Who Needs the Historical Jesus?rnby Jacob Neusnerrn”Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.”rn—Hebrews 13:8rnA Marginal Jew: Rethinking thernHistorical Jesusrnby John P. MeierrnNew York: Doubleday;rn484 pp., $28.00rnThe Historical Jesus: The Life of arnMediterranean Jewish Peasantrnby ]ohn Dominic CrossanrnSan Francisco: Harper;rn507 pp., $30.00rnIhave never heard of a book about “thernhistorical Moses,” and while philosophersrnstudy the thought of Sophoclesrnand Plato, few bother to tell us what thernhistorical Sophocles really said, as distinctrnfrom what Plato says he said. Muslimsrnknow the historical Mohammedrnfrom the Koran and do not ask professorsrnin their Islamic universities to differentiaternwhat sayings Mohammed really saidrnfrom among the many more that thernKoran says he said. But when peoplernspeak of “the historical Jesus,” they (usingrnthe language of Christianity) implyrnthat the record of Jesus Christ in thernGospels is not a factual, historical accountrnat all, drawing a distinction betweenrnthe Christ of faith and the Jesus ofrnhistory. While the quest for the historicalrnJesus forms a brief chapter in thernChristian theology of our times, it is importantrnbecause it defines how thernGospels are read in the secular academyrnand even in many Christian seminaries.rnAnnual meetings where scholars debaternand vote (using black, gray, pink, andrnred balls to represent what he certainlyrndidn’t say, probably didn’t say, may havernsaid, and certainly said) are routine; thernJacob Neusner is DistinguishedrnResearch Professor of Religious Studiesrnat the University of South Florida andrnauthor of A Rabbi Talks with Jesus: AnrnInterfaith Exchange (Doubleday,rn1993) and, with Father Andrew M.rnGreeley, of The Bible and Us: A Priestrnand a Rabbi Read the ScripturesrnTogether (Warner Books, 1990).rnHoly Spirit is pretty busy nowadays.rnThe stories of the miracles have challengedrnfaith, but Christians have historicallyrntaken it as a mark of grace thatrnthey believe. The same data that havernimpressed scholars during the past tworncenturies made no profound impressionrnon believers during the 18 prior ones.rnWhen historical study promised to distinguishrnfact from fiction, myth or legendrnfrom authentic event, Protestantrntheologians, mainly in Germany, undertookrnto write lives of Jesus that did notrnsimply paraphrase the Gospels but stoodrnin judgment of them. An attitude ofrnsystematic skepticism raised questionsrnthat prior generations scarcely conceived.rnThese considerations engaged theologicalrnprofessors in many universities in Europernand in some American divinityrnschools and university religious studiesrndepartments in particular, with the resultrnthat a skeptical reading of thernGospels replaced a believing one. Theserntwo books on “the historical Jesus” takernfor granted two facts: first, that the JesusrnChrist of the Gospels, the incarnate Godrnwho taught, performed wonders, diedrnon the cross, rose from the dead, andrnsits at the right hand of God, is not thernJesus who actually lived; and, second,rnthat historians know the difference betweenrnthem. The Gospels’ Jesus (Meierrnand Crossan assume) simply cannot passrnthe test of historical method; thernGospels tell us more than the truth thatrnsurvives the application of this science.rnAccordingly, these authors undertake tornidentify the nuggets of history containedrnwithin the Gospel.rnSo the Christ of the Church’s faithrngives way to “a Mediterranean Jewishrnpeasant,” on the one hand, and “arnmarginal Jew,” on the other. These arernonly two of the many pictures of Jesusrnthat 200 years of critical historical scholarshiprnhave painted. The single fact thatrnthis “quest for the historical Jesus” hasrnestablished beyond doubt is that eachrngeneration gets the Jesus it wants; prettyrnmuch every scholar comes up with a historicalrnJesus that suits his taste and judgment.rnThe Gospels’ four portraits, intersectingrnand concentric in many ways,rnhave become legion.rnThis rigorous, unbelieving historicismrnactually takes up theological questions.rnSurely no question bears more profoundrntheological implications for Christiansrnthan what the person they believe to bernthe incarnate God really, actually, trulvrnsaid and did here on earth. But historicalrnmethod, which knows nothing of thernsupernatural and looks upon miraclesrnwith unreserved stupefaction, presumesrnto answer them. The premises of the historicalrnquestion (did it really happen,rndid he really say it?) rule out nearly thernwhole of Christian faith. For they are thernroutine premises that govern this historicalrnjob as they would any other: thatrnany statement we may wish to makernabout Jesus is just another fact of history,rnlike the fact that George Washingtonrncrossed the Delaware on Christmasrnnight, 1776.rnBut statements (historical or otherwise)rnabout the founders of religions presentrna truth of a different kind. Suchrnstatements not only bear weightier implications,rnbut they appeal to sourcesrndistinct from the kind that record whatrnGeorge Washington did on a eertaiir dayrn32/CHRONICLESrnrnrn