Whose Historical Jesus?

by William E. Arnal, Michel Desjardins,
vi, 337 pages,
ISBN: 0889202958

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Brief Reviews
by M D

There are a lot of historical Jesuses these days. According to the editors of this rich collection of thought-provoking and at times amusing essays, the last two decades have witnessed an unprecedented boom in historical Jesus research, producing a bumper crop of new Jesuses. In this volume we meet, among others, a Mediterranean peasant Jesus, a Galilean Jesus, a Cynic Jesus, and even a rhetorical Jesus. (The last is my favourite: one scholar argues that we cannot, by examining the words and deeds of Jesus, uncover the historical Jesus, since those words and deeds can be understood as revealing not a Mediterranean peasant inspiring a political revolt but instead an anti-urban urban intellectual who, for rhetorical purposes, presented himself as a peasant.)

Although it makes for entertaining reading, it turns out that this abundance of historical Jesuses is also something of an embarrassment for historical Jesus research, since the aim or dream of that research has always been to offer the definitive portrait of the historical Jesus. Indeed, this outcome has led many scholars to wonder whether such a goal is attainable, and whether it may not be true, after all, that each historical portrait-always based on some seemingly arbitrary selection of sayings and deeds-is merely the product of the agenda or background of the researcher, yet another "roll-your-own Jesus". Still, while some scholars fear this outcome, others welcome it: two essays in the volume make the unsettling argument that bias is not only inevitable but good, since it can reveal (or construct) aspects of Jesus that we have not seen before. We might wonder, of course, how such interpretations could in any way be called "historical".



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