The present article seeks to show that the case for the mythical Jesus is seriously undermined by the evidence of the undisputed Pauline epistles. By way of a thought experiment, these letters are taken in isolation from other early Christian literature, and are discussed in dialogue with mythicist scholarship. Attention to the language of the birth, ancestry and coming of Jesus demonstrates the historicity and human bodily existence of Jesus. There is also information about his ministry, disciples, teaching and character in the epistles which has been neglected. Paul’s letters, even taken alone, also show the Herodian timeframe of Jesus’ ministry. The evidence discussed challenges not only mythicist hypotheses, but also the minimalist strand of more mainstream Jesus-Paul research.
This essay places accounts of the mission of Jesus, including his politics, within a wider frame. It does so by offering a constitutional approach. This situates Jesus’ teaching of the kingdom of God in a Mediterranean context of ancient constitutional reflection, as also of certain Palestinian constitutional ideas and forms. An account of three main aspects of Jesus’ mission is offered within this wider, constitutional frame: first, power and authority; second, law and custom; and third, ethos and praxis. Jesus’ identity as an eschatological prophet of national renewal, whose aims are at least implicitly constitutional, comes to the fore.
This article interacts with John P. Meier’s view concerning the parables that can be shown to be “authentic,” i.e., shown to have been uttered by the historical Jesus. His highly critical and largely negative result (only four parables remaining parables of Jesus) demonstrates once more that historical Jesus research that is intrinsically tied to questions of authenticity has run its course. Such an approach can only lead to minimalistic results and destroys the sources that we have. By contrast, the so-called memory approach tries to understand the process and result of remembering Jesus as a parable teller. Collective memory requires typification and repetition in order to bring the past to mind in a remembering community. Parables as a genre are such media of collective memory that shape and form not only the memory itself, but also the identity of the remembering community. Thus, the many parables of Jesus in early Christian writings are more than ever an indispensable source for historical research on the remembered Jesus, a point that is demonstrated in the final section of this article using kingdom parables as a test case.
This article seeks to develop the recent attention to memory by outlining a hermeneutical approach that links memory closely to philosophical reflections on referentiality, narrativity and temporality. From insights of modern and ancient theories of memory, the the present approach insists that memory is referential in that its images are held to derive from outside memory, that it is narrative in that it is believed to picture a socially conditioned reality, and that it is temporal in that it depends on time in order to navigate between the past and the present. This hermeneutical approach is form-critically and rhetorically relevant, because it becomes visible in the uses of forms taught in the Progymnasmata, especially in the attempt to present them with convincing clarity, as seen in the combination of two chreiai and one diēgēma Mark 1:29–39. Further study of the hermeneutics of memory will redirect our concept of history and reveal the extent to which memory served the early Christians in their search for existential meaning and identity.