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The purpose of this web page is to explain and explore some of the theories offered up
by contemporary scholars on the historical Jesus and the origins of the Christian
religion. Issues include the nature of the historical Jesus, the nature of the early
Christian documents, and the origins of the Christian faith in a risen Jesus Christ. An
attempt has been made to include historical Jesus theories across the spectrum from
Marcus Borg to N.T. Wright and to describe these historical Jesus theories in an
accurate and concise way.
The authors are listed in alphabetical order. For convenience, the authors are also listed
by the general view that each has on the historical Jesus. Much information is lost when
a person's view is reduced to a slogan, and even scholars placed under the same rubric
have different views on Jesus. The information on this web page is no substitute for
reading what these writers have to say. The recent publications of each writer on the
historical Jesus are indicated, with links toamazon.com to view reader reviews and
buying information. Online articles by or about the author are also listed. The editor's
favorites are shown in pictures on the right-hand side, and these titles are recommended
for further reading on the historical Jesus.
Borg makes two negative claims about the historical Jesus: he wasnonmessianic, which
means that he didn't claim to be the Messiah or have a message focused on his own
identity, and he wasnoneschatological, which means that he did not expect "the
supernatural coming of the Kingdom of God as a world-ending event in his own
generation" (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, p. 29). Borg summarizes his view
of the historical Jesus in these words: "he was a spirit person, subversive sage, social
prophet, and movement founder who invited his followers and hearers into a
transforming relationship with the same Spirit that he himself knew, and into a
community whose social vision was shaped by the core value of compassion" (op. cit.,
p. 119). By "spirit person," Borg means that Jesus was a "mediator of the sacred" for
whom the Spirit or God was a reality that was experienced. Based on his experience of
the sacred, for the historical Jesuscompassion "was the central quality of God and the
central moral quality of a life centered in God" (op. cit., p. 46). Jesus spoke against the
purity system in sayings like "blessed are the pure in heart" and in parables like that of
the Good Samaritan. The historical Jesus challenged the purity boundaries in touching
lepers as well as hemorrhaging women, in driving the money changers out of the
temple, and in table fellowship even with outcasts. Jesus replaced an emphasis on purity
with an emphasis on compassion. The historical Jesus spoke an alternative wisdom in
aphorisms and parables that controverted the conventional wisdom based upon rewards
and punishments. The earliest Christology of the Christian movement viewed Jesus as
the voice of the Sophia. The images of Jesus as the Son of God and the Wisdom of God
are metaphorical, just as much as the images of Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Word
In the work of John Dominic Crossan, there is a refreshing emphasis on
methodology. To this end, Crossan has compiled a database of the
attestation for the Jesus traditions by independent attestation and
stratification, provided by Faith Futures Foundation in the links above.
Crossan in The Historical Jesus explains that his methodology is to take
what is known about the historical Jesus from the earliest, most widely
attested data and set it in a socio-historical context. The bulk of the
common sayings tradition shows itself to be specific to the situation that
existed in the 20s of the first century in Galilee in which the agrarian peasantry were
being exploited as the Romans were commercializing the area. The historical Jesus
proves to be a displaced Galilean peasant artisan who had got fed up with the situation
and went about preaching a radical message: an egalatarian vision of the Kingdom of
God present on earth and available to all as manifested in the acts of Jesus in healing the
sick and practicing an open commensality in which all were invited to share. The
historical Jesus was an itinerant whose mode of teaching can be understood on analogy
with the Cynic sage but who was nonetheless a Jew who believed that the kingdom was
being made available by the God of Israel to his people. The revolutionary message of
Jesus was seen to be subversive to the Roman vision of order and led to the fateful
execution of Jesus by Pilate on a hill outside of Jerusalem.
In The Birth of Christianity, Crossan re-iterates an emphasis on
methodology in laying out his presuppositions about the gospel texts as
forming the basis for all of his other judgments about the historical Jesus
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