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Theoretically about the sources

Historical Jesus research that seeks to put forward some concrete claims about Jesus will unavoidably encounter a certain question, a question it is always obliged to reply by means of scholarly arguments. The question can be formulated so:

Why is this or that claim about Jesus included in a writing labeled as a scholarly study of the historical Jesus?

To state the same from another perspective:

How do scholars justify that their sudies are labeled as investigations into the historical — whatever its meaning — Jesus?

In other words,

Why do they choose to label it thus and not otherwise?
How do they argue for the appropriateness of this label, historical (whatever its meaning), over some other?

Investigations where this is at the focus, i.e., investigations that inspect the methodological side of making scholarly claims about the historical Jesus, are for example:

– “Doubts about Double Dissimilarity: Restructuring the Main Criterion of Jesus-of-history research”, Authenticating the Words of Jesus (eds. Bruce Chilton & Craig A. Evans; Leiden: Brill, 1999), pp. 47–80.

– “Knowing about Q and Knowing about Jesus: Mutually exclusive undertakings?”, The Sayings Source Q and the Historical Jesus (ed. Andreas Lindemann; Leuven: Peeters, 2001), pp. 497–514.

– “Authenticity Criteria”, Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus (ed. Craig Evans; New York: Routledge, 2008), pp. 43–54.

– “Seven Theses on the So-Called Criteria of Authenticity of Historical Jesus Research”, Revista Catalana de Teologia 33 (2008), pp. 343–376.

See also, for instance, the “Metalanguage” article and so on.

The particular nomenclature here can be comprehended accurately only when paying attention to its tradition and development in the history of historical Jesus research. For those who do not know the history, here is something of a clue for a couple of terms:

The word “authentic” is to be understood to mean “deemed useable in a scholarly reconstruction of the historical Jesus”. Thus, NOT so: “in order that something could be used in a scholarly reconstruction of the historical Jesus, it has to be deemed authentic”, BUT so: “if something is deemed useable in a scholarly reconstruction of the historical Jesus, it can be called authentic.”

This swift definition builds on pragmatism. Each and every scholar determines his or her own grounds why to deem something useable in a scholarly reconstruction of the historical Jesus. Naturally, there are also particular schools who prefer particular sets of authenticating tools.

Corresponding considerations can be presented about the concept “criterion”, among others.  The meanings these concepts had in the 19th-century historiography have long since been abandoned in Jesus research, yet the terms are very traditional in the vocabulary of the research. In 1980s, for example, B. F. Meyer tried to replace “criterion of authenticity” with “index of originality”, but the attempt was not successful.

In “Caught in the Act” I have refrained from the rhetorics of “criteria” and “authenticity” in behalf of the development of the continuum approach.