It is time for my weekly Readers’ Mailbag.  I will be dealing with two questions this time.  If you have questions, about anything at all related to the historical Jesus, the New Testament, the history of early Christianity, or anything else that I may have a remote chance of knowing something about, please ask!  You can either respond with a comment/question to this post, or send me an email, or comment on any other post!


QUESTION:   An off-topic request: what are the five most puzzling questions about the historical Jesus you would love to see resolved in your lifetime?

RESPONSE:   Ah, this is a tough one.  It is made particularly difficult by two competing phenomena.  The first is that most scholars of the historical Jesus are pretty convinced that their views about what he said and did are on the money.   So in that sense, what is there that can be answered that hasn’t been?  The other is the unpleasant reality that in fact we know very few things for certain about Jesus – or about most any other figure from the distant past.  So in that other sense, what is there that we don’t want to know about?

Like most Jesus scholars, I feel confident in my basic reconstruction of the historical Jesus.  As I have been indicating in my previous posts, I am pretty sure he was an apocalyptic prophet and that we can say some things with confidence about what he said and did (e.g., that he was baptized by John; that he had lower class followers; that he was an itinerant preacher; that he went to Jerusalem the last week of his life to celebrate Passover, and there was arrested, tried, and crucified for calling himself the king of the Jews.)   But there are scores, millions, most things about his life that we simply don’t know, in many instances because we can’t know them.  There simply isn’t any evidence.  I could list thousands of things I’d like to know.  Here, in direct response to the question, are five.  (Please note: to make sense of these reflections you have to recall that critical scholars do not think you can answer questions such as this simply by quoting a verse or two in the Gospels; it is widely recognized that the Gospels are filled with non-historical information.  My reflections are predicated on the fact that we have to argue for historical facts based on a critical examination of our surviving sources.)

  1. What was Jesus doing before being baptized? I assume …THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don’t belong yet, JOIN!!!  You and the rest of the inhabited world will be glad you did!!