BECAUSE IT HAS been now almost 40 years since E. Kasemann and others launched the new quest for the historical Jesus, and because some modern scholars continue to be skeptical about the possibility of saying anything significant about the historical Jesus' self-understanding, it may rightly be asked. Why this book and why now? The reasons are several.
First, we are only now in a position to assess the relevance for the study of Jesus and benefit from the tremendous amount of work that J. H. Charlesworth and others have done on the extracanonical literature of early Judaism. This data is especially germane to the study of the Son of man material and to helping us to see the scope and character of messianic expectations in early Judaism.
Second, a renewed optimism exists in many parts of the scholarly guild today that something significant can indeed be known about the historical Jesus and even about his self-understanding. This is shown by a host of recent scholarly works on Jesus by R. A. Horsley, M. Borg, H. Boers, J. Charlesworth, M. de Jonge, and R. Leivestad to mention but a few.
Third, as will become clear in chapter 1 of this study, some of form criticism's older assumptions about the Jesus material no longer will stand close scrutiny. The more scholarship becomes convinced of the essentially Jewish character of the Jesus material and the likelihood that for several decades it was handled and passed on at least to some extent like Jewish tradition, the less convincing arguments become that suggest the synoptic material developed rather like pure folklore. M. Hengel has also reminded us that in the main the dilemma of the gospel writer was not how to create enough material to present a reasonably full portrait of Jesus but rather how to edit a considerable array of sources and types of material down to manageable size (cf. Luke 1:1–4).