In the latter case, both parties can know all-too-well that said friend was never on any medication. Similarly, talking about a “Third Quest” is indicative of a particular era of Jesus research and will continue to be indicative of this period long after nobody believes in this whole tripartite Quest business anymore. So are we in a post-Third Quest era? Well, I never really took any medication, but I get your meaning – we’ve all been acting a bit funny for about forty years.
Quirks of The Artist Formerly Known as the Third Quest:
From the mid-1970s to the early 2000s, historians were fond of talking about “Quests”. So what most marked out this period from others is that this “Quest” language got really popular. This was due to N. T. Wright’s massive influence on the discipline and (my guess) had something to do with Monty Python. This is a point that I haven't seen anywhere and that bears repeating: the key distinctive of the Third Quest was that scholars beat the "Quest" horse to death and then kept beating it. This, of course, was okay because we were all riding imaginary horses in the first place (à la Monty Python).
This period saw a calcification and nuance to the traditional authenticity criteria. This, as Chris has pointed out, involved atomizing the Jesus tradition(s) and assessing it(them) as such. On the criteria, see further my essay here.
This period witnessed many, many Christian scholars embrace the Jewishness of Jesus. Dunn writes:
In the closing decades of the twentieth century the most helpful advance in life of Jesus research was the recognition that the quest must primarily have in view Jesus the Jew and a clearer and firmer grasp of the consequences. What distinguishes this “third quest of the historical Jesus” is the conviction that any attempt to build up a historical picture of Jesus of Nazareth should and must begin from the fact that he was a first-century Jew operating in a first-century milieu. . . . What more natural, one might think, what more inevitable than to pursue a quest of the historical Jesus the Jew? (Jesus Remembered, p. 86)
This period witnessed the rise of the application of post-colonial theories to Jesus studies. Although, much of this discussion was prefigured by Martin Hengel and Richard Horsley long before any clear interdisciplinary bridges had been built.
I’m sure that there are other quirks of this period, but these are the ones that impress me about the era. So what marks this era out as distinct from previous eras? Well, in all cases, Jesus scholars simply intensified research, produced more words, papers, books, etc. But in almost every case, Jesus scholars industrialized the discipline by borrowing ideas from previous eras. One caveat to this might be the rise and fall of Jesus the cynic philosopher. That quirk lasted about as long as Jesus the magician, but it got a whole lot of play before Crossan jumped on the post-colonial bandwagon.
For more on my misgivings about the Quests, see my essay here. My main problem with the paradigm is that it was launched by eurocentric myopia and fails to account for all historical reconstructions of Jesus before the modern period. Where does Origen fit into the Quests paradigm? Where does Augustine fit into the paradigm? Where does Rabbi Jacob Emden? What about Percy Shelley? What about Thomas Jefferson? What about Morna Hooker? What about Barry Schwartz? I could name twenty authors that the Quests paradigm neglects. If your Quest survey fails to discuss these important voices, it is probably because the Old Quest, No Quest, New Quest, Third Quest paradigm is misleading. My point here is that as a heuristic tool, it fails.
So are we in a post-Third Quest period? Well, I guess. I've been taking these placebos my whole life and I recently stopped. ... I feel fine, thank you.