Once it came to be realized that Mark’s Gospel – the earliest of our surviving accounts of Jesus – was driven not purely by historical interests in order to record biographical information with historical accuracy, but was (like the other Gospels) written in order to convey theological ideas in literary guise, the movement to use Mark to write a “Life of Jesus” more or less collapsed on itself, for a time and among most New Testament scholars. What arose from the ashes of this “Quest of the Historical Jesus” could not have been foreseen by its devotees – as often happens in times of disciplinary progress and change.

The big breakthrough came with the work of Karl Ludwig Schmidt (whose most important book was never translated into English, to my knowledge). Schmidt realized that the theologically loaded parts of Mark’s Gospel were not found in the core stories found throughout its account, but in the “framework” for these stories, that is, in the narrative transitions that the author himself provided for moving from one story to the next. (That’s where the “messianic secret” identified by Wrede is found – not in the stories themselves but in the aftermath). This raised the possibility that the authors of the Gospels – who were known by this time not to have been the disciples of Jesus himself – were incorporating stories into their Gospels that they inherited, and that they themselves were merely providing the transitions from one story to the next and making the overall structure of the Gospels so that the stories would cohere into a unified whole.

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