Borg - Jesus in contemporary scholarship

Jesus in contemporary scholarship - Marcus Borg
The historical Jesus is "in the news," both in the scholarly world and in the much broader world of the public.
The last fifteen years have seen a revitalization of the academic discipline of Jesus scholarship, especially in North America.
A third quest of the historical Jesus is underway, replacing the old quest of the nineteenth century and the short-lived "new quest" of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Borg, Marcus J.- Jesus in contemporary scholarship

Marcus J. Borg. p.   cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1-56338-094-3
1994 Marcus J. Borg
1. Jesus Christ—Historicity—Study and teaching.
2. Jesus Christ—History of doctrines—20th century

Marcus Borg - Jesus in contemporary scholarship - Preface

The resurgence of scholarly activity has been accompanied by widespread public interest. Serious books of historical scholarship on Jesus become best-sellers.2 The scholarly study of Jesus is featured in cover stories in major news magazines and in television programs. With the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus approaching in the year 1996, public interest is likely to increase even more.
It is thus an exciting time in Jesus scholarship, and I am grateful to be part of it. The essays in this volume reflect that excitement and speak of central directions, results, and questions within the discipline. In them, I report much of what has been happening in Jesus scholarship since 1980 and engage in a dialogue with it. In some essays, the emphasis is more on reporting, though an interpretive element is inevitably always present. In others, I generate my own constructions of how I see things as a result of my interaction with contemporary scholarship.
The essays reflect two facts about Jesus. He is the subject of research by scholars working within the framework of the secular academy. He is also the central figure in a living religion. In various ways and to varying degrees, Jesus matters to Christians.
Though it is impossible completely to divorce any of the essays from this second fact, it is nevertheless true that some of them reflect the first fact more than the second. In particular, the first six essays concentrate on historical Jesus research in the secular academy: what we can "see" about Jesus, without Christian presuppositions and quite apart from what significance the historical study of Jesus might have for Christians. The final three essays explicitly address the second fact: how and why historical scholarship about Jesus might be significant for Christians.
The essays are arranged thematically. Part 1, consisting of the first two chapters, provides an overview of what has been happening in Jesus scholarship since 1980. Chapter 1 describes the contemporary renaissance: sometime around 1980, a discipline that had been relatively quiet throughout much of this century crossed a threshold, and evidence of its rebirth became obvious. The 1980s saw the development of new interdisciplinary methods, the formation of new professional organizations, and a burst of publishing. Chapter 2 describes six portraits, or sketches, of Jesus that emerged in North American scholarship during the same period. Together, the construals of Jesus by E. P. Sanders, Burton Mack, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Richard Horsley, John Dominic Crossan, and myself indicate a range of options being considered within the discipline.
Part 2 (chapters 3 through 6) explores major issues in contemporary Jesus research. Chapters 3 and 4 treat Jesus and eschatology. They report and analyze what may be a paradigm shift in our understanding of Jesus and Christian origins. Namely, the paradigm of imminent eschatology (the notion that Jesus proclaimed the coming of the messianic age or "kingdom of God" in the immediate future, which dominated much of this century's scholarship) has seriously eroded, and a new paradigm has become at least equally strong within the discipline: Jesus as a wisdom figure and social prophet. Just as the twentieth century began with a major paradigm shift in the work of Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer, the century seems to be ending with another paradigm shift of equal magnitude, affecting both methodology and results.
Chapter 5 focuses on Jesus and politics. It treats the way new interdisciplinary methods illuminate and to some extent transform our understanding of Jesus in the setting of his social world. It reports how the insights generated by interdisciplinary analyses of the social dynamics of first-century Palestine enable us to see that Jesus was a political figure in the sense of being a radical social critic and an advocate of an alternative social vision.
