The Elusive Messiah: A Philosophical Overview of the Quest for the Historical Jesus

The Elusive Messiah: A Philosophical Overview of the Quest for the Historical Jesus

The Elusive Messiah: A Philosophical Overview of the Quest for the Historical Jesus

The Elusive Messiah: A Philosophical Overview of the Quest for the Historical Jesus

Synopsis

What might the findings of researchers engaged in the quest for the historical Jesus mean to Christians? In posing this question and others, The Elusive Messiah opens a window for looking anew at the age old problem of faith vs. reason. To fully understand the implications of the historical search, Raymond Martin suggests we must first examine the inquiries of the individual scholars. In the book's first section, he provides an insightful overview into the major players who have written on the subject, among them E. P. Sanders, John Meier, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, J. D. Crossan, and Luke Timothy Johnson. In his second section, Martin discusses various Christian responses to the challenges presented by the historians' work. Martin goes on to argue philosophically that faith and reason are able to coexist alongside each other, and then suggests how this may be the key to Christianity's future. Through readily understandable language and examples, Martin poses basic questions, looks for the answers, and explains how these answers correspond to the overall problem. His accessible writing synthesizes complex academic arguments in ways that bring them down to earth, enabling Christians and other readers to understand what is being claimed and to test these claims for meaningfulness.

Excerpt

Who was Jesus? What was his message? Why was he killed? Why did he have such an enormous impact? What, if anything, did he think was the meaning of his life? What, if anything, should we think was the meaning of his life?

These are questions about Jesus that many of us would like to be able to answer. Some think they already know the answers. But, as we shall see, the so-called authorities--primarily historians and theologians--disagree with each other about how to answer these questions. If these authorities, who know so much more about the relevant historical evidence than most of the rest of us, cannot agree on the answers, on what basis can the rest of us plausibly claim to know?

The first five of these questions--Who was Jesus? What was his message? Why was he killed? Why did he have such an enormous impact? What, if anything, did he think was the meaning of his life?--are about what actually happened historically and why it happened. The sixth question is about what we should decide is the meaning of what happened. We could arrive at answers to the historical questions about what happened and why without also answering the sixth question, about meaning. But it is hard to see how we could fully answer this question about meaning without first answering at least some of the historical questions. If we do not know what happened, or why it happened, we are not well positioned to understand what it should mean to us that it happened.

Professional historians have been trained to figure out what happened and why it happened. They have specialized knowledge and skills that most of the rest of us lack. Later we will examine some of the specialized knowledge and skills that historical Jesus scholars in particular have that are relevant to figuring out, in the case of Jesus, what happened and why. For now, it is enough to acknowledge that . . .

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