In this episode that was co-produced with the Mormon Sunday School and Feminist Mormon Housewives podcasts, Eric Huntsman, Jared Anderson, and Lindsay Hansen Park join me for a fascinating examination of the what has often been referred to as the “quest for the historical Jesus,” and especially the ways in which the Jesus who lived and breathed and walked the roads of ancient Palestine (or, if not that, at least the Jesus we can uncover through historical methods) might differ from the “Christ of faith.” This is a hotly contested subject, made all the more difficult because of the fragmentary nature of the sources, but also because of the complication that most commentators (including the authors of the Gospels and other New Testament and apocryphal writings) have religious or faith stakes in the question, Most everyone who goes into this scholarship “wants” the actual Jesus to be who their faith has led them to believe he was.
The panelists discuss what it is we can know about the historical Jesus, taking us through a history of the various “quests” to discover him, the main sources scholars have to deal with, the criteria they use to determine the likelihood of various sayings and actions being things Jesus really did versus later creations/amplifications, and the ancient settings in which he lived and in which Christianity took root. Most importantly, they also address questions such as: “If the historical record can’t determine something conclusively, does it mean that Jesus did not do/say it?” and “Does/Should faith commitments hinge on the accuracy of the biblical presentations of Jesus?” The panelists also specifically evaluate claims in the recent book that has launched new interest in this question, Zealot, by Reza Aslan.
We hope you will enjoy this discussion! Please share your thoughts below!
(Much thanks to William Newman and James Estrada for doing the post-production editing for this episode!)
Links to Resources (recommended by Jared Anderson and/or Eric Huntsman):
E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus
Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium
Gerd Theissen, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide
Dale Martin’s Yale New Testament lecture on the Historical Jesus
Historical Jesus resources at NT Gateway
Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament: An LDS Perspective
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus
Craig Evans, Fabricating Jesus
The earliest available account of the resurrection is found in 1 Corinthians 15. Written about 20 years after the death of Jesus. Still well within living memory. It tells us a couple of things. Firstly, the story of the resurrection has remained consistent since the very beginning, it didn’t develop or change over time as a myth or legend might. It is still more verifiable than the lives of Robin Hood or King Arthur. Even a hard nosed critic such as Bart Ehrman will acknowledge that the Corinthians account is a legitimate piece of evidence.
Secondly, Paul is very specific about what happened and who saw him. All we can do is look someone in the eye (so to speak) and decide whether we are being told the truth. I find it convincing and this is one of those seeds of evidence upon which I can build my faith.
Dave, you are correct that evidence for both belief in the resurrection and a high Christology (believing Jesus is divine) occurs from our earliest sources. We still need to explain other evidence, but that is beside the point that in this episode we were discussing the evidence for Jesus while he was alive, which of course ended at his death. I personally think the resurrection remains unavoidably a matter of faith, which is how it should be.
I totally agree with Jared. People genuinely believing something is true doesn’t constitute “evidence” in either a scientific or legal setting – that’s always going to be a question of faith (or, legally, hearsay), not of fact or proof. Even if some other fields of human endeavour admit it as evidence! It would be nice if the term wasn’t used so loosely, or we had and used several different terms to make that distinction.
An excellent, thought-provoking conversation. The Church and indeed all of Christianity is left to build a house of faith on a god we struggle to perceive. I like Eric’s loyalty to faith in the face of knowing how weak the case for an historical Jesus is from the texts alone. It’s odd that good information about such a pivotal figure in the human family is so sparse and so imprecise. Match that with the witnesses to Jesus in the Book of Mormon being forbidden to write the vast majority of what they witnessed and learned from Jesus–and we’re left to muddle through as best we can. We’re left with a jambalya of partially-remembered information run through the sausage machine of translation. There is much to learn from relistening to this episode.
