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THE SEARCH FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS:

History of the search/quest  

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The term "historical Jesus" refers to events in the life of Yeshua of Nazareth, from his birth in Palestine to his execution in Jerusalem. 

Starting in the early 18th century, liberal theologians and other scholars began to interpret the Bible as a historical document, rather than as an inerrant document whose authors were inspired by God.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: 

bullet The Old Quest: from the early 18th century to about 1906.
bullet The New Quest: (a.k.a. Second Quest) from about 1953 to 1980.
bullet The Third Quest: from 1980 to the present time, and continuing. 1

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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 In those days, promoting the analysis of the Bible as a historical document and promoting the search for the historical Jesus generally led to dismissal from the author's employment and occasionally excommunication from the church:

bullet 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 task. After 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.
bullet 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
bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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
bullet 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.
bullet Albert Schweitzer (1875-196

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