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Dr. E. David Cook
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for THS 550
July 5, 2012
JESUS REMEMBERED: A RESEARCH,
The Context of James D. G. Dunn's Jesus Remembered
The (a) Newtonian scientific paradigm which viewed creation, or nature, as a carefully
crafted machine governed by absolute and universal laws was chiefly responsible for shifting
attitudes about man and theology. Other contributing factors were (b) the decided dissatisfaction
with religious authority (partly due to the many wars of religion), (c) Copernicus’ discovery that
the earth was in fact not the center of the cosmos, (d) Galileo’s turning of the telescope toward
the heavens, and (e) the positivistic nature of Cartesian and mathematical philosophies and
sciences. Each of these contributions worked together to transform the ethos of the seventeenth
century from one of religious “superstition,” into one of reason, despite much of the theological
convictions and Christian devotion many Enlightenment architects carried.
It was believed that the mind of man could afford near-omniscience. Perhaps more
than other influencing factors Newtonian science, which stretched human understanding to limits
never before known, was responsible for the rationalistic ethos of the age. Newton's scientific
revolution had brought remarkable structural understanding to the universe, which allowed man
to categorize and theorize understanding and knowledge of the natural world. Consequently, it
was thoughtfully believed that human omniscience was an attainable goal. Reason, therefore,
comprises the first principle of the Enlightenment. The second principle, autonomy, was really
the recognition that all men had the ability to reason. The mind of the reasoning individual, then,
became prized over the authority of the church.
A third principle of knowledge established during the Enlightenment was also a
consequence of Newtonian science, nature. The natural world was thought carefully to be
governed by universal laws, and with Newton’s discovery of these laws a foundation for natural
and absolute knowledge was anticipated. This emphasis on the natural world and its lawful
structure led to a championing of empirical methods of understanding, with the result that the
natural sciences, competing with theological sciences, came to form the basis of human
knowledge. But natural laws in Newtonian thought precluded the possibility of divine
intervention in history. Naturalism consequently fueled a fourth principle, harmony. All thought
and understanding, like the universe, would inevitably yield uniformity. Each scientific
discipline would necessarily be in harmony with another.
Each of these principles, reason and autonomy, nature and harmony, worked together
to provide an unmistakable ethos. With the omniscience of human understanding believed to be
within reach a belief of inevitable progress resulted. The ascension of anthropology was really a
recognition of man's potential. Man was wonderfully made and possessed a remarkable
But these rapid changes in the ethos of the age, man's “coming of age,” came at
considerable costs to the church and theology. Long held beliefs about Scripture were constantly
called into question: (1) the “fall” of man and the nature of human depravity, (2) revelation, (3)
miracles, and (4) Jesus' divinity. Again, despite the pious and even theological emphases of
several enlightenment scientists, reason became god of the age and this meant the crowning of
man, with the strong possibility of the dethronement of God. With every advance in natural
understanding, the theological teachings of the church came to be viewed suspiciously, or even
grievously. Man was to be viewed as something positive and wonderful, given the leaps in
understanding reason brought. How could he, then, be a depraved creature? The church's
teaching on depravity actually worked to restrain human potential for understanding. With the
recognition of universal laws governing the natural world, the consequences of this for revelation
and miracles was obvious: there could be none. And if God could not act from outside upon the
created world, how could he become a man and die on behalf of sinful man, and rise from the
Therefore, with the rapid advances in the natural sciences came thoughtful and critical
reflection on the life of Jesus of Nazareth, or the historical Jesus behind the gospels of the
Christian faith, and a ditch recognizably developed between Christian faith and historical truth.
For Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781) this “ugly, broad ditch” was a wedge between religious truth
and historical truth, the latter of which was the sort open to study, the former an unquestioned
necessary truth of reason. Lessing posthumously published the work of Hermann Samuel
Reimarus (1694-1768), which is generally considered the beginning of studies on the historical
David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874) continued in the vein of Reimarus. Where
contradictions between Holy Scripture and the universal laws of the reigning scientific paradigm
were discernible, the historicity of the former was called into question and frequently dismissed,
although attempts were sometimes made at a natural causation for biblical miracles. These two
thinkers lay the cognitive foundation for what is now considered the Liberal Quest for the
The Liberal Quest
This first quest for the historical Jesus owed much of its thinking to Immanuel Kant
(1724-1804) and Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834). What each attempted was to provide an
area of locating the truths of Christian faith, such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death,
in an intellectual safety zone free from disfigurement by naturalism. For Kant, this was in the
realm of morality; Schleiermacher, religious consciousness. “The influence of Kant is evident in
the description of the work of the leading Liberal Protestant theologian (Albrecht Ritschl ) as 'the theology of moral values'.”1 Adolf von Harnack's (1851-1930) own essence of
Christianity was popularized as the “fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man,” which are
both, of course, moral ideals.2
Certain axioms generated by the first quest proved very persistent in future studies.