I’m enjoying this podcast very much and I commend you for maintaining a sensitive tone towards faithful believers. My only criticism is that I felt you were too dismissive of Aslan’s book. He definitely did not write the book not from the standpoint of a believer in Jesus as Messiah. Although Aslan claims to have been a born again Christian in his teens, he identifies as Muslim and you definitely get the feeling he doesn’t feel invested in crafting the book to make it palatable to a Christian audience. However, I found the book to be a very well researched treatment of the historical Jesus. Aslan gives a compelling explanation of some of the events of the New Testament such as when Jesus said “Render unto Ceasar the thing which are Ceasar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”, and the story of Pilate washing his hands of Jesus’ death. Aslan makes a very solid case for Jesus being critical of the Jewish priestly class as being puppets for the Romans. He wanted the Romans out of Jerusalem, especially the temple, but Aslan didn’t say Jesus was advocating a violent overthrow. It’s true that Jesus’ message was critical of the establishment but it was also subtle (“whoever has ears, let them hear”). Also Aslan says the reason Jesus went to the wilderness was because he was a follower of John. After John the Baptist was executed, Jesus went into the wilderness because he feared for his own life.
I’m not a bible expert but I liked Aslan’s book a lot. I just don’t have the stomach anymore for books about “magical” Jesus. I think Jesus was an awesome person just as he was, without all the religious overlay.
Great job guys. Dan, the words you spoke at the end of the podcast also express where I am in my faith journey.
Lindsay, thanks for keeping it real. I love how you called the “nerds” to come down from their lofty perch and just let us know which Jesus we should hang on our wall. Classic!
This was very fascinating. I loved the discussion back and forth between two informed scholars. It was fun to be able to see that while there is some consensus there is room for differing perspectives.
The main thing I got out of this was that the historical Jesus is not necessarily the Jesus of your faith.
Really glad to have Eric Huntsman on, I took several classes from him at BYU – all of them religiously and historically rigorous – that I really enjoyed. Great episode!
When I saw the title I was very excited for this podcast. I have to say, Eric Huntsman ruined this podcast for me. He dominated most of the conversation. He interrupted everyone. He was hypercritical of minutia. He doesn’t need to correct every little detail that is not in line with the way he would have said it.
Does not play well with others.
If he is on another podcast my request is that someone rein him in a bit.
This was one of my favorite mormon matters episodes. The back and forth between Eric and Jared was super awesome. They’ve both obviously come to some different conclusions but defended their own sides well. Thanks for this episode. Can’t wait to share it with others.
I am friends with one of the authors of ‘the masks of christ’ (who is actually ex lds) one of the interesting things she claims is that Jesus and John the Baptist were rivals and there was a bit of one upmanship going on. There is even a sect called the ‘mandeans’ (sp?) who revered John and have a non so favorable view of Jesus. All fascinating stuff
It is pretty clear from this discussion that Jared is not a believer in the divinity and grace of Jesus Christ as our Savior. Which is surprising to me in that he teaches a Mormon Sunday School. Which begs the question as to why is he teaching Mormon Sunday School when he is not a Christian in the faithful and divine sense of the word. Jesus Christ is the center of the Mormon faith and yet he doesn’t believe in Jesus as God?
There are a few additions from the JST about Jesus that are interesting. In JST Matthew 3:25, it introduces this kind of “super-boy” Jesus who could not be taught. “Neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him.” Also the change in JST Luke 2:46, that “they were hearing him and asking him questions.” In the portrayal of his hypostasis, it emphasizes more his divinity at an earlier age. Then we have in the JST a further distancing of the divine from his closest disciples, where in JST Mark 14:36, they were were not just sleeping while in the garden of Gethsemane, for they did “complain in their hearts, wondering if this be the Messiah.” In another way it puts a focus on Jesus’ vulnerability with Mosiah 3:7 bloody sweat support for the Luke bleeding Jesus when juxtaposed to his closest disciples nearly abandoning belief in him as a Messiah during his darkest hours.
I love these discussions. Eric and Jared’s analysis was approachable and useful. It was nice having Lindsay in the discussion too in order to provide a non-theologian’s curiosity to represent the rest of us.
Another really great and interesting podcast. I loved all the contributions made by the panellists, and had to laugh frequently at the “tag team” stuff going on: It was positively effervescent. Thanks all! 🙂
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