24 This designation was probably first given by Stephen Neill and Tom Wright in The Interpretation of the New Testament: 1961–1986, Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988). The best treatment and evaluation is that by Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth(Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1995). For a popular overview of recent works on Jesus, see Tom Wright, “The New, Unimproved Jesus,” Christianity Today, vol. 37, no. 10, September 13, 1993, pp. 22–26.
25 Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew: A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels(New York: Macmillan, 1973); cf. Geza Vermes, The Religion of Jesus the Jew(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).
26 Ben F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus(London: SCM, 1979).
27 E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985).
nonviolent social dissent.^28 Other important volumes add to the emphasis on Jesus and the Jewish background of his thought.^29
A notable exception to this fairly positive trend is the position taken by the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar. While agreeing with the need to research the historical Jesus, these scholars follow more in the tradition of Strauss and Bultmann, and favor a return to a mythical approach to the Gospels.^30
Summary and Conclusion
It would appear that, for at least the last two hundred years, there has usually been a keen interest in studying the life of Jesus. Although there have also been times (such as a few decades earlier this century) when this interest has waned among scholars, it seems to reassert itself periodically.
It is within such a contemporary context, then, that studies in the life of Jesus proceed. And like so many other areas, there are those scholars who will defend the biblical accounts, those who will deny their authority, and those who line up somewhere in between.