Chapter 6 addresses an issue that is often unaddressed in modern Jesus (and biblical) scholarship: the way in which the world-view operative in the psyches of scholars affects the way we see texts, especially texts that report paranormal experiences or happenings. I argue that the "root image" of reality that has been dominant in the modern academy since the Enlightenment has led to an ignoring of the sacred and spiritual in the traditions about Jesus. This is an important and difficult issue in Jesus scholarship: to what extent are the judgments of scholars about what is real and what is possible shaped by the world-view of our particular time in history? To what extent has the Enlightenment world-view of the academy, which functions as both an image of reality and as a lens through which we see, led to reductionistic images of Jesus? What would happen to our understanding of Jesus if we took seriously an alternative world-view or "root image" of reality, consonant with the texts themselves and with "the virtual human unanimity" prior to the Enlightenment?3
The third and final part (chapters 7 through 9) relates the historical study of Jesus to the life of the church. Chapter 7 explores the significance of new understandings of Jesus for Christian understandings of evangelism. What does evangelism mean in an age in which global religious pluralism is taken seriously and in which the historically widespread Christian claim to be the exclusively true religion is rapidly being abandoned by mainline Christians? If evangelism is not about converting people to believe in Jesus for the sake of eternal salvation, what is it about? What can we learn about evangelism from what we can see about Jesus?
Chapter 8 treats the potential significance and usefulness of the Jesus Seminar's color-coded The Five Gospels for Christians and churches. I provide an overview of the work of the Jesus Seminar and the volume itself and then make some suggestions about how The Five Gospels can be used in the context of the church's educational activity.
In chapter 9, I conclude the book by treating the simple but in fact difficult question: does the historical study of Jesus matter? That is, does it or should it matter for Christians? I describe some of the ways the question has been answered in the last two hundred years as well as in contemporary scholarship and then suggest my own way of thinking about it. Our image of Jesus, I argue, does in fact affect our image of the Christian life.
About half of the essays have been published before. I am grateful to the people who suggested to me that it would be useful to have them published together and to the publishers who gave permission for their re-publication. I decided not to revise them in any way, except for minor changes in format, thinking it better to leave them in their original form. My decision is perhaps in part due to sloth, but also avoids having two versions of the same essay in print. The one exception is chapter 2, which has a clearly identified addendum. Otherwise, the essays and bibliographical references are as I wrote them at the time.4
The book treats primarily North American scholarship and from a North American perspective. To some extent, this is because the renaissance in Jesus research has been centered in North America. It was not very many decades ago that new directions in Jesus and biblical research came primarily from Germany, but that seems to have changed.
For much of the period covered by this book, I was privileged to have an insider's view of the North American discussion. In 1987, I became chair of the Historical Jesus Section of the Society of Biblical Literature, a position I held through 1992. A few years before that, I accepted an invitation from Robert Funk to become a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar. I have learned greatly from my involvement with scholars in both groups.
Thus my vantage point is North American. Over the course of my career, there have been influences from elsewhere as well: my two main scholarly mentors were British, I studied in England for four years, and I initially fell in love with historical Jesus research through German scholarship. Nevertheless, I am aware that I see the discipline through a North American lens.
Finally, the major professional event in my life during the years this book was being written was the creation of an endowed chair for me at Oregon State University in December of 1993. My benefactor is Al Hundere of San Antonio, Texas.
Hundere is a gifted man whose life combines an American success story with an adventuresome life-embracing spirit. Raised by a single Norwegian immigrant mother after his father was killed by a falling tree limb along a river in the coastal range of Oregon when Hundere was four years old, Hundere went to Oregon State during the Depression and graduated with an engineering degree in 1938. He combined his talent in engineering with his passion for flying and became an inventor and successful entrepreneur manufacturing his own inventions.
Though not a religious man himself, Hundere nevertheless recognizes the importance of religion in shaping people's attitudes, especially toward society and the environment, and believes that an enlightened approach to religion is important for the future of the world. To Al Hundere this volume is dedicated, with admiration for what he has done with his life and grateful appreciation for the honor of being the first holder of the chair that bears his name.


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