Comparing the Historical Jesus: Introduction

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to [fulfill] for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His  fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”[1]

Jesus IconThus ended Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest for the Historical Jesus and thus began the modern quest to discover the historical figure of Jesus. This search for the historical truth behind the New Testament’s portrayal of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth continues to impact scholarship, theology, and popular culture nearly 2,000 years after this man’s death.[2] Continuing to follow Schweitzer’s example, numerous prominent scholars have offered their perspective upon the Historical Jesus in recent decades. While it remains difficult to “rank” Biblical and historical scholars, few have been as outspoken and influential as John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright. Over the next two weeks Pursuing Veritas will examine aspects of how these two scholars reconstruct the birth, work, death, and resurrection of the Historical Jesus.

The life and death of Jesus of Nazareth constitute an important life shaping narrative for many people, and the works of both Crossan and Wright have been formative for a great number of the general reading populace. Both Crossan and Wright possess a number of accolades and credentials that designate them as authoritative on the subject of the historical Jesus. Crossan currently holds a position as Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. A member of the Roman Catholic Church, he was co-chair of the Jesus Seminar from 1985 until 1996, and has written over twenty-five books on the historical Jesus and early Christianity, including Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography and God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. [3] Nicholas Thomas (commonly N. T. or Tom) Wright holds the position of Research Professor New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews. He was long-time Bishop of Durham (Anglican Fellowship), and has authored over fifty books, including Simply Jesus: Who He Was, What He Did, and Why it Matters, and his Christian Origins and the Question of God series.[4]

While Crossan and Wright have both written numerous books on the subject of the historical Jesus, this series considers some of their works written with a general audience in mind, rather than some of their lengthier academic treatments. Using primarily Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography for Crossan and the Christian Origins and the Question of God series for Wright, this series examines the respective positions on the historical Jesus for each scholar. Our analysis will include consideration of source material employed by each scholar, an examination and summary of each scholar’s perspective concerning the birth, life, death, and resurrection accounts of the historical Jesus. Additionally, these reflections are designed to examine some of the key differences between the methodologies and conclusions of two prominent theologians and historical Jesus scholars as preparation for future research.

[1] Albert Schweitzer. The Quest for the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. Trans. W. Montgomery (English). Great Britain: A. & C. Black, 1910. Online.

[2] Examples of impact on culture include: William Crawley, “The Historical Jesus” 5 April 2009. And John Blake, “Would Jesus Support Healthcare Reform?” 31 March 2012.

[3] Biographical Summary: John Dominic Crossan.

[4] Biographical Summary: Tom Wright. Simply Jesus (Harper Collins: New York, 2011).


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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