Thanks to the
live rankings Top 10 Articles on Biblioblog Reference Library (here), I found that over at Debunking Christianity, Tommy G. Baker wrote a helpful post about the continued quest for historical Jesus (here). I felt the content of the post was slightly dated, having mentioned only the Renewed and the Third Quests, along with mentioning competition between some of the older views. There have been developments past these quests and those I will mention here.
As has been mentioned elsewhere (here), the historical Jesus scholar N. T. Wright was criticized by a number of scholars at the last Wheaton Theology Conference for neglecting the Fourth Gospel in his tomes on the historical Jesus. As for publications, there have been, just to name a few, Paul N. Anderson’s The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus: Modern Foundations Reconsidered (here); the volumes of SBL’s John, Jesus, and History group (vol. 1 here, vol. 2 here, vol. 3 forthcoming); James H. Charlesworth’s recent article “The Historical Jesus in the Fourth Gospel: A Paradigm Shift?” (here).
The above point toward what some would call a “Fourth Quest” for the historical Jesus, which is a quest with the inclusion of the Gospel of John. Although it is true that a portion of scholarship will always exclude the Fourth Gospel from the historical Jesus conversation, the call from respected scholars for the inclusion of John’s Gospel in the study on the Jesus of history says something that modern, critical scholarship would do well to consider with a healthy degree of seriousness, in addition to its already healthy (and maybe sometimes excessive) degree of skepticism.
When Anderson gave me the opportunity to cover his Writings of John class in the spring of 2011, one student made a comment that about her Middle Eastern friends. She observed that they always talk around the point, never really getting to it—and Jesus does this also. So what does this say? Well, it does tell us that whoever wrote the Gospel of John was quite likely a Middle Easterner. Does it necessarily tell us that Jesus’ words in John are redacted? That is possible, but the question is now raised whether some of the words attributed to Jesus could be from Jesus’ lips, particularly since he as a Middle Easterner speaks in ways that Middle Easterners tend to speak (and it is not too likely that they developed this way of speaking a long time after the first century).
When I presented my paper “John and Mark: Chronology in the Bi-Optic Gospels” at SBL Pacific Northwest (abstract here), based on my summer research for Anderson on his bi-optic hypothesis, I received much constructive and critical feedback. One of those questions was why would John be concerned about chronology? I did not and still do not have a good response, but I do wonder how much John was not concerned with chronology. Some events that differ in chronological presentation between John and the Synoptics, like the Temple Cleansing, seem to have a theological thrust behind John’s rearrangement (see previous discussions, particularly comments, here and here). There are, however, points of chronological disagreement between Mark and John that appear to have no theological significance, like the time of the anointing at Bethany. In this scene, Mark places the anointing at two days before the Passover, but John’s placement is six days prior. The number six in John (or anywhere else in Scripture) seems to have no theological significance behind it any more than the catch of 153 fish does in John 21. Could the Fourth Gospel be a reliable source for details of Jesus’ ministry—chronology considered and more? There is the possibility.
All of the above points to a continued quest for the historical Jesus, but in a new way. I wholly concur with Baker when he says, “Jesus research is in a new and exciting period”—this time with the Fourth Gospel.
*applauding* As you’re aware I am very excited and hopeful about a “quest for the historical Jesus” that at least gives attention to the fact that the Fourth Gospel wasn’t made up out of thin air. There is too much about it that tries to be too detailed for it to be merely a fairy tale and there is much about Synoptics that it shares that makes it distinct from later “gospels” (e.g. “of Judas”,”of Peter”).
Also, paradigm shifts are hard to come by so I hope the quest continues even if a majority of historical Jesus scholars turn their faces away. Truth isn’t determined by committee.
We are in the same boat. I think there is much work to be done, but it is possible for John to gain a fair hearing, especially as this present generation of scholarship goes its way and the new generation comes in. I think the quest for historical Jesus may have low times but it will always be around.
Here’s the point of saying Jesus came to Bethany six days before Passover (John 12:1) and entered Jerusalem five days before (12:12): It shows that Jesus did not observe the purification required by Num. 19:16. This is in contrast to other Jews, who came to Jerusalem early enough to purify themselves (John 11:55). The theological significance then is that Jesus sets himself apart from the actual Passover rituals–not repeating them but fulfilling their sacrificial meaning. So of course in John the Last Supper isn’t a Passover meal.
Thanks for this. It helps to make sense of John’s presentation. However, let me push back a little here. I am not sure if Numbers 19:16 applies here. There are exceptions where certain uncleanness can be allowed and someone can still participate in the Passover (Numbers 9). If I grant what you’re saying here, then it seems like John is making some sort of theological correction to Mark, and it seems then that John is also making a chronological correction as well. Thoughts?
Numbers 9 does not allow unclean persons to eat the Passover. Rather, it simply permits people to eat the Passover on the 14th day of the 2nd month (9:11) if they happen to have been unclean on the 14th day of the first month (9:1,3,5).
The Jews took this 7-day timeline for purification seriously. See Acts 21:26-27. In John 12:1, had the old editors not inserted a chapter break, more of us would have noticed how closely that verse follows 11:55.
Yes, it sure looks like John is making a chronological correction to Mark. Check these verses in John: 13:1; 18:28; 19:14,31,42. Jesus gets crucified before the Passover starts, so the Last Supper isn’t a Passover meal.
Is John making a theological correction to Mark as well? I’m not so sure of that. John 19:36 reports that Jesus’ death fulfills Exodus 12:46 about not breaking bones on the Passover animal. Jesus is dying on the cross at the same time that lambs are being slaughtered in the temple. John wants us to see Jesus as God’s lamb (1:36). The imagery and the OT allusions may be different from Mark’s, but the theological point about Jesus being an atoning sacrifice seems very similar.
This conversation with you has been most refreshing. I have a better idea of where I’ll need to do further research. I’ll take a look at what you’ve said in the last comment and respond with some thoughts.
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