Since the 18th century, three separate scholarly quests for the historical Jesus have taken place, each with distinct characteristics and based on different research criteria, which were often developed during that phase. The second quest which started in 1953 reached a plateau in the 1970s and by 1992 the term third quest had been coined to characterize the new research approaches.The common paradigm that outlines historical Jesus research in terms of First (Old) Quest, No Quest, New Quest, Third Quest needs to be cast into the abyss for a time, another time, and a half of a time. Those who continue to teach it should have millstones tied to their necks and… okay that might be a bit extreme. The point is that the “quests” paradigm is wrong.
Interestingly, this particular wiki entry doesn’t mention the so-called “No Quest” years, so perhaps we’re making progress. In short, the “No Quest” years were not all that no-questy after all. Allison has suggested the more helpful moniker “No Biography” years. Even so, one might look at Fernando Bermejo Rubio, “The Fiction of the ‘Three Quests’: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Historiographical Paradigm,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 7 (2009): 211–53.
My chief problem with the paradigm is that the “first” quest wasn’t the first quest. It is typically said that the old quest launched with Reimarus/Lessing. Albert Schweitzer is, in large part, responsible for this point. But even he suggested a few previous incarnations of the quest. Since Schweitzer, scholars have continued to find studies that predate the “First Quest”. Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza might be the first “modern” attempt to discuss the problem, but there were several premodern attempts to discuss the Jesus of history (see my chapter in this book or my A. Le Donne, “The Quest for the Historical Jesus: A Revisionist History through the Lens of Jewish-Christian Relations,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 10 : 63–86).
Schweitzer’s life of research outline was motivated by his belief that the German spirit and mind were superior to all other civilizations and cultures previous and contemporary. He says as much on page one of his The Quest of the Historical Jesus. So he naturally focuses on German thinkers. The rest of the paradigm was filled out by using Bultmann’s influence as a guidepost. The three “Quests” paradigm only makes sense with a particular set of blinders on. I would like to think that these blinders are finally ready to be removed.