They were threefold: (1) The dismissing of John's gospel as historically reliable due to its certain
theological compromises was largely the work of F. C. Baur (1792-1860). This criticism
continues to frame present discussion; from henceforth historical Jesus research would operate
largely from the synoptic gospels. (2) The second axiom, that of Markan priority, was provided
by Heinrich Holtzmann (1832-1910), and has, since its inception, proved firmly irreversible. (3)
Third and lastly, though not necessarily axiomatic as its existence is frequently challenged, was
the hypothetical existence of a “Q” source, which was thought to be responsible for the material
common to both Matthew and Luke (but where they departed from Mark). B. H. Streeter is
usually given credit for this finding.
Despite its advances the liberal quest was brought to an abrupt end by the work of two
thinkers, (1) Johannes Weiss (1863-1914) and (2) Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965). By
respectively (re)introducing apocalypticism and eschatology into the discussion, it was said that
James D. G.Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003) 36.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 38.
Jesus wrongly anticipated an eschatological event of vindication from God; an event that never
occurred. Having made Jesus, then, an apparent failure, a man abandoned by God the father on
the wheel of time and history, their work effectively ruined any reason for an intellectual faith
commitment to a liberal portrait of Jesus.
The Second Quest
Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) attempted to recover an historical Christ for the church,
but also at considerable cost. Following Karl Barth's (1886-1968) earlier work on the word of
God as existential encounter, Bultmann sought “secure refuge for faith in the moment of
existential encounter with the word of proclamation, an area for faith invulnerable indeed to the
challenge and acids of historical criticism.”3 For Bultmann, the church encounters the word of
God preached in an existential moment of confrontation such that “the gulf between his negative
historical-critical findings and his very positive faith in the kerygmatic Christ” is resolved “by
means of an existentialist hermeneutic.”4 Bultmann's historical method further involved form
criticism and the “demythologizing” of the kerygma; a peeling away of its mythological husk to
obtain the kernel of Christian kerygmatic truth lying beneath.
With renewed emphasis on the kerygma of the gospels the students of Bultmann, Ernst
Käsemann (1906-1998) in particular, emphasized the dangers in “posing a too sharp
discontinuity between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith.”5 The way was being prepared
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 77.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 77.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 79.
for the “possibility of a christology 'from below'.”6 Theology was creeping back into the
James Dunn and the Third Quest
If the second quest was marked by a theological turn, the third is marked by renewed
interest in the Jewishness of Jesus. From an early period historical Jesus studies proceeded by
sharply distinguishing Jesus from his Jewish context. But Jesus was, among other truths, a Jew,
and the work of scholars such as E. P. Sanders (1937-) decidedly channeled further historical
Jesus studies towards first century Judaism. His book Jesus and Judaism is regarded “as the real
beginning of the third quest.”7 The third quest was also the first to recognize Judaisms (plural)
of the second temple period.
N. T. Wright (1948-) and James Dunn himself (1939-) are discussion partners picking
up the historical mantle of Jesus as Jew provided by Sanders. Though they frequently
complement one another, they are not without important distinctions. N. T. Wright's emphasis,
expressed in his desire to portray a theological history for interpreting the gospels, rests in his
“fixed idea” of “return from exile.”8 But few historians seem to have followed Wright in his
theological portrait of biblical history, although it is a welcome attempt.
Though we have now arrived at Dunn, it should be observed that neo-liberalism has
made a strong return in the mostly American “Jesus Seminar.” Thinkers in this group have a
clear liberal agenda: “Entirely in the spirit of the original quest, [Robert Funk] takes the
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 80.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 89.
This is Dunn's criticism of Wright; Jesus Remembered, 91.
distinction between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith as axiomatic and sees it as the
goal of his endeavors, and those of the Jesus Seminar.”9 Other thinkers in this seminar are
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.
