Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It?

Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It?

Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It?

Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It?


Historical Jesus asks two primary questions: What does "historical" mean? and How should we apply this to Jesus?

Anthony Le Donne begins with the unusual step of considering human perception -- how sensory data from sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell are interpreted from the very beginning by what we expect, what we've learned, and how we categorize the world. In this way Le Donne shows how historical memories are initially formed. He continues with the nature of human memory and how it interacts with group memories. Finally, he offers a philosophy of history and uses it to outline three dimensions from the life of Jesus: his dysfunctional family, his politics, and his final confrontation in Jerusalem.

This little book is ideal for those with no background in religious studies -- even those with no faith -- who wish to better understand who Jesus was and how we can know what we do know about him.


I am happy to commend this volume, whose significance is greater than its slim size might intimate. Le Donne has much to teach us.

Perhaps the chief virtue of Historical Jesus is that its author fully recognizes the complexity of historical reconstruction. For far too long, New Testament scholars have operated with simplistic antitheses, such as event vs. interpretation, memory vs. legend, fact vs. fiction. They have also been overly and vainly confident in their own abilities to strip away the supposed secondary interpretations in the gospels so as to reveal the historical events beneath. But, as Origen shrewdly observed long ago, it has always been exceedingly difficult to show that a recorded event took place, even if it did take place. No less importantly, and as Le Donne patiently explains at length, recent study of human perception puts the lie to our convenient, traditional dichotomies. So too does postmodern historiography, which undoes so many of our old methods and presuppositions. It is time to rethink much.

Le Donne helps us to do this, as he explains that memories of Jesus were memories of perceptions of him, and then elucidates how all perception is — in part because it is always social — inevitably distorted and shot through with interpretation from beginning to end. One important implication is that the gospels cannot be what so many Christians have naively assumed them to be . . .

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