Bible Review 21:3, Summer 2005

The Search Begins: The Fathers of Historical Jesus Scholarship

By Marcus J. Borg

During the Enlightenment, the historian’s job changed dramatically. It was no longer enough simply to chronicle events reported in earlier, authoritative texts. Tradition and authority had become suspect, as investigation and reason became the new basis for knowledge. For the first time in history, historians were beginning to ask, What really happened?

In religion and theology, the early bearers of the Enlightenment were called the Deists. Like their counterparts in the fields of history and science, they sought “reasonable” and “natural” explanations for supernatural events. Although they believed in God, they rejected the notion of divine intervention and special revelation. They saw scripture and doctrine as human products.

Until this time, it was generally accepted that anyone could know what Jesus was like simply by combining everything that was said about him in the Bible. Now, scholars began distinguishing the Jesus of the Gospels from the historical Jesus. The first to do so was Hermann Samuel Reimarus:

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