Faith and History and Hermeneutics (Dunn's Content)
Much of the context section above is also a large part of Dunn's content (as the
footnotes demonstrate). I will proceed in the content section below, then, to engage the
historiographical interests of Part One of Jesus Remembered. These threefold interests are (1)
faith, (2) history and (3) hermeneutics.
The NT historian simply cannot ignore faith. Should he try, he would have very little
history for his project. One very large obstacle for the liberal quest was the realization that faith
was a “factor which could not be ignored, the sobering realization that a historical inquiry into
the life of Jesus had after all to take account of faith.”10 From its earliest inception, Christianity
wed faith with history. The two belong together as husband and wife. But how the two belong
together introduces the third element, hermeneutics. This is a delight that Dunn offers readers, as
he aims to present a hermeneutic that respects both, and gives each its rightful place in their
matrimony with one another:
I have argued that the key issue in any attempt to talk historically about Jesus of Nazareth
has been and continues to be the tension between faith and history, or more accurately now,
the hermeneutical tension between faith and history.11
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 58.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 49.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 125.
The importance for Christianity of studying the historical Jesus is obvious.
Christianity claims itself historical and that it rests upon the certainty of Jesus' resurrection. If
Christianity is defeated on historical grounds, then “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1
Dunn and Faith
Dunn shows some admiration for Martin Kähler, and for good reason. Kähler
introduces the distinction between Historie and Geschichte. Both words basically mean
“history,” but Historie “he understands as the bare data, independent of any significance which
might be placed on them.”12 “Geschichte, on the other hand, denotes history in its significance,
historical events and persons which attract attention by reason of the influence they have
exercised.”13 Dunn continues:
Kähler's central claim, then, is that the Christ of the Bible is Jesus seen in his significance.
For Kähler there is no such thing in the Bible as 'the historical Jesus', a figure devoid of
significance. . . The Liberal lives of Jesus had attempted to get back to a Jesus behind the
Gospel texts, by stripping away the interpretative layers and (presumed) distortions. Kähler
responded by arguing that this could not be done: the Gospels' picture of Jesus is
impregnated with interpretation throughout.14
Dunn sees in the work of Kähler a way forward. Realizing that we have no
uninterpreted and bare data regarding Jesus of Nazareth, the historian is left with the theological
sources handed down to us by the eyewitnesses. To interpret Jesus apart from this faith
perspective would necessarily leave the historian's biography implausible. For, to be plausible
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 49.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 49.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 49-50.
the historian would need a Historie, or a “de-theologized” witness. Which is a witness that
does not exist. We have only Geschichte.
Dunn and History
To return again to Reimarus and Strauss, Dunn makes the point that their strict
Enlightenment thinking aimed to explain Christianity apart from the witnessed miracles of Jesus
“on purely natural grounds.”15 Reimarus felt that the passages of Holy Scripture which made
miraculous claims were full of contradictions.16 And Strauss used the term “myth” to identify
these claims in the gospel narratives, and felt they were the inventions of creative apostles.17
However, “in their flight from the Christ of dogma,” Dunn states, “both Reimarus and Strauss
had not escaped into anything that might be called objective history, but simply into a different
ideology, the ideology of rationalism on the one hand and the ideology of idealism on the
Despite the work of Reimarus and Strauss, the eventual historical-critical methodology
that found common acceptance within the guild was provided by Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923).
There are three principles: (1) Probability; which is the notion that knowledge is probable at best,
never certain. (2) Analogy; indicating that the universal laws governing nature remain
unchanged. And (3) correlation; meaning the complex and holistic interrelatedness of history.
Troeltsch's historical-critical method “became the tool which was to dominate the quest for the
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 31.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 30.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 32-33.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 34.
historical Jesus for 150 years.”19
However, taking place at a fundamental level through the use of these criticisms was
the positivism belonging to the natural sciences historically tuned (the principle of analogy), and
the Enlightenment belief that history itself was a grand narrative of scientific progress (the
principle of correlation). Back of all this, again, stood Newtonian science, which championed,
. . . the universal laws of motion and gravity, that the cosmos is a single harmonious
structure of forces and masses. . . and that the world is like an intricate machine following
immutable laws, a closed system of cause and effect.20
Dunn and Hermeneutics
There are several components to Dunn's historiography as the following tertiary
headings reveal. It is a sort of piecemeal method involving bits of epistemology, rationalism,
hermeneutics, and memory.
