Friday, August 13, 2010

John, Jesus, and History

This is a little late. In my news reader I've kept unread Paul Anderson's essay, "A Forth Quest for Jesus . . . So What, and How So?", which appeared on The Bible and Interpretation last month. Anderson has been a significant figure in the SBL's John, Jesus, and History group, which began (if memory serves) at the Toronto Annual Meeting back in 2002. His essay is well worth reading (if you haven't already) in part because of his discussion of the use and function of criteria of historical authenticity (on which see my article, "Authenticating Criteria" (JSHJ 7/2 [2009]: 152–67). [Chris Keith has is also doing some interesting work on the criteria of authenticity; look for his upcoming book on Jesus that will be published by Baker Academic.]

In the teaser I include below, Anderson raises the question of our reaction to the Fourth Gospel if it had disappeared from history until the twentieth or twenty-first century. If the late Gospel of Judas incited considerable hubbub, how much more would the re-discovery of the Gospel of John?! Even posing the question immediately reveals how shocking it should be that historical Jesus scholarship has become so sanguine vis-à-vis John. Essays like this give me some confidence that, after floundering for a number of decades, historical Jesus scholarship is finally beginning to head in some interesting (and potentially fruitful) directions.
Think of it! What would happen if the National Geographic Channel ran a special on a recently discovered gospel text from the late first century, which was different from the Synoptics but also developed an alternative rendering of Jesus and his ministry? If the third-century Gospel of Judas created a stir, with virtually no historical-Jesus tradition within it, imagine what sort of a ruckus would emerge if John were taken seriously as an independent Jesus tradition, differing from the Markan gospels with at least some knowing intentionality. That’s what I believe will happen if the Fourth Gospel’s historical features come out from being eclipsed by its theological ones.

My Visual Bookshelf