E.P.Sanders centers on Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, which, seen in the context of the Judaism of Jesus’ day, was an act that seriously offended his Jewish audience and eventually led to his death.^27 Richard Horsley interprets Jesus as favoring
22 Ibid., chapter IV; cf. also Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus—God and Man, transl. by Lewis Wilkins and Duane Priebe (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968), pp. 88–105.
23 Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology, transl. by James W. Leitch (New York: Harper and Row, 1967).
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.
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.