Introduction to ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’

Read the full article over at Bible and Interpretation.  Here is a snippet:

Historical Jesus research did not come about through the discovery of an actual historical Jesus as focus for such research. Despite what many have suggested, the data we have is no more useful for an understanding of an historical Jesus today than it had been a century ago. Even what little had been understood as known to scholars of the nineteenth century—such as the existence of widespread Jewish expectations for an apocalyptic messiah—has been found wanting. The ancient world’s many mythic and theological representations of a figure comparable to the Jesus of New Testament texts are not alone decisive arguments against historicity, but they are part of the picture, which needs to be considered more comprehensively. Literarily viable figures have been represented—historically—in many clarifying ways.

The role genre studies play in investigations of the Jesus of the New Testament rests largely on an analysis of intertextuality, which is well defined in terms of an analysis of the functions of tale-types, stock figures, sayings, motifs, narrative patterns and thematic elements through a process of reiteration, refraction, allusion and emulation. An historical Jesus is a hypothetical derivative of scholarship. It is no more a fact than is an equally hypothetical historical Moses or David. To the extent that New Testament literature was written with literary, allegorical and, indeed, theological and mythic purpose, rather than as an account of historical events, there is significant need, not to speak of warrant, to doubt the historicity of its figures to the extent that such figures owe their substance to such literature. The best histories of Jesus today reflect an awareness of the limits and uncertainties in reconstructing the story of his life. Abraham, Isaac, Moses and Sarah, Ruth and Boaz, Jonah and his big fish are but a handful of characters found in the Bible, without the slightest historicity. They are literary creations. The figures of New Testament discourse must also be critically examined in the same light, for the New Testament is to be defined neither as a history of the early Christian church nor as an account of the life of a man named Jesus and of that of his followers.

The purpose of the volume:

The essays collected in this volume have a modest purpose. Neither establishing the historicity of an historical Jesus nor possessing an adequate warrant for dismissing it, our purpose is to clarify our engagement with critical historical and exegetical methods in the hopes of enabling the central question regarding the function of New Testament literature to resist the endless production of works on the historical Jesus. Our hope is to open a direct discussion of the question of historicity much in the spirit of the more than decade-long discourse and debate by the European Seminar on Methodology in Israel’s History, which has been so profitably engaged in regard to the historicity of figures and narratives of the Hebrew Bible and the related construction of a history of ancient Palestine. The essays we collect here are presented by a wide range of scholars and deal with three central issues: 1) some problems and issues of past scholarship regarding the historical Jesus; 2) new perspectives regarding the figure of Paul and his epistles as our “earliest testimony” of the figure of Jesus; and 3) intertextual literary reading and the significance of the function of a rewritten Bible for literary composition. These collected essays will close with a related, theory-oriented discussion about the history of Christian origins without an historical Jesus.

via The Bible and Interpretation.

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