Historical Jesus

The term historical Jesus refers to scholarly reconstructions of portraits of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. These reconstructions, which are distinct from the question of the existence of Jesus, are based on historical methods including critical analysis of gospel texts as the primary source for his biography, along with consideration of the historical and cultural context in which he lived.

Since the 18th century, three separate scholarly quests for the historical Jesus have taken place, each with distinct characteristics and based on different research criteria, which were often developed during that phase. The second quest which started in 1953 reached a plateau in the 1970s and by 1992 the term third quest had been coined to characterize the new research approaches.

While there is widespread scholarly agreement on the existence of Jesus, the portraits of Jesus constructed in these quests have often differed from each other, and from the dogmatic image portrayed in the gospel accounts. The mainstream profiles in the third quest may be grouped together based on their primary theme as apocalyptic prophet, charismatic healer, Cynic philosopher, Jewish Messiah and prophet of social change. But there is little scholarly agreement on a single portraits, or the methods needed to construct it. There are, however, overlapping attributes among the portraits and pairs of scholars which may differ on some attributes may agree on others. Yet, there "a consensus of sorts" on the basic outline of Jesus' life in that most scholars agree that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, debated Jewish authorities on the subject of God, performed some healings, gathered followers, and was crucified by Roman prefect Pontius Pilate.

A number of scholars have criticized the various approaches used in the study of the historical Jesus, on one hand for the lack of rigor in the research methods, on the other for having been driven by "specific agendas" that interpret ancient sources to fit specific goals. These agendas range from those that aim to confirm the Christian view of Jesus, to those that aim to discredit Christianity to those which interpret the life and teachings of Jesus with the hope of causing social change.

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Read more about Historical Jesus:  Quests For The Historical Jesus, Criticism of Historical Jesus Research

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Graham Twelftree
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