The Future of Criteria in Historical Jesus Research

In: Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus

Recent discussions of method in historical Jesus research have called into question the use of criteria for evaluating the authenticity of Gospel material. The present article lays out the reasons why a number of scholars call for an abandonment of the so-called criteria approach and then criticizes the allegation that this approach is genetically and logically dependent on form criticism. By analysis of how the question of authenticity is handled with regard to Jesus’ baptism, his action in the temple and his crucifixion, it is then argued that criteria are necessary for assessing the historicity of major events in the life of Jesus. Finally, three suggestions as to how the future use of authenticity criteria may take into account the recent challenges are made.

  • 4

    Morna D. Hooker‘On Using the Wrong Tool’Theology 75 (1972) pp. 570–581 (580–581).

  • 5

    John Dominic CrossanThe Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus (New York: HarperSanFrancisco1998) pp. 143–146. Cf. John P. Meier A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical JesusIThe Roots of the Problem and the Person (abrl; New York: Doubleday 1991) pp. 167–195.

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  • 6

    John Dominic CrossanThe Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (New York: HarperSanFrancisco1992) pp. 427–450.

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  • 7

    Luke Timothy JohnsonThe Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (New York: HarperSanFrancisco1996) pp. 127–133.

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  • 9

    AllisonConstructing Jesus pp. 10–22.

  • 14

    Keith‘Memory and Authenticity’ p. 165 (original emphasis removed).

  • 15

    Keith‘Memory and Authenticity’ p. 171 (original emphasis removed).

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     See also Fernando Bermejo Rubio‘La figura histórica de Jesús y los patrones de recurrencia. Por qué los limites de los criterios de autenticidad no abocan al escepticismo’Estudios Bíblicos 70 (2012) pp. 371–401 for an overview and evaluation of this tendency.

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  • 17

    Anthony Le DonneThe Historiographical Jesus: Memory Typology and the Son of David (Waco: Baylor University Press2009); idemHistorical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It? (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans 2011); idem ‘Memory Commemoration and History in John 2.19–22: A Critique and Application of Social Memory’ in A. Le Donne and T. Thatcher (ed.) The Fourth Gospel in First-Century Media Culture (London and New York: T&T Clark 2011) pp. 186–204.

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  • 20

    Schröter‘The Criteria’ pp. 57–59.

  • 21

    Allison‘How to Marginalize’ p. 11.

  • 23

    Allison‘How to Marginalize’ p. 12; Schröter ‘The Criteria’ p. 63.

  • 24

    Rudolf BultmannDie Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht1921); Ernst Käsemann ‘Das Problem des historischen Jesus’ ztk 51 (1954) pp. 125–53; Norman Perrin Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (London: scm 1967); John P. Meier A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (4 vols.; a[y]brl; New York: Doubleday 1991–2001; New Haven/London: Yale University Press 2009); Tom Holmén ‘Authenticity Criteria’ in C. A. Evans (ed.) Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus (London: Routledge 2008) pp. 43–54.

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  • 25

    Keith‘Memory and Authenticity’ p. 164.

  • 26

    Keith‘Memory and Authenticity’ pp. 164–165.

  • 27

    Keith‘The Indebtedness’ pp. 29 37.

  • 29

    Byrskog‘Introduction’ p. 19.

  • 31

    Keith‘The Indebtedness’ p. 37.

  • 32

    Tuckett‘Form Criticism’ p. 37.

  • 33

    David Friedrich StraussDas Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet (2 vols.; Tübingen: Ossiander, 4th edn [reprint of 1st edn]1840) pp. 100–105.

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  • 35

    StraussDas Leben Jesu p. 103.

  • 37

    F. C. BurkittThe Gospel History and Its Transmission (Edinburgh: T&T Clark1906) pp. 147–168; Heinrich Weinel Biblische Theologie des Neuen Testaments: Die Religion Jesu und des Urchristentums (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2nd edn 1913) p. 45.

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  • 38

    Johannes WeissDie Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht1892); Schmiedel ‘Gospels’ cols. 1872–1873. See Anthony Le Donne ‘The Criterion of Coherence: Its Development Inevitability and Historiographical Limitations’ in Keith and Le Donne (ed.) Jesus Criteria and the Demise pp. 95–114 (97–99).

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  • 40

    KeithJesus’ Literacy pp. 62–63.

  • 44

    AllisonConstructing Jesus pp. 31–220.

  • 45

    AllisonConstructing Jesus p. 23.

  • 46

    Allison‘How to Marginalize’ p. 26.

  • 49

    AllisonConstructing Jesus pp. 53–54.

  • 50

    AllisonConstructing Jesus pp. 53–54 n. 98.

  • 51

    Goodacre‘Criticizing the Criterion’ pp. 159–162.

  • 52

    Goodacre‘Criticizing the Criterion’ p. 166.

  • 53

    Rodríguez‘The Embarrassing Truth’ pp. 141–143.

  • 54

    Rodríguez‘The Embarrassing Truth’ pp. 145–146.

  • 55

    Rodríguez‘The Embarrassing Truth’ p. 145.

  • 61

    Seeley‘Jesus’ Temple Act’ pp. 273–282; idem ‘Jesus’ Temple Act Revisited’ pp. 60–62.

  • 62

    Seeley‘Jesus’ Temple Act’ pp. 264–271; idem ‘Jesus’ Temple Act Revisited’ pp. 59–60.

  • 63

    AllisonConstructing Jesus p. 237.

  • 64

    AllisonConstructing Jesus pp. 237–238 264.

  • 65

    AllisonConstructing Jesus p. 404.

  • 66

    AllisonConstructing Jesus p. 423.

  • 67

    AllisonConstructing Jesus p. 425.

  • 68

    AllisonConstructing Jesus pp. 426–427.

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    Rodríguez‘The Embarrassing Truth’ pp. 146–147. It is Rodríguez’s logic that falters here. The idea that a tradition that suits the transmitters’ agenda must have been invented by those transmitters is unfounded but the idea that a tradition that works against the agenda of the transmitters can hardly have been invented by them is very well founded. Moreover Rodríguez’s assertion that ‘[e]very word from or about Jesus made sense within and served post-crucifixion theological and ideological perspectives’ (p. 147) is gratuitous. As an ironical matter of fact such a sweeping statement could only be accepted by someone who subscribes exactly to early form criticism’s ‘presentist’ approach to memory. See further Fernando Bermejo-Rubio ‘Changing Methods Unpalatable Truths: Should the Criterion of Embarrassment Be Dismissed in Jesus Research?’ rej 175 (2016) forthcoming for a more thorough critique of Rodríguez’s reasoning.

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  • 70

    Rodríguez‘The Embarrassing Truth’ p. 147.

  • 71

    AllisonConstructing Jesus p. 20 n. 85.

  • 72

    Le Donne‘The Criterion of Coherence’ p. 96. I find this nomenclature to be a significant improvement over against Le Donne’s previous dichotomizing of ‘memory’ and ‘invention’ (idemThe Historiographical Jesus p. 86).

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