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By Ben Witherington III / IVP / 1997
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In The Jesus Quest, Ben Witherington offers the first comprehensive determination and assessment of what scholars are really saying about Jesus. In addition to the controversial views of John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg and Burton Mack, he presents and interacts with the work of important scholars such as Geza Vermes, E. P. Sanders, Gerd Theissen, Richard Horsley, John P. Meier, N. T. Wright and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. Witherington also outlines his own understanding of Jesus as sage. Here is an indispensable survey and assessment of the most significant religious scholarly debate of the 1990s from the pen of a Third Quest participant. It was voted one of Christianity Today's 1996 Books of the Year.
In recent years Jesus' time, place and social setting have received renewed scholarly attention. New research on the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Jewish and Hellenistic texts has resulted in a surge of new images of Jesus and new ideas about his ministry. Dubbed the Third Quest for the historical Jesus, this recent effort is a transformation of the first quest, memorialized and chronicled by Albert Schweitzer, and the second quest, carried out in the 1950s and 1960s in the wake of extreme Bultmannian skepticism.
The controversial works of John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg and Burton Mack, and the results of the Jesus Seminar have been thrust upon the public by publicists and media as the voices of learned consensus. Meanwhile, at the center of the scholarly investigation of Jesus, a less celebrated but certainly no less informed majority rejects many of the methods and conclusions of those who have captured the limelight.
With its critical discussion of each significant contributor’s major and minor works, alternative approach to understanding Jesus in historical context and lengthy postscript, this widely praised volume updates you on the continuing saga of the Third Quest for the historical Jesus.
The best review and critique of recent life of Jesus writing currently available. Students and others who are bewildered by the recent cacophony of late-twentieth-century portrayals of Jesus will find it a valuable introduction and aid.
—James D. G. Dunn, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity Emeritus, University of Durham
Prof. Ben Witherington is already well known for his work in Jesus research. But in The Jesus Quest he attempts something new and solely needed: a detailed critical review of the flood of literature on the so-called Third Quest for the historical Jesus… The Jesus Quest is a welcome guide for all who want to follow the twisting, turning road of Jesus research today.
—John P. Meier, Professor of New Testament, University of Notre Dame
The closest we have to the part played almost 100 years ago by Albert Schweitzer's classic The Quest for the Historical Jesus … a worthy guide through the intricate research maze now known as the third quest for the historical Jesus.
Witherington’s The Jesus Quest offers readers a lucid and insightful description of the current search for the historical Jesus… This important book cuts a path through a dense and tangled forest of conflicting scholarly methods and conclusions. Witherington succeeds in identifying the significant gains in current research and criticizes proposals that are off-target. I recommend this book highly.
—Craig A. Evans, Payzant Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College
This book is a much-needed guided tour to the recent spate of books on the historical Jesus. Those who are lost in the maze of competitive claims of scholarship, with its disturbingly different pictures of Jesus, will find Witherington a sympathetic, involved, and trustworthy guide.
— Marion L. Soards, Professor of New Testament Studies, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
If I could use only one book for my Historical Jesus course, a book that would appropriately survey all the major current options yet also synthesize the best of those options, it would be Witherington’s The Jesus Quest. Such a work has long been needed, and among scholars disposed to accept the reliability of a large part of the Jesus tradition, I know of none better than Ben Witherington to accomplish this task.
—Craig Keener, Professor of New Testament, Palmer Theological Seminary
This perceptive and comprehensive survey of recent writing on ‘the historical Jesus’ is very useful indeed. Witherington’s careful evaluations should help to dispel the confusion created by media publicity as to where the majority of scholars stand on the relation of Jesus to the Gospel portraits of him.
—Raymond E. Brown, Professor Emeritus, Union Theological Seminary
The Jesus Quest is an outstanding book, one that is highly suitable for textbook use at the undergraduate or graduate level. Further, because it is very well written and not overly technical or academic in style, this book is sure to have a broad appeal. The Jesus Quest is worthy of a hearty recommendation.
—Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Ben Witherington (Ph.D., University of Durham, England) is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is the author of many books on the New Testament, including Women and the Genesis of Christianity, Jesus the Sage, and The Paul Quest. With Hershel Shanks he is coauthor of The Brother of Jesus, a book on the controversial James ossuary. A frequent contributor to Beliefnet.com, Witherington has also appeared on numerous TV news programs, such as Dateline, 60 Minutes, 20/20 and the Peter Jennings ABC special Jesus and Paul – The Word and the Witness.
Read the full interview here.
IVP: You open The Jesus Quest by noting Sean Freyne's comment that the quest for the historical Jesus "is rapidly in danger of becoming the quest of the historical Galilee." What stands behind this tendency?
Ben Witherington: One of the things that distinguishes the Third Quest from the Second Quest is that Jesus is being approached by way of insights gained from sociological study of the New Testament, the archaeological study of Israel and the context within which Jesus operated in Galilee. I do think there is much less chance of reading Jesus the way we might want to read him if we pay more attention to his historical context. That means engaging in detailed study of the Galilee of his era. New insights can come from learning more about the historical and social context from which he operated.
IVP: I can hear some of the disciples of Brevard Childs wondering, from a canonical perspective, whether there is any profit in attempting to reconstruct a Jesus behind the text of the Gospels.
Witherington: I would certainly agree that the historical Jesus, the actual, real person who lived in the first century, is different from – both greater than and more than--whatever we can ever construct using the historical-critical method. The critically derived portrait is always going to be a subset of whoever the real historical Jesus was. So there's always more to learn about the real historical person. The methods we use are limited tools and provide limited insights, and there may always be fresh new insights that we can gain. But I would also say that the canonical Christ the church worships is in direct continuity with the historical Jesus, and if we were to discover new things about the historical Jesus, that ought to inform the way we read the christologies of the New Testament. Those who are committed to an idea of canon should be committed above all else to a historical study of Jesus and the developments that arose from him. I think that the study of the historical Jesus serves as a sort of check and balance against imposing too much of a theological grid on the New Testament.