Baker Academic

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Jesus Quest: A Longer View - Le Donne

In my first post on this subject, I pointed you to a few different resources that argue against the "Three Quests" paradigm. I can see that more needs to be said based on a few comments. Jesus Blog friend Larry writes:
As I see it, the existing paradigm assumes that the three biggest moments in the modern study of HJ are Schweitzer, Kasemann, and the realization that Jesus was really Jewish. I think an argument can be made that these really ARE the three biggest moments, but a problem with paradigms is that once you buy in, it's hard to critically analyze the assumptions behind them. 
It must be pointed out that the first Quest (as the narrative goes) did not begin with Schweitzer, but with Reimarus/Lessing. Schweitzer has sometimes been associated with the so-called "No Quest" years due to his seemingly definitive work on Jesus. We must then acknowledge that scholars continue to push the "Old Quest" earlier and earlier as our history of research expands. Schweitzer acknowledges a couple forerunners himself. Others have pointed to the English deists... then we push further back to Spinoza and (if one keeps pushing), we find that the "Old Quest" was simply not the "First Quest". This, in itself, explodes the paradigm. If the quest for the historical Jesus begins with Josephus, or Origen, or Augustine, or the Talmud and continues through the Middle Ages in Jewish-Christian polemic, debate and dialogue, we need a broader view.

If the recognition that the historical Jesus was the "Jewish Jesus" from Josephus (or Augustine) onward, this steals considerable thunder from the "Third Quest" years and it makes Bultmann's contribution to Quests less dubious.  After all, Bultmann's Jesus was Jewish.  So it seems that the "Jesus the Jew" thesis doesn't belong any sort of "Third Quest" after all.  Perhaps then, the enormously productive period from 1973-2000(ish) was simply a recovery from Kähler's "suprahistorical Jesus" and Käsemann s "less Jewish Jesus".

This is quite interesting to me because the contribution of Käsemann becomes more dubious in the longer view of this history of research. In the paradigm that acknowledged a "No Quest" period, Käsemann became heroic because he launches a "New Quest". But if the historical Jesus is the two-thousand year conversation about the Jewish Jesus, Käsemann becomes something of a villain (of course, I say this tongue-n-cheek). In his so-called "New Quest", Jesus becomes less Jewish via the criterion of dissimilarity. And this criteriological impact guides many of the key voices of the so-called "Third Quest".

If there is a "No Quest" period in this longer view, it should be seen as the Aryan Jesus of Ernst Renan and his German parallels in the Third Reich. Moreover, if "Jesus the Jew" is our guiding thread, Käsemann has more in common with these "less Jewish" Jesus scholars.

So, in sum,

1) First Quest = not the first quest.

2) No Quest = only true in Germany and furthers Schweitzer's myopia (which was justified by the claim that the German spirit and intellect were superior!)

3) New Quest = Käsemann becomes a villain in the new paradigm - and (perhaps) seen as an extension of Ernst Renan and company with parallels in the cynic Jesus who is still imagined by many so-called "Third Questers". I.e. Käsemann contributes to a different sort of "No Quest" in Germany.

4) Third Quest = the Jewishness of Jesus is representative of historical studies long before the so-called "Third Quest"; the only things that make this period distinct are the widespread use of criteria and the productivity of the era.

So I must disagree with Peter when he comments:
The three quest paradigm is a helpful pedagogical simplification. It describes patterns of thought and influence in the scholarly study of the historical Jesus. It highlights some things and obscures others, so what? That is what simplifications do.
The "Quests" paradigm is not pedagogically helpful because it is simply misleading.  What would be more pedagogically helpful is to better represent the history of research.



  1. When it comes to paradigms, I STILL say I’ve seen worse.

    The “moments” I mentioned in Quest history are the ones I think marked points of transition. For example, it’s commonly written that Schweitzer’s work brought the First Quest to the end and ushered in the period of No Quest. I did not mean to suggest that Schweitzer began the First Quest (of course he did not), or even that his work belongs to the First Quest (although it might).

    Your “longer view” here is your most persuasive piece to date on the Quest paradigm. At the moment, I’m either persuaded by your effort to push back the beginning of the Quest, or I’m confused by it. The more you push, the more I wonder what we mean by the Historical Jesus. If the Quest is the effort to understand Jesus using modern historical methods, then by definition the Quest cannot begin until those methods came into use. But if the Historical Jesus is the Jesus that Christians discuss in certain contexts with those outside of the Christian faith, then obviously we’re talking about something that goes back a long way.

    I’ll push back on the idea that the Historical Jesus was the “Jewish Jesus” from Augustine onward, so that the “Jewish Jesus” of the Third Quest is nothing new. IMHO: the Third Quest takes a new approach to the discovery of Jesus’ Jewish context. Increasingly, this context is being studied for something close to its own sake. Trying to consider this in terms of memory, the Third Quest accounts (or at least, feels responsible for accounting) for a Jewish memory tradition of 1st century Judaism. More than this, the Third Quest strives to place Jesus within this memory tradition in a “mainstream” and not a “marginal” way. I don’t see this in Augustine, or Bultmann. (And you might say that you don’t see this in Meier, or even Crossan!)

    But all you have to do, Anthony, is to put forth a better paradigm, and everyone will live happily ever after.

    1. ...or I can just wait ten years and see if my published work on this topic gains any traction.

  2. The second world war has three phases: the Germans win, the Russians win, the Americans win. This is a simplification.