If the Quest for the Historical Jesus Failed… What Then?

In response to a question about the Messianic Secret in Mark, I have now shown how scholars (most signficiantly William Wrede) came to realize that not even the Gospel of Mark was a straightforward historical account of what actually happened in the life of Jesus. Some five years ago on the blog I talked about what happened next, in the scholarship on the New Testament.  It’s a crucial element of the history of biblical scholarship.  Here is what I said.

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The Death Knell for the Study of the Historical Jesus

Once Wrede convincingly showed that the Gospel of Mark was not a literal, factual description of what Jesus said and did, in his 1901 book The Messianic Secret (but that it, like the other Gospels, had incorporated its own literary and theological concerns into its account), the cottage industry of Historical Jesus books pretty much collapsed.  Its entire foundation had for decades been built on the assumption that even if the other Gospels were not completely historical, but theologically biased, ...

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Wrede’s Revolutionary Claim about the “Messianic Secret”

Yesterday I pointed out all the passages in the Gospel of Mark that repeat, time and again, the idea that Jesus tried to keep his messiahship a secret.  He doesn’t allow the demons to identify him when he casts them out; when he heals people he strictly instructs them not to tell anyone; he teaches his disciples the “secret of the Kingdom” privately when no one else is around; he teaches the crowds only using parables precisely (Mark indicates) so ...

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Is It Plausible that Jesus Kept the Whole Thing a Secret??

Back to the Messianic Secret in Mark.  As we have seen, 19th century scholars by and large determined that Mark’s Gospel was the first to be written, and from that they concluded that it was a straightforward factual description of what actually happened in the life of Jesus.  In their view, unlike the other Gospels, Mark had not invested his story with any (or many) literary touches – i.e. fictionalized any of it – and he hadn’t imposed his own ...

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Who CARES if Mark was the First Gospel Written?

When I teach students in my Introduction to the New Testament class about the Synoptic Problem, it becomes a bit like pulling teeth.  To be sure, at the very outset, students are intrigued.  When I set it up, it’s kind of like a detective story – who copied whom, and how would we know?  I make it as interesting and intriguing as I can: how can we figure this out?

But then I have to get into the weeds to explain ...

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The Beginning of the Quest of the Historical Jesus

In 1901 William Wrede, a German Protestant biblical scholar, published his earth-shattering work, Das Messiasgeheimnis, “The Messianic Secret.”  It overturned in a rather devastating way the entire scholarly consensus about the Gospel of Mark and, more important and relatedly, undercut the whole enterprise scholars had undertaken to use the Gospels to reconstruct the life of the historical Jesus.

When five years later, Albert Schweitzer (later famous as a great humanitarian, medical doctor to Africa, who had abandoned his career as a ...

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How Do We Explain the Messianic Secret?

For this week’s Readers’ Mailbag, I address a question of central importance for understanding the Gospel of Mark, our earliest Gospel and often thought to be the one that best represents what actually happened in the life of Jesus.  I’ll have to *explain* the question before answering it (!).   Then most of this post will be setting up the answer with the crucial background information, which, as it turns out, the vast majority of casual Bible readers have never even ...

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Guest Post! Joel Marcus on His New Book on the John the Baptist

Many readers of the blog will already be familiar with my long-time friend and colleague from Duke, Joel Marcus, one of the top New Testament scholars in America (or anywhere else, for that matter).   Joel and I have known each other for over thirty years — since he started teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary, soon after I finished my PhD there.   He is especially well known for his massive and learned two-volume commentary on the Gospel of Mark for the ...

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If Jesus Wasn’t God, Was He Necessarily Either a Calloused Liar or a Raving Lunatic?

This is my my last of three blasts-from-the-pasts dealing with fundamentalist, or conservative evangelical, forms of Christianity, this time addressing the claims often made (first by C.S. Lewis, who was decidedly *NOT* a fundamentalist) that since Jesus called himself God, he either was a bald-faced liar, a raving lunatic, or the Lord of the universe.  No other option.  Or … is there?

 

QUESTION:

Do you think Jesus was a great moral teacher?  If you think this is the case would you mind blogging ...

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Was Jesus A Great Moral Teacher? A Blast From the Past

A few days ago, in response to a question, I reposted on the problem of fundamentalism; looking back on the blog some six years, I see that at about the same time another related question appeared.  This involves fundamentalists who object to calling Jesus a “great moral teacher” since, for them, he is actually God himself.   It will take two posts to reply to that view, first, in this one: was Jesus in fact a great moral teacher?  The answer ...

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