 271).

14. In Sanders' view, too much reliance on 'careful exegesis of the sayings material' has led too many NT scholars into a quagmire (Jesus and Judaism 131-33, 139), though his own method of correlating words with deeds allows him to be surprisingly confident in his own ability to reach a firm conclusion regarding what Jesus said about the Temple But 'characteristic emphases' can be substantiated without necessarily being able to set each saying in a particular context.

15. See, e.g., the recent debate on whether Matt. 6.25-33/Luke 12.22-31 or P.Oxy. 655 is earlier (below, chapter 14 n. 45).

16. Reiser, 'Eschatology' 223, cites H. Strasburger, 'Die Bibel in der Sicht eines Althistorikers', Studien zur Alten Geschichte (Hildesheim: George 01ms, 1990) 317-39: 'The very abundance of historical inconsistencies speaks in favor of an ... untidy, but certainly de-

The same considerations also offer a broad-brush criterion for the would-be quester to which appeal should be made before turning to particular detail. The criterion is this: any feature which is characteristic within the Jesus tradition and relatively distinctive of the Jesus tradition is most likely to go back to Jesus,17 that is, to reflect the original impact made by Jesus' teaching and actions on several at least of his first disciples. The logic is straightforward: if a feature is characteristic within and relatively distinctive of the Jesus tradition (in comparison with other Jewish traditions), then the most obvious explanation of its presence in the Jesus tradition is that it reflects the abiding impression which Jesus made on at least many of his first followers, which first drew them into and constituted their community with other disciples, and which was celebrated (together with the kerygmatic traditions of cross and resurrection) in the gatherings of the first churches through the first generation of Christianity.18

It should be noted once again that this approach to the Jesus tradition by no means excludes development within the tradition. It simply reconceives the processes of development. The oral paradigm acknowledges flexibility as well as stability; the Synoptic tradition demands no less by way of explanation of its lasting shape. All the Jesus tradition reflects the perspective of post-Easter faith, even though that developed faith has not left a material mark on many of the retellings. I have acknowledged that some sayings of early Christian prophets may be included within the present Jesus tradition, though not a lot, and only because they were consistent with the already received tradition. More to the point, in the retelling of various stories and sayings, as we have already observed, earlier tradition/performances have been supplemented or elaborated in different ways.19 The tradition has been clarified in the light of events. Whether the Evangelists drew such elaborations from the churches' repertoire or felt free to develop a point in oral mode is impossible to say; I am open to both possibilities. What I am clearer on, however, is that such developments most likely were along the lines indicated or allowed by the tradition, rather than introducing wholly veloped oral tradition whose honest basic effort at the beginnings of the formation of tradition was apparently to preserve as precise as possible a memory of Jesus, his teaching and proclamation, that is, to give a true and historical witness. And precisely this unique, unfalsifiable overall impression has undoubtedly been preserved in the canonical gospels ... no matter how many details in the accounts may still, and perhaps forever, remain disputable' (336-37).

17. As Funk notes, 'distinctive' is a better historical category than 'dissimilar' (Honest

18. The significance of these considerations for the resolution of classic disputes regarding the Son of Man and Jesus' preaching of the kingdom of God should be obvious; see below §§12.4-5 and 16.3-5. Schröter refers similarly to the Baptist and Son of Man traditions ('Markus, Q und der historische Jesus' 186-98).

new features or elements which cut across or contradicted the earlier thrust of the tradition.

The reconceptualizing of the traditioning process which I thus offer can be summed up as a call to recognize the living character of the process, as against thinking in terms of literary relationships between static entities (texts). To adapt Schweitzer's famous metaphor,20 the task of tracing the history of the Jesus tradition is not best conceptualized as an interminable journey through innumerable intermediate stations at which one must stop and change (the different layers of the tradition). The better image is a continuous run of performances of some classic, where performers and interpretation change but continue to perform the same classic. It is this postulate of continuity through performance which makes it realistic to identify an originating inspiration still audible in and through the diverse performances. That still audible impact of word and act is what gives 'the remembered Jesus' historical substance.

When we apply this initial criterion (what is characteristic and relatively distinct) to the Jesus tradition, a remarkably full portrayal quickly begins to take shape, as Sanders noted: a Galilean who emerged from the circle of John the Baptist and who operated for a lengthy period, most of his mission, in the small towns and villages of Galilee; a preacher whose main emphasis was the royal rule of God; a healer who was famous for his exorcisms in particular; a teacher who characteristically taught in aphorisms and parables, who successfully summoned many to follow him, and who had a close circle of twelve; a prophet who somehow challenged the Temple authorities and who was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem by the Roman authorities on the charge of being a messianic pretender.21 That already provides a solid platform on which to build, a substantial frame within which to fill in more detail.

Of course, all this needs to be worked out in a good deal more detail. But if such a broad picture can be sketched in with some confidence, then we are in a much better position to evaluate key particulars. The question again and again will be not simply 'Is this detail or that detail historically plausible/reliable?' but 'Does this particular story or teaching build into a coherent and consistent picture of the person who made the impact evident in the broader picture?' 'What was the impact of this person which resulted in this episode or saying being originally formulated?' Of course much of the detail will be hazy and disputed; debates over the

20. guesf2 299.

21. Sanders' several lists of 'almost indisputable facts', 'unassailable facts about Jesus' do not coincide, but the overall overlap with the data listed here is very substantial, though surprisingly he makes little of Jesus as teacher, simply that he preached the kingdom of God, or of Jesus as exorcist (Jesusll, 17, 321, 326; also TheHistorical Figure of Jesus [London: Penguin, 1993] 10-11). C. A. Evans, 'Authenticating the Activities of Jesus', in Chilton and Evans, eds., Authenticating the Activities of Jesus 3-29, elaborates Sanders' 'facts'.

biographies of the great and the good have found it ever so. But the broad picture of Jesus can still be sound, even if much of the detail remains vague.22 And the tradition will provide at least a number of specific features which illuminate the quality of personal encounter that caused them first to be recorded.

In short, there is a 'historical Jesus', or better, a historic Jesus, who is the legitimate and possible goal of further questing. Not a quasi-objective Jesus, Cynic or otherwise, who may or may not be significant for Christian faith. But the Jesus who historically speaking was significant for the first flowering of Christian faith. Such a quest, I believe, has good hope of success.

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