Probability. To begin with, Dunn, like any good historian accepts, Troeltsch's
principle of probability. The point here is that facts about historical events can only be probable
at best, never certain. To explore the usefulness of probability, take for example the recent
Roman coins unearthed beneath the Herodian retaining wall in Jerusalem. The coins in question
date to about AD 17-18, stamped as they are with Valerius Gratus' image. They were located
near a mikveh partially submerged beneath an outer stone of the Herodian retaining wall.
Obviously, coins dated younger than Herod's wall which are found beneath his wall puts some
stress on the claims as to the age of the wall. But it was commonly held by classical historians
that the retaining wall was completed under Herod's rule. Are we then to discredit the wall, the
mount, even the second temple itself, as being built by Herod? Perhaps we could say the
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 27.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 27-28.
retaining wall was completed after Herod's death, but nevertheless attributed to him since it
was his ambitious project to beautify Jerusalem, even all of Palestine. This is not uncommon in
the classical world, and stands as a valid theory. The question though is, Which is most
probable? In truth, we can never know exactly when or how a coin which post-dated Herod's
lifetime arrived at its final resting place beneath an exterior stone of the Herodian retaining wall.
Historians, rather, evaluate each case in light of the data and choose the most probable.
Analogy and Correlation. It should be recalled that analogy and correlation are both
Troeltsch's critical principles significantly wed to the scientific positivism of the Enlightenment.
Each boasted Newtonian laws of nature thought to be universal and binding, precluding any
possibility of violation. Correlation is legitimated as a rationalist understanding of history in its
complex interrelatedness, inclusive of a closed system of causal forces. Obviously, Dunn has
some qualification for these two criticisms if they are to be employed successfully for recovering
the historical Jesus standing behind the Scriptures. Primarily he aims to deconstruct them of
their prejudices against “the novum.”21 Can the historian's work recognize something new, or is
every datum to be found as causally tied without remainder to a closed system of events? For the
Christian historian the concerns are obvious. God speaks and acts. Isaiah 43:19 states, “Behold,
I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” If Christian literature is
divorced from the novum, what is left of biblical history?
Analogy and correlation have also at times cynically operated in the history of
interpretation. Biblical miracles aside, ordinary but still wonderful events of inspiring literature
and noble actions are frequently assailed by critical historians simply for their characteristic
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 70.
virtue and beauty. It is taken as near axiomatic that the the uninspiring events of everyday
modern life should be understood prescriptively for the historical veracity of all recorded history.
But this cynicism antagonizes the many possible feats of nobility in history and the inspiring and
endearing impression some have made on the historical record.
Pardoning Jesus for a moment, Shakespeare's poetry, Caesar's fateful speech at the
bank of the Rubicon, the seemingly anointed life of George Washington with his bullet-holed
coat but preserved person, Luther's boldness before the Diet of Worms, etc. Is all such history
improbable simply for its infidelity to the mundane?22
Further, are we to dismiss always all hints of truth in legends such as King Arthur and
his exemplar knights gathering around a late Roman table? Are men not capable of such
nobility? A teenage Joan of Arc not capable of courage? Historical-criticism would make just as
bold assertions dismantling these persons and events, no doubt, as it has the Scripture's teachings
of Jesus of Nazareth.
Plain Meaning. One particularly interesting component of Dunn's historiography is
“plain meaning.” It would seem to go unsaid that any thinking historian desires “plain
meaning,” therefore what Dunn means by this is not entirely clear. Here, I will allow him to
summarize himself: “Here my concern is to emphasize that the precedence accorded to the text
has to include the primary task of listening to the text, the goal of letting it speak so far as
possible in its own terms.”23 It seems Dunn is contrasting plain meaning with post-modern
literary criticisms such as a reader-response hermeneutic, or deconstructionism. This seems clear
The reader will recognize the author's indebtedness to Dunn's quotation of Gadamer, Jesus
Remembered, 106, for much of the thoughts of this section.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 115.
from the following: “Despite theorists denying the referentiality of texts outside of themselves,
nowhere have practicing historians given up the belief that language refers to reality; texts are
still viewed as vehicles for communication of consciously held ideas.”24
Hermeneutical Spiral. Keeping continuity with literary criticism, Dunn next
undertakes a self-conscious text-based hermeneutic immunized against radical post-modernism.
