Jesus of Nazareth
- LAST REVIEWED: 10 March 2023
- LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0062
- LAST REVIEWED: 10 March 2023
- LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0062
In modern and contemporary research, the study of the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth has become a specialized branch of New Testament and early Christian studies, distinct from research into the different forms of worship of the divinized Christ found in various early Christian communities. The first approach presupposes a critical reading of the primary sources (mainly canonical and extracanonical Christian texts) in order to retrieve the historical evidence buried beneath layers of Christological interpretations. Conversely, the scope of the second is more exegetical and focuses precisely on the Christological ideas and theological messages that the first Christian thinkers and authors tried to convey in their writings. The first is the outcome of the European Enlightenment and its appeal to reason and rationality in order to explain the diverse phenomena of human history, including the miraculous events that, according to Christian traditions, characterized Jesus’ earthly life. The second corresponds to the scholarly side of time-honored Christian faith and confession, rooted in the proclamation of Paul and echoed by the authors of the first biographies of Jesus. However, in spite of the apparently irreconcilable opposition between history and theology, in the case of the historical Jesus, specialists of either discipline cannot simply ignore what is accomplished in the other field. On the one hand, an exegetical and theological background is required in order to navigate through the textual complexities of Christian primary sources—a methodological sophistication that is now perfectly encapsulated in the holistic approach of sociorhetorical criticism. On the other hand, the Jewish and Christian religions are based on a special relationship that God has established with his creatures in and through the course of history; the human career of the Christ is not an exception and should not be less relevant than the proclamations of his followers—in fact, the opposite is true. Actually, this is exactly the feeling of the majority of Christian specialists who, in the last 250 years, have devoted themselves to the controversial study of the historical Jesus: many of them did and still do wish to use the results of their research to build alternative models for a radical reformation of Christianity. From a postmodern point of view, we could say that the large majority of those often self-proclaimed historians had and still have a robustly theological agenda. (Because of the vast amount of scholarship on Jesus, including many anthologies and collections of significant essays, articles published in journals or chapters in collective volumes will not be mentioned in this bibliography. Almost all of the books treated here have been published since 1985.)
General surveys can be found in some recent introductions to the New Testament that are used as standard texts for introductory courses on early Christianity. Brown 1997, Freed 2000, Burkett 2002, and deSilva 2004 offer well-balanced overviews of the research from Reimarus to the Jesus Seminar and of contemporary debates about the apocalyptic or sapiential nature of Jesus’ ministry, while the perspectives of Achtemeier, et al. 2001, Ehrman 2008, and Theissen 2002 are more personal. Conzelmann and Lindemann 2004 is an excellent introduction in German.
Achtemeier, Paul J., Joel B. Green, and Marianne Meye Thompson. Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001.
The picture provided of the historical Jesus is relatively close to that of the Messiah, Son of Man, found in the Gospel of Mark.
Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York and London: Doubleday, 1997.
Raises some warnings about the reconstructed nature of contemporary portraits of the historical Jesus.
Burkett, Delbert. An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
The best introduction for absolute beginners, with discussion and review questions.
Conzelmann, Hans, and Andreas Lindemann. Arbeitsbuch zum Neuen Testament 14th ed. Uni-Taschenbücher 52. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2004.
This has been the standard introduction to the New Testament in German since its first edition in 1975. The fourth part, on Jesus of Nazareth, is a short but exhaustive and invaluable monograph in itself. English translation: Interpreting the New Testament: An Introduction to the Principles and Methods of N.T. Exegesis, translated by Siegfried S. Schatzmann (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988; based on the eighth edition, 1985).
deSilva, David A. An Introduction to the New Testament: Context, Methods and Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004.
Another excellent introduction written by a specialist on the social and cultural world of Jesus.
Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 4th ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Devotes four well-documented chapters to research on the historical Jesus and finally refutes the arguments in favor of a sapiential Jesus, instead opting for a prophetic and apocalyptic figure. First edition published in 1997.
Freed, Edwin D. The New Testament: A Critical Introduction. 3d ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2000.
Acknowledges, with reason, that contemporary research tends to see in the historical Jesus either a prophet or a social reformer. First edition published in 1986.
Theissen, Gerd. Das Neue Testament. Taschenbuch. Munich: Beck, 2002.
A useful summary of Theissen’s main ideas about the historical Jesus as a charismatic healer and eschatological prophet. English translation: Fortress Introduction to the New Testament, translated by John Bowden (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003).
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