The Sources

In Part One I have attempted to highlight the chief moments in the quest for Jesus, particularly over the last two hundred years, but earlier also, and particularly in terms of the tensions between history and faith which have left such lasting marks (or scars!) on biblical scholarship. I have drawn attention to the classic or definitive treatments which incisively posed issues that still remain with us or which first formulated breakthroughs whose significance still endures. And in chapter 6 I have offered my own summing up of the lessons to be learned from the interplay of history, hermeneutics, and faith, both in response to the challenges old and new of the last fifty years and as indicating the perspective from which I seek to pursue the historical and hermeneutical tasks of this volume.

The survey also posed other fundamental issues of method which are often neglected by those still pursuing the quest in the terms laid down by the post-Bultmannian generation.1 What should be the starting point for an approach to the Jesus tradition for those in 'quest of the historical Jesus'? In particular, what should count as sources for the earliest phases of the Jesus tradition? With what conception of the traditioning process should we operate? And have the implications of Jesus' 'Jewishness' and of his particular historical setting in Galilee been adequately taken into account? These questions had to be 'put on hold' till the challenge of postmodernism had been posed and the basic principles which determine the very conception of our task had been examined. But now these ques

1. The only ones who on the way to writing a Jesus book have made a serious attempt to address fundamental issues of method in recent years are Meyer, Aims 76-110, Wright, New Testament31-144, and Theissen and Winter, Kriterienfrage. Sanders' attempt to shift the focus of the quest from the sayings of Jesus to the 'facts about Jesus' {Jesus 3-22 [here 5]) has been influential. Crossan's practice assumes more than it explains (but see his Birth 137-73); his hope had been to inaugurate a full-blown debate on methodology tions can be pursued and will form the agenda for Part Two — sources (chapter 7), tradition (chapter 8), and historical context (chapter 9) — as we re-envisage the historical realities behind the Gospels and attempt to get back in some sense from the Gospels to Jesus.

The first task in any historical investigation is to ascertain what the sources are on which the historian can draw, and to ask how reliable these sources are. In this case our sources are almost entirely limited to those which evidence direct influence from Jesus at one remove or another. The few external sources can be reviewed quite briefly. As to the Christian (and near Christian) sources themselves, the above survey indicated two periods of intensive debate on the source question: the Liberal phase focused attention particularly on 'the Synoptic problem' ; and the most recent, still continuing neo-Liberal phase has raised the status of non-canonical sources. We will not forget the intermediate phase (roughly 1920 to 1980) when form criticism supplanted source criticism as the principal engine of Gospels research. But that is an important part of the subject matter of chapter 8.

The issues are clear. I have already concluded (chapter 6) that the pre- and post-Enlightenment advances in historical and hermeneutical awareness still provide some sound principles for any quest of the historical figure of Jesus. Can we also say that the advances in source criticism during the heyday of Liberalism (the two source/document hypothesis for the Synoptics, and the much lower value accorded to John's Gospel as a source for information on Jesus' ministry) still provide sound working hypotheses for any attempt to assess the historical value of the traditions regarding Jesus? The arguments of Kloppenborg in particular, followed by the neo-Liberal questers, that the Q source can be readily stratified, and those of Koester in particular, that there are other Gospel sources on which to draw, have not commanded anything like the same consent as the older source hypotheses and certainly require further scrutiny. Nevertheless, the increasing recognition of Q as a coherent document with a distinctive theological profile, and the possibility of tracing different trajectories through earliest Christianity, pose challenging questions to traditional claims of coherence and continuity between Jesus and what came after. The ramifications of these hypotheses for any continuing 'quest of the historical Jesus' are so important that it will be necessary to give them careful attention.

But first, it is important to remind ourselves of the testimony regarding Jesus outside specifically Christian sources and the earliest evidence for Jesus as a historical person.

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