Recently Prof. James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary asked several scholars this question: “What is the future of historical Jesus research?” We will be posting abbreviated versions of the answers given by Dr. Craig A. Evans (who was one of the scholars addressed) on this blog the next three Thursdays.

Guest Post: Dr. Craig A. Evans

Question 1: Is the Third Quest for the historical Jesus over? What are the most interesting and promising future perspectives in the field? What problems require further analysis?

The Third Quest, as defined in the 1980s, is over. The Third Quest will be remembered as a recovery of the Jewishness of Jesus and his world. This recovery included important archaeological work and the publication of the remaining Scrolls from Qumran’s fourth cave. For some of its contributors, the Third Quest was a reaction to the theologically-driven New Quest, which was insufficiently historical in perspective and simply did not take into account adequately the world of Jesus and his first followers. As the next phase in Jesus research gets under way, I do not expect this sort of reaction to take place. The New Quest is dead and gone. There will be little or no interaction with it in future studies. In contrast to the New Quest phase, the Third Quest laid a foundation on which future studies will build.

Cultural and contextual studies of first century Jewish Palestine will continue and will provide the setting in which the next phase of Jesus research will be undertaken. I say this because archaeological discoveries in the last two decades of the twentieth century exploded dubious theories—many of them oriented in a Greco-Roman, minimal-Jewish or non-Jewish direction. For example, the theory that Jesus was influenced by Cynic philosophy in nearby Sepphoris, where supposedly Cynicism and other forms of Hellenistic thought flourished, has been shown, in the light of excavations in the 1990s, to be very improbable. The physical remains of culture, dating to the period prior to 70 CE, reveal a Sepphoris that was Torah observant and a Sepphoris in which there was no significant non-Jewish presence. Ongoing publication and study of the many scrolls from Qumran have led to similar results. The old idea that exalted epithets such as “Son of God” or “Son of the Most High” applied to Jesus reflect Greco-Roman thinking, rather than Jewish thinking, has been seriously challenged by the Aramaic fragment, 4Q246, in which an eschatological figure is described with these very terms. Moreover, the idea of a Messiah figure, whose appearance brings healing, resurrection of the dead, and good news for the poor—concepts that define the identity and ministry of Jesus—is now attested in 4Q521. Indeed, the idea of a figure who acts in the very place of Yahweh himself, in fulfillment of Isaiah 61 and an expected eschatological jubilee, is attested in 11QMelchizedek.

Archaeological and literary discoveries such as these will lead the way in the future. This work is far from finished. Less than 10 percent of the sites relevant to the life of Jesus have been excavated and tens of thousands of papyri, inscriptions, and other ancient texts have yet to be published and analyzed. The Third Quest moved scholarly discussion in the right direction. The next phase will build on its success and correct its mistakes