Life of Jesus in Research
The life of Jesus as New Testament scholarship knows it today did not become a "Problem" until the eighteenth century. 1 Since that time, scarcely a decade has gone by that has not seen an attempt, either by some wellintentioned defender of the historicity of the gospels or by one of their detractors, to supply an answer to the question, "Who was Jesus of Nazareth?" Did he really exist, or was he the creation of one of the radical messianic movements of first-century Palestine -- a figure not different in genesis from Adonis, Dionysus, or Horus. 2 If he did exist, as a majority of biblical scholars would still today contend, 3 what was his mission and message, his "quest"? Was it something he meant to outlast him in the form of institution and doctrine, or was it confined to his life and culture and subject to the disconfirming experience of his associates? Especially in our own day, when it seems possible to dispense with most difficulties by knowing the right code and pressing the proper keys, the "problem" of the historical Jesus is one that refuses to go away.
The contours that normally define historical personalities are enormously hard to come by when we enter into a discussion of the gospels. That Jesus was a man of his time, a propounder of religious opinions easily located in the Jewish theology of his day, is more and more widely accepted by scholars. But it is a conclusion that comes to us from notoriously uncooperative sources -- sources that offer us a picture not of an apocalyptic preacher from the Galilean hill country, but of a man "attested by God with mighty wonders and sips," the "lord and Christ" ( Acts 2:22f., 35), the eternal logos of God himself ( John 1:1f.). Just as uncooperative are the sources for reconstructing his teaching: Did he call twelve apostles ( Mark 2:13f.) or seventy disciples ( Luke 10:1-16)? Did he speculate about the signs of the last days ( Mark 13:4-27) or discourage such speculation as being wicked and impious ( Mark 8:13)? Did he swear people to secrecy concerning his identity ( Mark 8:26, 30) or announce himself