The Need For The “Historical Jesus” A Response To Jacob Neusner’s Review Of Crossan And Meier -- By: Craig A. Evans

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 04:1 (NA 1994)
Article: The Need For The “Historical Jesus” A Response To Jacob Neusner’s Review Of Crossan And Meier
Author: Craig A. Evans

The Need For The “Historical Jesus” A Response To Jacob Neusner’s Review Of Crossan And Meier

Craig A. Evans

Trinity Western University

Jacob Neusner’s review of John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus and John P Meier’s A Marginal Jew is insightful and helpful at many points. Although Neusner is not himself a Jesus scholar, his work in rabbinica qualifies him for meaningful participation in what is a technical and difficult field of study. Neusner rightly criticizes Crossan’s uncritical use of apocryphal gospels, especially with respect to Morton Smith’s Secret Gospel of Mark. But Neusner infers too much from this particular controversy; Jesus research is not in a state of chaos, nor has the discipline been unable to defend itself from hucksters and sensationalists. Neusner claims too much when he accuses Crossan and Meier of defending their work on “blatantly theological grounds.” Both discuss the implications that their research has for Christian faith, but the work itself is not defended on theological grounds. It is concluded that historical Jesus research is credible and necessary.

Key words: Jacob Neusner, John Dominic Crossan, John P Meier, Historical Jesus, Morton Smith, Secret Gospel of Mark

Anyone familiar with the history of the various phases in the quest for the historical Jesus will appreciate what Jacob Neusner has to say about the subject in general and about the recent books by Dom Crossan and John Meier in particular. Neusner is not himself a Jesus scholar, but his quests for the historical Yohanan ben Zakkai and Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, near contemporaries of Jesus ben David, have confronted him with the same difficulties with which Jesus scholars grapple. Indeed, one is able to perceive in the three decades of Neusner’s remarkably productive career a development of thinking that in a certain sense parallels some of the developments in the two-century history of the quest for the historical Jesus. His Life of Yohanan ben Zakkai (SPB 6; Leiden: Brill, 1962) roughly approximates the assumptions and results characteristic of the better studies of the Old Quest. As

with many of the Old Questers, Neusner began his study with more optimism than his sources could justify. (In his c.v. Neusner places this work under the heading, “The pre-critical stage.”) Following its publication, Neusner discovered form criticism, which is reflected in his second study of Yohanan (1970), the study of the Pharisees in rabbinic tradition (1971), and the study concerned with Eliezer (1973). (Neusner places the latter books in his c.v. under the heading, “The beginning of the critical enterprise.”) From this work Neusner concluded that ...

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