Thirty years ago, the historical Jesus was dead. By 1975, it was clear that scholars had very little to say about him. If students were assigned anything to read on the subject, it was usually Gunther Bornkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth from the 1950s1 or even Albert Schweitzer’s classic tome The Quest of the Historical Jesus, originally published in 1906.2 The field of New Testament studies was flooded with redaction-critical studies on the Gospels, literary criticism and biblical theology. Then came the postmodern wave. Historical approaches to the Bible were washed up—even suspect.
Yet today the historical Jesus lives again. He has been resurrected in the pages of biblical scholarship. What happened? No one really knows. Was it simply the “historical Jesus hoopla” stirred up by Bob Funk and the Jesus Seminar? Or were there deeper issues at play in North American culture that served to attune people once again to questions of history, of roots?
Whatever the reason, the past 20 years have stocked our shelves with good books on Jesus. But what have they taught us? What do we now know—or think we know—about Jesus that we did not know before?