The Historical Jesus of the Gospels

The Historical Jesus of the Gospels

The Historical Jesus of the Gospels

The Historical Jesus of the Gospels


The earliest substantive sources available for historical Jesus research are in the Gospels themselves; when interpreted in their early Jewish setting, their picture of Jesus is more coherent and plausible than are the competing theories offered by many modern scholars. So argues Craig Keener in The Historical Jesus of the Gospels.

In exploring the depth and riches of the material found in the Synoptic Gospels, Keener shows how many works on the historical Jesus emphasize just one aspect of the Jesus tradition against others, but a much wider range of material in the Jesus tradition makes sense in an ancient Jewish setting. Keener masterfully uses a broad range of evidence from the early Jesus traditions and early Judaism to reconstruct a fuller portrait of the Jesus who lived in history.


When scholars speak of “historical Jesus research,” they mean especially what we can infer about Jesus from purely historical study. Yet a major key to how we reconstruct the historical Jesus involves the sources we use to decide what we know about him. Scholars who depend largely on sources from the second century (such as the Gospel of Thomas) or later (such as the Secret Gospel of Mark, probably a twentieth-century forgery) will reconstruct the Jesus of history differently than scholars who depend primarily on Mark, Luke, and Matthew. the central and most important part of this book thus focuses especially on the questions of our sources, particularly on the potential reliability of our earliest sources.

Beyond that, this book samples some key themes, sayings, and actions that we can attribute to Jesus with a high degree of probability. It should be understood that when historians speak in terms of probability, we speak only of what can be ascertained by historical methods. We lack historical evidence for most of what has happened in history; no one claims that nothing happened except what we can demonstrate by historical means. As scholars often point out, studies concerning the historical Jesus merely sort available historical evidence according to historical methods; they cannot bring us fully face-to-face with the Jesus who lived, taught, and died in the first century ce. They are useful, however, in providing a way that historians as historians can talk about Jesus, and a critical minimum of assumptions that both Christians and nonChristians can use in dialogue about Jesus.


I have dedicated this book to Ed Sanders and Jim Charlesworth. I had once dreamed of studying with Geza Vermes and especially E. P. Sanders at Oxford . . .

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