Historical Jesus

kasemann2Upon the recommendation of Brandon Wason I decided to read Ernst Käsemann’s article “The Problem of the Historical Jesus.”  (Essays on New Testament Themes, 1964) While I was aware of Käsemann’s position as one of the founders of the New Quest for the historical Jesus I had not actually read this particular article until now.  His article is especially striking for myself as one living in an era in which the search for the historical Jesus is in full swing.  Although scholars may acknowledge the reservations of scholars such as Bultmann and Schweitzer, each then proceeds to outline some sort of system for distilling the historical Jesus.  Käsemann’s carefulness in asserting that while Bultmann has made valid points scholars should not give up and resume, at least in a limited capacity, the search for the historical Jesus is a stern reminder of the cyclical nature of Biblical scholarship.  (This is especially true for a number of Pauline issues such as the historical value of Acts with regard to Paul’s life, Pauline authorship and the unity of Philippians.)  The fact that Käsemann finds it necessary to make the following statment is especially enlightening, 

“We should also be overlooking the fact that there are still pieces of the Synoptic tradition which the historian has to acknowledge as authentic if he wishes to remain an historian at all.” (46)

In other words , Käsemann felt it was necessary to remind the scholarly community that there are at least a few historical elements in the Synoptic Gospels!   Although Käsemann claims that we cannot abandon the search for the historical Jesus, he agrees with Bultmann at least in the premise that it is difficult to ascertain the historical Jesus from the Gospels.  He states that the gospel writers were not interested in the basic facts of history but were more interested in “eliciting from the past the essence both of its faith and of its own history.”   Furthermore Käsemann states that,

“The significance of this Jesus for faith was so profound, that even in the very earliest days it almost entirely swallowed up his earthly history.” (23)

However, despite the limitations and difficulties scholars face when persuing the historical Jesus, Käsemann does not believe in giving up the pursuit altogether.  A fitting summary for Käsemann’s position may be the following statement concerning his view on the search for the historical Jesus.

“No one may arbitrarily and with impunity exempt himself from tackling the problems which have come down to him from his fathers.”  (24)

I am left pondering the notion of just how important bucking the current trend of scholarship can be.  Additionally, the more  I read by Käsemann, the more I respect him and wish he was still around.  I would enjoy reading his reaction to a number of current trends such as the New Perspective and rhetorical criticism.




Yesterday I received three books that I’m quite excited about which come from the library of the late, great, Krister Stendahl.  I’m not sure how many others share my fondness for acquiring important works from the libraries of important scholars but  I quite enjoy opening a book and seeing that it belonged to one of the greats who came before me.  The first book I received is Bultmann’s classic Das Evangelium des Johannes.   I did not own this important work in German until now.  I was hoping Stendahl had made some notes in the work, but alas it is clean as can be.  The second book is a somewhat mangled copy of Dibelius’ commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians and Philippians in German.  The cover, signed by Stendahl, is torn off the book.  Therefore, it may be time to contact the world famous book repairman Brandon Wason and rebind this work before I lose the cover or any other pages.  Finally, I acquired Ernst Fuchs, Zur Frage Nach Dem Historischen Jesus.  One of these books is for a friend and I sure hope he enjoys it as I would be thrilled to keep all three!  I’m curious if anyone else out there shares my affinity for acquiring books from the libraries of the pillars who came before us.


Well I see that my esteemed colleague Pat McCullough has reviewed the “little” Q lecture I gave at UCLA yesterday.  While Pat has provided a more thorough treatment of my lecture, I will provide some brief thoughts on it.  Although 20 minutes is not a lot of time to spend on Q, I was able to present what Q is, question our current reconstruction of the document, discuss oral tradition, places limits on the types of analysis scholars can perform on a reconstructed document, and even work in a plug for Mark Goodacre’s work and book The Case Against Q (He should see a sharp spike in sales after this lecture).  Most importantly after my 20 minutes was finished, not one student I noticed was asleep and many of them had interesting questions.

Pat has already mentioned my favorite question, but I will restate it anyway.  A student asked if another gospel was found would it influence the current reconstruction of Q.  I was a bit surprised by such a question and let him know that if a new gospel was found the entire landscape would change and nearly all  work would be influenced by this discovery.  In fact, I stated that scholars would probably do cartwheels in their offices!

Well I suppose the alert of my lecture reached everyone too late because I did not see any out of town travellers looking weary from a long flight and no sleep.  That’s okay because there is always next year.  Although I am a Q proponent, I will leave you today as I like to close this subject during a lecture: I often wonder if Q scholars working with this reconstructed document sometimes forget that the document they hold in their hands is actually a document which they created.

For anyone interested, I will be giving a Q lecture at UCLA on Thursday during Dr. S. Scott Bartchy’s Historical Jesus course, 186C.  My lecture will start around 11:00 am in Broad 2160E.  As a teaser, in my lecture I will present the basics of Q and then discuss the possibility that Q as currently agreed upon may be both too short and too long.  How is that for an unusual statement.  I suppose I should have posted this last week for the many out of towners who will surely want to fly in for this lecture.