Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary

Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary

Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary

Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary


The fewer data, the more theories!

The early biblical texts pertaining to Jesus, his life, teaching, and death represent only some 150 pages. But in the two millennia that followed his crucifixion, millions of pages have been written about him, in ancient and modern languages, by thousands of theologians, scholars, and other writers. In the last two centuries, under the influence of eighteenth-century critical rationalism that began with the publication of Hermann Samuel Reimarus’s work, Jesus research increasingly came to be detached from faith. It gained momentum and spread throughout the Western world. After much activity that led to meager results, scholars became discouraged:

There is nothing more negative than the results of
the critical study of the life of Jesus.

No one is any longer in a position to write a life of
Jesus.… In truth, this state of affairs has deeper
causes and compels us to affirm the futility of any
renewed attempt at Lives of Jesus now and in the

Yet a renewed quest followed the publication of Bornkamm’s challenge. Perhaps it will not produce a biography of Jesus, but it can retrieve the core of his most probable sayings and deeds. In 1957, James M. Robinson delivered an address at Oxford on “The Four Gospels in 1957.” It was entitled “The Kerygma and the Quest of the Historical Jesus,” and developed into a book, A New Quest of the Historical Jesus, in which Robinson, carrying further the position of Rudolf Bultmann in Jesus and the World (1926), expanded on the possibility, legitimacy, and procedure of the new quest. Subsequently, since the mid-1960s a resurgence of interest in Jesus studies began among scholars and clergy. In the United States, this interest led to the creation, in the mid-1980s, of the Historical Jesus Section of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Jesus Seminar of the Westar Institute. The goals and procedures of the latter deserve special explanation.

The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar centered their work on the Greek texts of the canonical Gospels and of the Gospel of Thomas. Their project has been aimed at identifying the “authentic” sayings of Jesus through collective consideration of a set of criteria relating to authenticity. The result of their research is published in Forum and in The Five Gospels. After presentation, discussion and vote, the sayings attributed to Jesus were rated as follows:

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