However, the resulting application of the criterion of dissimilarity yields significantly less material than the methodology employed by the old quest. One major criticism is that this test would allow Jesus to share neither Jewish nor Christian beliefs, which is ludicrous in that he was raised in the former milieu and is the chief inspiration for the latter. Thus this approach fails to extricate itself from the historical skepticism that it is critiquing.
Further, the question is whether additional data can be justified, and on what grounds. Other scholars went much further in their critique of those who would severely curtail the search for history in the life of Jesus, which was the dominant trend until at least the middle of this century. Sometimes conclusions seemed more sympathetic to the stance of traditional Christianity, especially in arguing for some of the supernatural elements contained in the Gospels.
Wolfhart Pannenberg headed a group of intellectuals who argued forcefully for the concept of God’s revelation in time-space history.^21 The resurrection of Jesus, in
18 Günther Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazarethtransl. by Irene and Fraser McLuskey with James M. Robinson (New York: Harper and Row, 1960), chapter I.
19 James M. Robinson, A New Quest of the Historical Jesus, Studies in Biblical Theology, First Series, 25 (London: SCM, 1959), pp. 85–92; cf. pp. 9–22.
20 Ibid., pp. 99–100.
21 For the seminal work written by a group of theologians sometimes called the “Pannenberg circle,” see Wolfhart Pannenberg, ed., Revelation as History, transl. by David Granskou (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1968).
particular, was singled out for defense.^22 Jürgen Moltmann championed an eschatological perspective that acknowledged the importance of God’s participation in both past and present history.^23
The Third Quest for the Historical Jesus
It is probably accurate to say that, at the present, there has been a somewhat positive assessment of attempts to understand Jesus in historical terms. Interestingly enough, this attitude often crosses liberal-conservative lines. Although there is no identifiable consensus among current scholars, current trends have led to what some have called the “Third Quest” for the historical Jesus.^24
More positive in its assessment of the historical Jesus than was the “New Quest,” it is also more difficult to produce certain common earmarks of the latest installment of Jesus research, due to the inclusion of such a wide spectrum of views. Perhaps the chief characteristic is the emphasis on anchoring Jesus against the backdrop of his own time, especially with regard to the Jewish setting and context for Jesus’ life and teachings. Any interpretation that does not recognize the “Jewishness” of Jesus may be judged not to fit into this category.
Accordingly, emphasis has been placed on such factors as the religious, political, economic, and social influences in the land of Palestine. Recent archaeological findings have fueled a debate concerning the amount of Hellenistic and Roman influence in the Galilee of Jesus’ day.
A few brief examples will perhaps reveal some threads that tie together this loose-knit group of studies. For Geza Vermes, himself a Jew, Jesus was a popular Jewish rabbi and Galilean holy man.^25 A treatise by Ben Meyer portrays Jesus as preaching to Israel, God’s chosen people, with a renewed offer of community.^26