Dunn rightly recognizes that “there cannot be any such thing as presuppositionless exegesis.”25
This reveals his historiographical method as self-conscious. He shows some sentiment for Hans
Gadamer's Truth and Method which envisions apprehending the meaning of the text as a fusion
of horizons.26 Unlike the deferring of meaning in contemporary literary theory, Dunn states that
the hermeneutical circle is better seen as a spiral. It proceeds towards meaning instead of
circling back on itself ad infinitum.
Critical Realism. Not unlike N. T. Wright's groundbreaking volume The New
Testament and the People of God, Dunn makes use of Critical Realism. This is the
epistemological component of his historiographical method. The parent architect of critical
realism is Bernard Lonergan, but its usefulness as appropriated to the NT was the achievement of
Ben Meyer's book Critical Realism and the New Testament. Wright uses Meyer as foundational
for his own reworking of critical realism which terminated in a sort of hybrid epistemology
involving the former in addition to narrative criticisms and a sociological recognition of “storybased knowing.” Dunn departs from the work of Wright here. Though Wright spent roughly
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 116.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 121.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 123.
one-hundred fifty pages developing this critically realistic historiography, Dunn spends two.
There will be much to criticize Dunn for as a result of this, but we will refrain from such an
effort until the evaluative analysis section.
Essentially, Critical Realism is fashioned in response to the aging historical positivism
of Enlightenment naturalism. It is “critical” because it recognizes the challenges of knowing an
object, challenges such as the post-modern critique, but still “realism” since it proceeds towards
the object of knowledge. It is, according to Lonergan, a self-conscious “conjunction of
experience, understanding, and judging.”27
Memory. Here the reader first encounters what lies at the heart of Dunn's
historiography. Unable to be recovered is the historical Jesus himself, we can only account “for
what he was remembered doing or saying by his first disciples.”28 It is the significance of Jesus
that is written of in the NT witness, not the historical person apart from anything meaningful
accomplished in his life. Further, Dunn sees in the virtues of memory, recalling Gadamer, the
fusion of “the horizons of past and present, by making the past present again.”29 It is “not Jesus
himself, but the remembered Jesus” Dunn explains.30
Faith, History and Hermeneutics Concluded
Dunn has all the ingredients desirable for contemporary Christian historiography:
hermeneutics, epistemology, rationalism, memory and the omission of presuppositions against
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 110; quoting Lonergan.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 130.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 130.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 131.
miracles. He is interested in, as a sympathetic historian, fidelity to the witnesses. He
frequently points out, à la Martin Kähler, that there are no others. The Jesus of history is only
revealed to us in his significance. If historiography is to make any rational attempt at knowing
Jesus of Nazareth, its hermeneutic must involve recognizing that Jesus is always an object of
both faith and history. You cannot drive a wedge between the two and recover a Jesus who never
inspired devotion and faith. Through a sound hermeneutic, the two can be brought together.
Distastefully, Dunn writes,
That will no doubt be part of the reason for the failure of history and faith to bed well
together: hermeneutics is the too little acknowledged third partner – a somewhat
uncomfortable ménage à trois.31
Dunn's Historiography: An Evaluative Analysis
There are two virtues of Dunn's historiography I wish to point out. (1) That he
carefully qualifies the historical-critical principle of analogy to make room for revelation, or as
he calls it, the novum. (2) And how his hypothesis of an underlying oral tradition stemming from
the remembered Jesus provides a formidable alternative to the complex discussions of literary
The Novum. Dunn has succeeded in showing that the principle of analogy was indeed
wed to the spirit of the naturalistic age. The liberal quest ended, not with any advances in
understanding the historical Jesus, nor with a consensus, but more or less with the question,
“Why should we continue to be Christian?” The blows to the first quest given in the work of
Weiss and Schweitzer, who revealed the liberal Jesus as a failed prophet, ruined any liberal
aspirations of establishing Jesus as a credible moral teacher who merited the devotion of
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 99.
Christians everywhere throughout history. Compounding this failure was early twentiethcentury bloodshed. The NT ethic was surrendered when Jesus Christ as a religious authority was
sundered between faith and history. Dunn successfully shows how the liberal efforts to remove
the faith perspective of the NT authors destabilized the very truths of history they sought. Only
by bringing history and faith together again can a credible historical Jesus be revealed.
