But not all interpretations of Jesus’ life attempt to pay strict attention to historical detail. Some, like the fictitious lives earlier in this chapter, have admittedly set out to construct rather imaginary portrayals of his time on the earth. But in spite of the fact that scholars deny the validity of such efforts, they have arguably played an influential role in the popular understanding of Christianity. In the last few decades, many popular lives of Jesus have appeared, and are quite similar in many respects to the fictitious works of about 150 years ago. We will discuss several in subsequent chapters.

Perhaps surprisingly to some, there is still a conclusion to be gained from all of this variety. As in so many other matters, the question is not how many scholars hold such-and-such a view, or what trends have dominated intellectual thought, or even how surveys tell us the majority of people think.

The real issue is what the data tell us about the Jesus of history. What sources do we have at our disposal? Is there any material from non-Christians? When did Jesus live? What did he do? What did he teach? How did he die? Is there any truth to the New Testament contention that Jesus was raised from the dead? It is our purpose to pursue the answers to many of these questions both by addressing critical challenges and by ascertaining what sources support a traditional understanding of Jesus.

28 Richard Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine(San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987).

29 Examples include James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism(Garden City: Doubleday, 1988); John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 1 (Garden City: Doubleday, 1991) and Mentor, Message, Miracle, Vol. 2 (Garden City: Doubleday, 1994).