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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Historical context (the life-situation, lifeworld) of the authors of the texts

The Jesus of History and the Holon of Christ from Indistinct Union by cjsmith

With the publication of Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (1926), Biblical scholarship moved to searching no longer for the Historical Jesus but the historical context (the life-situation, lifeworld) of the authors of the texts themselves (see Rudolf Bultmann). This followed Heidegger’s reflections on being-in-the-world, the intersubjective over the historicist objective right-hand approaches of empiricism and historical studies. As is well known the Gospels are all written 40-70 years after Jesus’ death, in vastly different social and political contexts than Jesus’ own day. What the Gospels are then are stories of what would Jesus be like if he lived in the situation of the author and the community that composed the text. Post temple destruction Palestine (Mark); Gentile Church in Turkey (Luke); a Jewish-Christian community in Syria (Matthew); and a group expelled from the synagogues (John). This phase was less the search for the Historical Jesus as the search for the Historical Church. This tradition was highly skeptical of knowing anything about the Historical Jesus and a result interest in the subject waned.
Interest was temporarily revived by the second phase of the Historical Jesus search began in the 1950-60s with the work of German scholar Gunther Bornkam, but it too eventually waned with the explosion of interest in feminist, liberationist, and postmodern readings starting in the late 60s and into the 70s.
But in our day we see the study of the Historical Jesus again waxing. The third phase gained real steam by the early 1990s. Well known names include: Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, N.T. Wright, John Meier, Elaine Pagels, Paula Fredriksen, and Richard Horsley.
The third phase of Historical Jesus scholarship has sought to overcome the problem of the first—namely the infiltration of background cultural assumptions onto Jesus. The proponents of this Third Wave argue this could be achieved through a renewed look at the social-cultural-religious world of Jesus’ own day. Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948, the knowledge of 1st century Palestine has exploded. These authors use what is known of contemporary Judaism (or rather Judaisms, as they were multiple strands of the religion it turns out) and Greco-Roman world, to decipher which points of the Gospels make sense against that background and which do not.
There has been much good work by these scholars and I do not want to diminish the efforts. I have learned a great deal from reading all these scholars. Still one can’t help noticing that the author’s own background correlates very strongly with the reconstructed Jesus.

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