Jesus' Mortal Ministry
I have sketched the outlines of the volatile world into which Jesus was born. The time has come to focus on the man Jesus Himself and on the concrete shape of His experience, to the extent that we can glean it from history.
This chapter divides into seven parts. In the first, I explain the criteria which the new quest employs in authenticating words and actions of Jesus as historical. In the second, I summarize what one can piece together about Jesus' hidden life. In the third, I reconstruct the prophetic ministry of John the Baptizer. Part four examines Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom. Part five describes aspects of Jesus' religious experience. Part six examines how Jesus related to the various constituencies whom He confronted. The seventh and final section of this chapter reflects on the relevance to the RCIA of a cross-disciplinary portrait of Jesus.
Our principal historical sources for information about the life of Jesus remain the four Christian gospels. The rest of the New Testament offers only bits and pieces of information about Jesus. In secular historical writings about the period, we find only brief and fragmentary references to Jesus. None of it adds information not already contained in the four canonical gospels. The apocryphal gospels do not seem to offer a reliable historical source for reconstructing Jesus' life. The Christian apocrypha yield mostly pious fantasy. While other apocryphal sources rework materials present in the canonical gospels in order to serve the rhetorical and doctrinal needs either of rabbinic polemic or of Gnostic ideology.1
As we shall see in greater detail when we reflect on narrative Christology, the Christian evangelists did not set out to write a scholarly history of Jesus using modern critical methods. I have already suggested that the gospels took shape in the intersection between oral and literate culture.____________________