Jesus was either a cynic or he was "entirely Jewish."
Jesus either believed that God's kingdom had come or he looked for a future kingdom.
Jesus was either "anti-Rome" or he was apathetic to Roman rule.
Almost every major scholarly discussion in historical Jesus research betrays the tendency to reduce the narrative to binary opposites. No doubt, sometimes binaries help. For example consider this one: either Jesus was either born south of Samaria or he was born north of Samaria. It is difficult to imagine a way into this discussion that is "both/and" or creates a spectrum of possible interpretation. But in history (as is the case with all matters of real-world complexity) binary opposites don't often get us very far. With this in mind consider this short excerpt from Funk's essay:
The label "third quest" has been applied to a group of scholars whose work gives allegiance to a certain set of generalizations about the search for the historical figure of Jesus. The first of these generalizations is that Jesus was an eschatological prophet in the train of John the Baptist and Paul of Tarsus. One can draw a straight line from John to Paul and it passes through the heart of Jesus' message. This is an extension of the thesis of Albert Schweitzer who reacted against the liberal portraits of Jesus which made Jesus out to be an ethical teacher advocating the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humankind. The second generalization, which is a twin of the first, is that there is overwhelming continuity between Jesus and the primitive church: we can trust the canonical writers (with the exception of the Fourth Gospel) because they got it right; everybody else got it wrong. The third feature of the third quest — speaking generally — is an apologetic undertow for orthodox Christianity as defined by the canonical writers. This aspect of the third quest is a rearguard action being fought against all who would distance Jesus from John the Baptist, on the one hand, and the canonical books of the New Testament, on the other. Third questers may acknowledge the Sayings Gospel Q, for example, but make little use of it; they are vigorously opposed to any regard for the Gospel of Thomas. And they tend to be apologists for the basic tenets of traditional Christianity: the true faith was defined by the "apostles" who correctly understood Jesus. Those whose works might be categorized as belonging to the third quest include the following: E. P. Sanders . . . . John P. Meier . . . . Ben Witherington . . . . N. T. Wright . . . . Dale Allison.Funk then goes on to describe what he calls "The Renewed Quest." This is what he calls his own program:
The renewed quest is an attempt to reinstate the original aim of the quest, which was to distinguish the aims of Jesus from the aims of the followers. Put more broadly, the renewed quest is designed to distinguish the words and deeds of Jesus from others attributed to him as his reputation grew in the faith community. After all, the two lie side by side in the gospels. The renewal of the original aim comes to expression in two major ways. First, the renewed quest is focused on the vision of Jesus as formulated in his words and deeds rather than on the expressions of faith in him formulated by the early community. To borrow Bultmann's phrase, the renewed quest is focused on Jesus' proclamation rather than on him as proclaimer. It is a radical shift in point of view or perspective. Jesus points to the kingdom; his disciples point to him. The second aspect of the aim follows from the first. A basic rule of evidence is to look for words and deeds in the gospels that represent his outlook rather than that of the evangelists. Jesus was not a Christian. However, the gospels are Christian through and through. The residual fragments left behind in their memories of him are the only clues we have to his own point of view.Allow me to point out a few binary opposites represented in these paragraphs: (A) Third Quest vs. Renewed Quest; (B) either eschatological prophet or ethical teacher; (C) Jesus' vision vs. or that of the early community; (D) Synoptic authors and "everyone else." What is most interesting to me about these paragraphs is the binary opposite that Funk creates between continuity and his own imagined world of binary opposites. He wrote that Third Questers hold that "there is overwhelming continuity between Jesus and the primitive church: we can trust the canonical writers (with the exception of the Fourth Gospel) because they got it right; everybody else got it wrong." For Funk this is an apologetic move because the idea of continuity between Jesus and his following is equal to orthodoxy. So not only was there a severe and binary disconnect between Jesus and his following, there is a severe and binary disconnect between scholars on this very point. I talk more about the problem of this paradigm in this book.