to provide enough historical Jesus study resources to keep readers busy a lifetime.
In my opinion, there are six really exceptional historical Jesus scholars in America today* --
E. P. Sanders (who is agnostic),
Paula Fredriksen (who is Jewish),
Bart Ehrman (an atheist),
Reza Aslan (has returned to Islam**),
John P. Meier (a Catholic Christian),
and Dale C. Allison (a Presbyterian Christian).
All of these scholars employ excellent historical methodologies in their research, and all are convinced that Jesus was expecting an imminent cataclysmic ending of the present world to be followed by the establishment of God's Kingdom throughout the earth. I am in basic agreement with most of what these scholars say, with one exception:
Four of them reject one matter as not deriving from Jesus, while I think it did. ---Can any of you who have read my novel figure out what that one exception would be?
SPOILER ALERT: I will reveal it below.
* There are also excellent contemporary historical Jesus scholars in Europe (Germany, France, etc.).
** When Aslan produced his historical study of Jesus, a Fox News commentator tried to tell him that he could not credibly examine the historical Jesus because he is a Muslim. Aslan disagreed, stating that because he is a historian, he is committed to objectivity -- so much so that his research compels him to disagree with the Qu'ran's version of Jesus' birth and death (a truth that is mentioned in my novel).
HERE ARE SOME 0F THE MOST IMPORTANT WORKS of these scholars;
John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. 1991-20?? (five volumes so far, with a sixth yet to come!).
E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus. 1993.
Dale C. Allison, Jr., Jesus: Millenarian Prophet. 1998. [See also Constructing Jesus below.]
Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity. 1999.
Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Prophet of the New Millenium. 1999.
Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. 2013.
I can't wait for Meier's final volume, in which he will deal with the really big questions: What was Jesus' view of .himself and how did he regard his death?
Meanwhile, I consider Allison's Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History, 2010, to be a work of major significance, for in it he already deals very effectively with those big questions.
Along with the deceased German Lutheran scholar Joachim Jeremias (New Testament Theology, Volume One: The Proclamation of Jesus. 1971), these two scholars, Allison and Meier, have been among the strongest scholarly influences in my life.
-- I am compelled to admit that my novel The Dead Sea Gospel should probably be regarded as nothing more than a sort of introduction intended to whet readers' interest in doing further study. Any of the works listed above could be a good place to start, for they are all intended for a general readership. HOWEVER the works of Meier are extremely detailed and extensive, while Allison's excellent Constructing Jesus might be difficult going for many readers.
As I stated previously, when I consider these exceptionally gifted scholars, especially Meier and Allison, I am forced to regard my own "scholarship" as that of a rank amateur. For that reason, anyone who has doubts about anything that I have said about Jesus will do well to consult the more informed opinions of those highly competent scholars.
In my novel, Brad Chase is strongly critical of a group of scholars he calls The Jesus Forum. In real life, these are based on The Jesus Seminar, a group of strongly skeptical scholars who created quite a stir several years ago.
Here is a list of some of the most noted of their historical Jesus books:
John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (1991) and his easier-to-read Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (1994).
Robert W. Funk† , Honest to Jesus: Jesus For a New Millennium (1996).
Stephen J. Patterson, Beyond The Passion: Rethinking the Death and the Life of Jesus (2004).
Marcus J. Borg† , Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (2006).
One of the most prominent of these scholars is John Dominic Crossan, whose 1991 book caused quite a sensation. I will here indicate a few criticisms I have of that book:
Although Crossan's book claims to be a major work on the historical Jesus, it does not offer a single reference linking Jesus' teachings to anything in the entire Book of Isaiah, a fact I find not only astounding but illustrative of a regrettable tendency of several Seminar scholars to sever Jesus from his Jewish roots, even while claiming to be doing exactly the opposite of that by emphasizing his Jewishness.
Two more criticisms: At the beginning of his 1991 book, Crossan cites a Gospel of Thomas saying: "Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there," as if it were an authentic saying of Jesus, yet Crossan's own analysis on p. 504 accords that saying no authenticity at all. That, and his claim that even during a time of peace the Roman occupiers of Judea could flout Deuteronomy 21:22-23 by allowing the dead body of a crucified Jew to be eaten by dogs (!) suggests that Crossan sometimes goes in for the sensational.
BUT MY MAIN CRITICISM of the Jesus Seminar scholars is that they often tend to make the same mistake that was made by many of the historical Jesus scholars of the nineteenth century: They read themselves into Jesus and "discover" the kind of Jesus they are hoping to find. For that reason, much of their scholarship, when compared to the works of the six scholars I listed above, strikes me as shallow -- a terrible criticism to lodge against any scholar, but that is how I see it.)
A VERY INTERESTING book is The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate (2001), edited by Robert J. Miller, for it presents debates between Dale C. Allison, who is convinced that Jesus was strongly influenced by eschatological thinking, and three Seminar scholars, Marcus J. Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and Stephen J. Patterson , who maintain that Jesus thought of God's Kingdom as already present.
Three against one!
(In my opinion, Allison handily wins.)
BEFORE I go any further, I want to say that although I strongly disagree with many of the Jesus Seminar scholars regarding their views of the historical Jesus, I find myself in much agreement with their social and political stances. Also, I recently re-read Borg's Jesus: Uncovering the Life... and found much that I like about his views. I even found his views on Jesus as a non-apocalyptic wisdom teacher to be rather reasonable and engaging, though I do not agree with him on that.
(You might want to read my novel before you read the following:)
I AM NOW going to reveal the matter wherein I disagree with numerous scholars.
FIRST, the Jesus Seminar scholars:
All those Seminar scholars I listed above deny numerous claims which the gospels make about Jesus, holding that those claims were not part of his original teachings, but were added later by the church. They do not believe that Jesus believed himself to be, or ever claimed to be, the messianic Son of God or Son of Man who ultimately would come with clouds of heaven to rule Israel and the world. Nor do they believe that Jesus selected twelve special male disciples who, he said, would occupy thrones with him in God's coming Kingdom. All these claims and more the Seminar scholars do not believe go back to Jesus himself, and they are even more adamant that Jesus never said that he would die any kind of a sacrificial, ransoming, or atoning death.
As I make clear in my novel, I do not agree. I think it highly likely that the historical Jesus did see his death as having some sort of sacrificial significance, and one major reason for my thinking this is Mark's narrative of Jesus' agonized struggle in Gethsemane (14:32-42), a narrative I find convincing.
Crossan, however, has publicly said that he does not consider that narrative to be historical, and I once heard Borg unequivocally state that the scene could not be historical because “Jesus' disciples were too far away to hear what he was praying and besides, they were asleep.”
Patterson agrees: "How can we know what Jesus said? ...the only witnesses, the disciples, were asleep," Beyond the Passion, pp. 6-7
Funk, too, points out the inability of Jesus' disciples "even to stay awake during his prayers in the garden," prayers which, however, "many scholars identify as intrusive---out of place---” [that is, inauthentic], Honest to Jesus, pp. 230, 240.
To Aslan, Gethsemane was no more than the place where, after a "secret meal" with his disciples, Jesus chose to "hide out" until his accusers came to arrest him, whereupon some of his followers put up a brief but futile armed resistance (Zealot... pp. 78, 146).
TO BE CONTINUED