The Life and Ministry of Jesus

The Life and Ministry of Jesus

The Life and Ministry of Jesus

The Life and Ministry of Jesus

Excerpt

Anyone who attempts to write a life of Christ must recognize from the outset that his task will end in failure, greater or less as the case may be, and that he must be ready to face failure in his endeavor to see the historic Jesus more clearly. In part the difficulty of the task is due to the fragmentary character of the sources. Apart from isolated notices in Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius, and late traditions in the Talmud, the available evidence is limited to the four Gospels and the Epistles. The historical value of the Gospels will be discussed later. Here it is enough to say that their testimony ranges from excellent historical traditions, based ultimately upon eyewitnesses, to secondary narratives which are colored by later Christian beliefs, and that, in consequence, in using them it is necessary to apply to their evaluation the accepted principles of literary and historical criticism, sometimes to make conjectures, and even to essay the use of a scientific imagination controlled by facts.

At a hundred points, therefore, the writer's results will be open to question, and in the end he may satisfy no one; for, while some degree of selection is possible, he must consider all the disputed points that arise. He cannot emulate the example of Prince George of Denmark, the husband of Queen Anne, who was wont to greet difficult political events as they emerged with the remark, "Is it possible?" The nature of the sources, however, is not the main difficulty which confronts the would-be historian, for there are many great figures of the past, notably Socrates, for . . .

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