Some Projects' Site




Tom Holmén and Stanley E. Porter

“A hundred years ago, Albert Schweitzer gathered the bulk of the most important (mostly German) Jesus research done during the preceding two centuries (the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) within one cover and made an assessment of it. Today, to write a summa historica of Jesus studies is not an undertaking that one person could embark on and realistically hope to accomplish (not even two people), but requires a collaboration of a legio of the best minds from across many countries and cultures. Albert Schweitzer’s Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung marked a significant milestone in historical Jesus scholarship, a movement that has continued in various forms and in diverse ways, but in all events unabated, until today. As a result, in a 1994 article, James Charlesworth, who himself has been actively involved in the recent expansion of historical Jesus study, asserted that historical Jesus study was expanding with “chaotic creativity.” While an apt and appropriate description of the condition of the times, this characterization is all the more accurate today, fifteen years later. Since its latest renaissance in the 1980s, historical Jesus study has continued to expand, drawing into its broadening scope more and more scholars of the New Testament and cognate areas. There is an abundance of Jesus studies today that displays an almost overwhelming diversity of methods, approaches, hypotheses, assumptions, and results. While creativity and fecundity are theoretically to be welcomed, chaotic creativity works against the scholarly pursuit of orderly understanding, and the sheer mass of material threatens to overwhelm even the heartiest of participants in the quest. However, in some instances such creativity can spur on and nourish various forms of enquiry that result in unpredictable and unplanned results. The future of historical Jesus study rests with the community of scholars being able to harness this chaotic creativity to its service, and to create order out of a morass of growing detail. What are the purposes of Jesus research? The first one is clearly an abiding academic purpose. This has always been regarded as important and has, together with the latest renaissance of Jesus study, only grown in importance. In fact, if “academic” and “historical” can be seen to correlate, many scholars would claim that this is what the study of Jesus today is all about. According to many representative Jesus questers, a main characteristic of current Jesus research is that it is being spurred and guided by an outspoken historical interest. Indeed, Jesus lies at the juncture of many interests and phenomena that are crucial to understanding great lines of historical development and that form the basis of understanding the world today. There is therefore no doubt about the great historical and academic value of Jesus research. However, several other purposes, motivations, and aspirations obviously feed into the historical pursuit of Jesus. Among these are religious, political, cultural, artistic, fictional, romantic, psychological, financial, apologetic, and simply personal reasons to engage in conversing about Jesus of Nazareth. We merely state this as an observable fact: such purposes for Jesus research exist and are being pursued in practice. Unfortunately, sometimes scholars too easily classify such purposes as either well- or ill-founded. In the post-colonial, post-Einsteinian, post-modern, post-structural (some say even post-human) etc. world of ours, who can be so clear as to be able to tell the difference between relevant and irrelevant motivations, not to speak of labeling them as either good or bad? Nevertheless, in all this it is vital to genuinely retain the concepts of historical Jesus and historical Jesus research around which the variegated conversation centers and revolves. How this happens and is realized may not be an easy or altogether straightforward thing to do. The Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus (HSHJ) was designed to be one, important means of handling both the growing abundance and the increasing diversity of Jesus scholarship. Such is not an easy task, as we the editors have grown to appreciate in the course of creating this set of volumes. Putting the diversity on display in a controlled, manageable, and understandable fashion, while acknowledging the numerous and diverse major issues, and ensuring that as many as possible of the important adjacent themes are recognized, has been a significant task. The HSHJ seeks to offer a convenient, even if still circuitous, route through the maze of current historical Jesus research, so that scholars and other interested parties can appreciate the broad and diverse spectrum of current opinion. There have been a number of recent efforts to survey the history of historical Jesus scholarship, which we have taken into account in planning these volumes. Some of these publications have included individual essays that try to cover the range of major topics, although no effort to date has included as many as this set of volumes. Several of these studies are retrospective accounts that anthologize past statements of significance in the study of the historical Jesus, but they lack the contemporary coordinating force of the HSHJ. Even those publications that attempt to address the contemporary issues in historical Jesus research in a coordinated fashion, because of their encyclopedic nature, are unable to provide the kind of depth and even breadth of exposure that these volumes contain. Whatever merits such previous volumes may have, and they have many, none of them is designed to accomplish the same goals as the Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus. There are many distinguishable features of the HSHJ. This collection of four volumes of essays first of all seeks to be thorough and inclusive. We realize that there are always other opinions that could be included in volumes such as these, but we have tried to solicit and elicit as much of that diverse opinion as was available for publication. We want this collection to serve, not only as a historical encapsulation of the topics of their day, but as a worthy expression of the range of viable thought currently available in historical Jesus studies. Besides the inclusive nature of these volumes, we have sought for HSHJ to be international in scope, not simply for the sake of diversity, but so that multiple voices can be ably represented in the discussion. The approximately one-hundred contributors to this project come from around twenty different countries. Some countries no doubt are represented more heavily than others, and some other important nationalities may be under-represented or not represented at all. This was not by design, as our purpose from the start has been to try to free the discussion of Jesus from regional or local agendas and schools of thought. Besides the multiplicity of voices from a wide range of places and people, in the HSHJ we have sought to free study of the historical Jesus from the trammels of a variety of other restraints. We have been conscious that study of Jesus in the past has been directly linked to particular forms and contents of higher education, and even specific methodologies, and that such study has often gone hand-in-hand with particular religious, cultural or even political traditions and histories. This set of volumes has been created to move beyond, or perhaps even rise above, such artificially imposed constraints. As a result, though ideologies will no doubt be present in the individual contributions, the volumes as a whole are not reacting or responding to any particular local or even nationally determined situation with regard to historical Jesus study. Our primary criterion in selecting and welcoming the contributors has been their expertise and their addressing a topic of relevance. Despite our best efforts, there is no doubt that most of the contributors are still “white male western Europeans and European-Americans” (as Richard Horsley states). We accept this comment, while acknowledging also that our best efforts were put into attempts not to fall victim to this as an inevitable conclusion. Nevertheless, it is probably a realistic observation of the situation that prevails in historical Jesus studies to this day. Whether it will be different in the future, we must wait and see. The efforts above have been undertaken so that we could focus these volumes on what we consider the most important elements in current study of the historical Jesus. In order to do this, we have divided the essays into four structured volumes. As a result of this process of assessment, what became evident …”