Today I have made my way through Chapter 5 of James Dunn's Jesus Remembered. The chapter is entitled "The Flight from History." My review of the earlier chapters is here.
I enjoyed the beginning of this chapter. Dunn is so well read and has lots of delicious quotes here, there, and in the footnotes. One of the things I have struggled with in chapters 4 and 5 is exactly what Dunn himself struggled with in writing the chapters. History is sloppy. How do you take the ebbs and flows of history and conceptualize them in a way that does minimal damage to them.
This is the problem with so much of the ideological history we hear. This idea led to this idea led to this idea. The absurdity of shoving the infinitude of life onto such a narrow string!
So we must give great latitude to the attempt to capture the history of historical Jesus research under two headings: 1) The Flight from Dogma (chap. 4) and 2) The Flight from History (chap. 5). In chapter 4 Dunn discussed such research as it pursued reason moving away from the church. In this chapter he discussed those who, because of the desire for something greater, have minimalized the importance of history in the equation of Jesus.
Since history doesn't fall neatly into such categories, we will have to make do with the occasional oddity that results. It seems to me that each subsection is a gem, delightful. The overarching categorization has not gelled with me.
1. The first gem is a piece on the "Historical-Critical Method." Here I think Dunn aims to state the problem of the historical method as it has given rise to various flights from it. He mentions two key figures in the formulation of the historical-critical method: Lessing and Troeltsch.
Gotthold Lessing (1729-81) is the first key figure. Lessing is of course known for the idea of a "ugly, broad ditch" between historical uncertainty and the necessary truths of reason. "Accidental truths of history can never become the proofs of necessary truths of reason."
Ernst Troeltsch is the second (late 1800's). The historical method 1) is about the probable, not the certain, 2) is based on the notion that the past is analogous to the present, and 3) that events are interrelated with the surrounding causes and effects in which they are enmeshed.
2. Protecting Faith from History
Lessing protected faith by connecting it to innate reason, something seriously questioned in the days that followed him. Wilhelm Herrmann, one of Bultmann's teachers, suggested that the secure place for faith was in religious experience. Martin Kähler argued that we simply do not have any historical sources to show us the Jesus of history, we are stuck with the Christ of faith in the gospels. "The biblical Christ is the 'invulnerable area' from which faith can gain its certainty without relying on the heteronomous guarantees of external authorities."
3. Rudolph Bultmann
Barth and Bultmann followed Kähler's lead. So Barth in his Romans commentary, "In history as such there is nothing so far as the eye can see which can provide a basis for faith." Barth argued with the Liberal Adolf Harnack that historical criticism has its place, but it also has its limitations.
Bultmann of course reduced faith to an existentialist core that had no place at all for a historical element in faith. Indeed, he did not believe that Jesus had really risen from the dead in history. Wrede had argued that Mark was theological. K. L. Schmidt had argued that all the historical connectors in Mark were Markan rather than a part of his sources, so we were left with individual stories. Bultmann thus develops "form criticism" of the Gospels, where small stories are analyzed for their genre and Sitz im Leben, their "situation in life."
Bultmann concludes that we can know almost nothing of the life and personality of Jesus, although we can know the essence of his message.
4. Second Quest (the "new" quest)
Ernst Käsemann comes on the scene in 1953, suggesting too sharp a discontinuity between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith in the thinking of Bultmann, his Doktor Vater. Perhaps the results of form criticism are not so bleak. Indeed, Joachim Jeremias finds considerable probable teaching that can be traced back to Jesus with probability, not least his reference to God as Abba. Ernst Fuchs suggests that Jesus' conduct, largely overlooked in the quest in deference to a focus on Jesus' sayings, tell us much of who Jesus was.
Norm Perrin comes up with criteria for determining with historical probability the sayings of Jesus, the "criterion of dissimilarity" becomes prominent. "Coherence" and "multiple attestation" backed up dissimilarity. Others have added other criteria, Aramaic quality, embarrassment, memorability...
Has the second quest ever ended? Since the whole "new quest" is a construct we have placed on historical data, the question seems hardly worth asking.
5. Third Quest
The distinguishing mark of the "third" quest is reintroducing the Jewishness of Jesus into the equation. Sanders and Wright are the main ones Dunn mentions here.
The chapter ends with a brief foray into some of the hermeneutical developments that call into question the very possibility of any meaning in texts at all, let alone discovering historical realities behind texts. He mentions narrative criticism as the earlier new criticism of literary criticism meeting biblical studies. Narrative criticism brackets questions of the real author and real reader in deference to the implied author and reader.
Stanley Fish is mentioned with his idea of meaning to texts being established in interpretive communities. Then there is Gadamer's Wirkungsgeschichte, our meeting of texts in the flow of their impact on subsequent tradition.