‘Fourth quest’ for Jesus?

Paul Anderson, increasingly vocal (and the print equivalent) in the use of John in historical Jesus studies, has suggested that such a use might herald a fourth quest for the historical Jesus. Now if the arguments by Marsh, Casey, Allison, and Bermejo Rubio and others are right (and they probably are), namely, that the classifications in to quests and non-quest are deeply misleading, then, obviously, the ‘fourth quest’ is not the right term. And someone will come along and point out that x, y and z used John’s Gospel in the study of the historical Jesus.

Perhaps it is better to read historical Jesus scholarship (and indeed any scholarship) in terms of its historical context(s). In terms of the use John’s gospel, it might reasonably be argued that the polarisation in certain sections of biblical scholarship (see the secular v faith/evangelical arguments, everywhere passim) goes someway to explain this emphasis on the often ignored John and the quest.  But it is not clear that is enough to permit the terminology of a new quest though…is it?


9 responses to “‘Fourth quest’ for Jesus?

  1. No it isn’t and I absolutely agree with every iota, jot, tittle and spelling mistake (or is ‘increasinly’ just colloquial /Barrovian dialect / british funny talk etc)? 😉 Blinking John. Blinking 2001.

  2. Does the consideration of new (or perhaps often overlooked) data in any other field get given the name “quest”?… It use sounds suspiciously “gimmicky” to me. Why not just discuss these developments as part of an ongoing history of the discipline(s) concerned, rather than apply these somewhat artbitrary questoidial demarcations? To disagree with me, perhaps, the architects among us would prefer “neo-johannism”, but arhictects are a funny lot.

    It’s always a bit odd when contemporary actors historically label their efforts, as though history had already approved their significance. It reminds me of Nicolas Bourriaud’s attempt to distinguish himself by announcing “altermodernity”.

  3. Sorry Steph. It should have been “increasin’ly”.

    Phil: agree entirely.

  4. I don’t see much wrong with the idea that Schweitzer’s book brought the nineteenth century’s historical quest to a culmination worthy of a “First Quest” designation.

    Nor do I see much innovation in critical-historical Jesus studies until Bultmann’s students re-opened the issue in the middle of the 20th Century (Marxsen-Bornkamm et al as “New Quest” aka Second Quest).

    And I like N.T. Wright’s suggestion that Ben Meyer’s Aims of Jesus was significantly in advance of both attempts for the whole trend begun by Meyers to merit a ‘Third Quest’ designation.

    Meanwhile if Wright has his way (and I think rightly) the Jesus Seminar will never get its own quest-number but will always be step-children of the New (2nd) Questers.

    The Gospel of John was rather summarily ruled out from the beginning of the first quest. Isolated workers (your “x, y, and z” above) and those who simply believe that all four Gospel accounts are inerrant don’t count, do they?

    A new historical-critical quest might need to return to Schleiermacher’s Life of Jesus (which shows the first really critical acceptance of John) and then make an honest attempt to debate the dogmatic dismissals that were inaugurated by Strauss and incorporated into the modern hermeneutic of suspicion.

    A modern judgment upon what is and is not worthy of acceptance as historical in John could be called a “Fourth Quest” in my opinion, simply to identify its utter revisionist nature (not necessarily a bad thing in view of the circumstances).

    Just a layman here – but remember, I represent the folks out there who read the Gospel of John as much as any NT book, and buy books purporting to treat of these issues fairly.

    • Maurice Casey’s “Is John’s Gospel True” is thorough and treats John fairly but leaves no doubt as to his historical value. Popular bishops like Tom Wright at one end, and cynical liberals like the American Jesus Seminar at the other, have their own audiences and sell well because people like what they say – they support their ideologies…

  5. J.C., the scholar, not the messiah, wrote: “… increasingly vocal (and the print equivalent) … “.

    “Logorrheaic” seems appropriate, given his output on the Fourth Gospel.

    • oh puffikt Deano Nevo Wrongo – much righter than diarrhea which is all I can think of when I put PA in a sentence. And J.C. be Jesus, I hath named him so many times behind his back and you sir is a messiah AND a naughty little boy.

  6. John:

    The argument would go (rightly, I believe) that there was far, far more going on in C19 than we are usually led to believe, including other eschatological/apocalyptic Jesus arguments. And, is it not a little strange to lump an entire quest over at least a century?

    There was also plenty going on in the first half of the twentieth century. As for innovation, look no further than the Nazi Jesus scholars (and they were mainstream scholars too).

    I’m not sure the content/reconstruction of Meyer’s work was particularly new to be honest, certainly not dramatic enough to herald a new era.

    From Renan to Meier, John’s Gospel has been discussed and used, even if not anything like as much as the synoptics. There has also been a steady stream of conservative scholars who have always upheld its usefulness. I’m not sure it merits a dramatic claim of a fourth quest, especially if the previous quests are nothing more than an imposition by scholarship.

    The chapter in Allison’s Resurrection Jesus and Bermejo Rubio’s recent Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus article collect massive amounts of data to show that the classification of quests is just wrong. It would be interesting to see if you held the same views in light of these essays (assuming you haven’t read them…if you have, what do you think…?)

  7. Actually I’m fine with forgetting the quest numbers, except I think we stand to lose some referential aids by doing so. What I won’t agree to is any refunding of old arguments against John’s historicity.

    It’s an important point you made about the “far, far more going on in C19 than we are usually led to believe” – that did remind me of the English critical writers after about 1870 whom Schweitzer completely overlooks, and whom I have found more helpful than the Germans. I’m going to assume you don’t have anyone else in mind (I’m sticking to my earlier point that Catholics and Protestant infallibilists shouldn’t be in the equation here).

    I don’t understand your reference to Renan as historical scholarship (unless you are making an oblique criticism of Meier by associating them at terminus points). And I’m completely unfascinated by the suggestion that we discuss John on terms set by Nazi scholars.

    Next time I see the Allison book or JSHJ I’ll take a look.

    Thanks for writing.

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