THE SEARCH FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS:
History of the search/quest
The term "historical Jesus" refers to events in the life of
Yeshua of Nazareth, from his birth in Palestine to his execution in
Starting in the early 18th century, liberal theologians and other
scholars began to interpret the Bible as a historical document, rather
than as an inerrant document whose authors were
inspired by God. They
concluded the Gospels were not really a biography of Jesus; they were
actually theological documents which contained a large amount of fictional
material. They which were intended to
promote the rapidly developing Christian faith. Thus began the search for
the historical Jesus: the story of the real Jesus hidden in the Gospels
under an overlay of theological writing.
The "search" or "quest" for the historical
Jesus can be divided into three periods:
||The Old Quest: from the early 18th century to about 1906.
||The New Quest: (a.k.a. Second Quest) from about 1953 to 1980.
||The Third Quest: from 1980 to the present time, and
The Old Quest:
This was pioneered by German and French theologians and scholars. In
those days, promoting the analysis of the Bible as a historical document
and promoting the search for the historical Jesus generally led to
dismissal from the author's employment and occasionally excommunication from the
||Herman Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768) was a professor of Hebrew and
oriental languages in Germany. He was the first scholar to make a major contribution to
the quest for Jesus. He had abandoned Christianity in his personal life and been
strongly influenced by Deism.
In his writings, he differentiated between what Jesus taught and what the
gospel writers said about him. He concluded that "Christianity was a
fabrication created out of the conniving minds of Jesus' followers."
In one essay, "Concerning the Goal of Jesus and his Disciples,"
he suggested that Jesus had seen himself as the Messiah, but failed at the
his death, his followers wrote fictional gospels to promote their own
beliefs. Reimarus had the intelligence to not circulate his writings widely
during his own lifetime. They were published anonymously circa 1778 -- after
his death -- and
caused a sensation.
||Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781) published Reimarus' writings
along with some of his
own on the same topic. He "was plunged into the most sustained and
most acrimonious dispute of his life." 2
||David Fredrich Strauss (1808-1874), another German professor, published
his book "The life of Christ critically examined" in 1835.
He rejected the divinity of Christ. He felt that it would be impossible to
write a biography of Jesus, because the gospels only contain unconnected
fragments of his life. Strauss lost his university job because of his writings.
||American public, circa 1840-1870: During this interval, the American public
largely rejected the concept of of slavery as a morally defensible
institution. In doing so, they were forced to reject the many passages
in the Bible which appeared to accept, condone and regulate slavery.
This caused a spiritual crisis in many Christians because they
realized that the Bible accepted what was to them a morally
indefensible practice. This had no direct influence over the
quest for the historical Jesus. But it did weaken the hold that
inerrancy had had over the public and religious leaders.
||Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published his "Origin of
Species" in 1859. This promoted the concept of evolution of
the species, and gave an alternative explanations for origins than
that given by creationism. Again, this book had no direct influence on
the search for the historical Jesus. But it did convince many
theologians and other scientists that the creation stories in Genesis
are religious myths: passages of immense spiritual value but not literally true. This made it easier for them to approach the
Bible as a historical document, rather than as the inerrant
Word of God.
||H.J. Holzmann (1832-1910) a professor at Heidelberg, promoted
the "Two Source" theory, starting in 1963. This
speculates that the authors of Matthew and Luke based their writings
largely on the Gospel of Mark and a lost Gospel
of Q. This theory was largely adopted by subsequent theologians
searching for the historical Jesus.
||Ernest Renan (1832-1892), a French professor, accompanied
Napoleon III in the invasion of Lebanon. After completing brief
excavations in the area, he wrote a series of books called "History
of the Origins of Christianity," starting in 1863. He "stripped Christianity of its supernatural trappings and
presented Jesus as a man, albeit an incomparable man." 3
He lost his professorship as a result of the controversy that
his books created.
||Alfred Loisy (1857-1940) published a series of books,
starting with "The gospel and the church" in 1902. He
suggested that the Christian church was not actually founded by Jesus
in the form that it later assumed. He "disassociated the
historical Jesus, unconscious of his divinity, and the Christ of
faith, and sees the early Christian community as a screen between
believer and event." 4
||William Wrede (1859-1906) wrote "The Messianic Secret"
in 1901, suggesting that the Gospel of Mark was not a reliable source
of historical information about Jesus. He concluded that the early Christian movement
created the concept of Jesus as the Messiah after his execution, and
that Mark simply reported on this belief.
||Albert Schweitzer (1875-196