Van A. Harvey★
Anyone teaching the origins of Christianity to college undergraduates or divinity students cannot help but be struck by the enormous gap between what the average layperson believes to be historically true about Jesus of Nazareth and what the great majority of New Testament scholars have concluded after a century and a half of research and debate. Despite decades of research, the average person tends to think of the life of Jesus in much the same terms as Christians did three centuries ago: the humble manger birth in Bethlehem; the flight into Egypt to avoid the wicked King Herod; the baptism by John the Baptist, who recognized Jesus to be the long-promised Messiah; a three-year ministry in which Jesus' claims to divinity are met by the hostility of the Jews, who conspire to have him tried and crucified; and the burial in a garden tomb after which he rises from the dead.
So far as the biblical historian is concerned, however, there is scarcely a popularly held traditional belief about Jesus that is not regarded with considerable skepticism. It is not surprising, therefore, that any professor who today relies upon contemporary New Testament scholarship concerning the origins of Christianity meets with considerable student hostility and resistance. Whereas students of medieval or American history normally regard the teacher as an expert to be trusted, students of the origins of Christianity suspect that the teacher is a skeptic undermining their religious faith.
This gulf between the historian and the traditional Christian believer raises a number of important social, philosophical, and, as I hope to show,____________________