Sunday, April 18, 2010

Scot McKnight's follow-up on his 'historical Jesus' article

He wrote,
"The "Historical Jesus" (of the Historical Jesus enterprise) fashions a Jesus by examining the data (Gospels and ancient texts and archaeology etc), subjecting the data to rigorous historical methods, finding what genuinely survives, and the putting together what is left into a portrait of what the real Jesus was like... there is a difference between historical study of Jesus and the Historical Jesus enterprise. The former seeks to understand Jesus in context; the latter seeks to reconstruct a Jesus that differs from the Gospels and the Creeds." (italics mine)
I see a superficial difference here in how McKnight distinguishes the Historical Jesus enterprise from the historical study of Jesus. If McKnight thinks that Historical Jesus is a historical studies of Jesus, is that not just another way of saying understanding Jesus in his historical context?

Perhaps McKnight was referring to the understanding of Jesus in the literary context in the gospels, and not the historical one. If this is so, then one has to question whether can there be such a sharp difference between the literary nature and the historical nature of the gospels. If the gospels are a soft of ancient (historical + theological) biographies, then one is playing into the sort of Bultmanian form criticism, which its credibility for historicity is very dubious.

So I don't think McKnight's clarification deals with the confusion he has over the different category between two very distinct yet corollary studies: First, the study on the reliability of the gospels, and second the study of Jesus as portrayed by the gospels.

One of McKnight's persisting reasons to lament over the death of the Historical Jesus enterprise is the lacking of publication and interest among scholars over the issue, "interest has waned to a pittance of what it was. Very few scholars are attending Historical Jesus sessions; very few books are now being produced (in contrast to an avalanche of books in the 80s and 90s); one could say the Historical Jesus is at a dead-end."

In such situation one has to ask if such impasse is due to lack of new exciting findings or just due to the fact that everything is pretty settled, as in there is not much further discovery to be found because we have exhausted all that we can find. Think of an archaeologist who has dug all the way through the layers of rock and found all that one can imagine to find. So there is nothing much to dig anymore.

So instead of mourning over the 'death' of the Historical Jesus enterprise like McKnight, one can choose to celebrate the discovery of it. Celebrating over what the enterprise has given us; over what it was established to give in the first place. What is left is the fine-tuning work which happens from time to time, giving us more and more nuanced understanding of what already been dug up.

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