Oral Tradition. The main thrust of Jesus Remembered centers on disciple memory
leading to oral traditions, eventuating in the written gospels of the NT complete with their
literary divergences. This thesis is meant to accentuate the literary alternative because orality
provides the fluid foundation upon which the complexity of the divergent NT testimonies need if
we are to account for them, something pure literary dependence can resolve only through much
Keeping with Markan priority, the explanations for harmony between Matthew and
Luke where they depart from Mark, though hypothetically answered by a Q source, can now be
answered more credibly through Dunn's proposal (although Dunn does not wish to eliminate
literary dependency altogether. Q as a written document remains a tentative explanation and its
existence so far is unprovable. It is illogical to presuppose an additional written component
when the data can be resolved by better appreciating the oral nature of the tradition. Therefore,
the fluid foundation of oral tradition remains the best sought for explanation for gospel variances
as it simplifies the matter by eliminating the need for additional hypothetical written sources.
Though Dunn does not deny literary dependence in Q, or make claims against the existence of Q.
Unfavorable Aspects of Dunn's Work
There are also two criticisms of Jesus Remembered to discuss. (1) The first is
methodological and consists of several points, chief of which is the unclear relationship between
Critical Realism and memory. (2) The second offers some critical reflection on the nature of
the tradition and how it unfolds in history. Here Dunn noticeably equivocates some.
Critical Realism and Memory. Perhaps the leading disappointment with Dunn's
method is the limited discussion he affords Critical Realism – he provides only two pages of
discussion in all of Part One (136 pp.), far from the rich one-hundred-plus pages of treatment his
peer N. T. Wright affords. But as an epistemology it clearly merits more attention. He declares
that the procedure of Critical Realism outlined should have obvious advantages for studying the
historical Jesus; but such a claim expects too much of even the most careful reader.32 The reader
is therefore left with several questions.
First, what is the relationship between the epistemology and memory? Second, in
what ways does Critical Realism inform the the application of memory? Third, how is it that
memory is better served by Critical Realism? What is it about the epistemological nature of
Critical Realism that compliments memory as an object of historical knowledge? For N. T.
Wright, Critical Realism is adapted to narrative-criticism in a careful and thorough treatment.
He spends a great deal of effort to explicate story-based knowing and how it is able to overcome
the challenges of modernity and post-modernity. Wright further outlines the story in which he
locates the historical Jesus and gains access to him as such through applying his narrative
Critical Realism. It seems Dunn uses Critical Realism as a means simply for accessing an object
of knowledge, in his case memory and tradition. But never the twain shall meet.
One brief last point concerning Dunn's historiography I wish to point out is his
layering of qualifications and certainty. In the materialistic guild of modern historiography, how
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 119.
is Dunn's work to claim a stake in the discussion if he champions something as immaterial as
an oral tradition on top of concerns for probability? Put otherwise, probability would seem to be
diminishing the more we qualify the object of historical knowledge immaterially. Immaterial
objects in historical research do not lend themselves easily to a consensus view in a discipline
still largely scientific in its outlook. But this is not to deny the merits of memory discussed
previously and its success in answering many complex questions posed by gospel literary
The Beginning of the Tradition. Dunn's lack of clarity on how the tradition arises
also causes the reader confusion. For example, how does, “There is in fact no gap to be bridged
between a Jesus historically conceived and the subsequent tradition which has effected
consciousness,” agree with (only three pages later), “at best what we have are the teachings of
Jesus as they impacted on the individuals who stored them in their memories and began the
process of oral transmission.”33 How is there being “no gap” compatible with a process of oral
transmission “which began with the initial impact of Jesus' word or deed and which continued to
influence intermediate retellers of the tradition until crystallized in Mark's or Matthew's or
Luke's account”?34 Is the tradition fixed with Christ so that there is no gap between his life and
the significance of him for his disciples? Or is there a gap involving a developing tradition? The
two are mutually exclusive; the historian cannot have it both ways.
Applying Jesus Remembered
The best application of Dunn's work can truly be found in Dunn:
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 128, 131.
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 130.
. . . dialogue with the heirs of Reimarus and Strauss is one of the activities which helps
theology to maintain a place within the public forum of university-level search for
knowledge and debate about truth. If theology wants to continue to make any kind of truth
claims of relevance beyond the confines of the churches, then it has to make them within
that public forum.35
Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 34.
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