Bible Review 9:3, June 1993

Why Search for the Historical Jesus?

By John P. Meier

Currently I am working on a book on the historical Jesus, trying to determine what we can say about the life of Jesus here on earth in terms that would satisfy an objective historian. Contrary to my expectation, it has turned out to be a two-volume project. The first volume—484 pages—has recently been published.a The second volume will probably be about the same length. If the work is long, the results are meager. The sources (mostly from the New Testament) are intractable and often unreliable from the viewpoint of a modern critical historian. Much of what I say may often seem like deliberate effort to cast doubt on the veracity of the Scriptures. For example, I conclude that Jesus was very probably not born in Bethlehem, but in Nazareth, contrary to the accounts in Matthew and Luke. His birth at Bethlehem is to be taken not as historical fact but as a theologoumenon, a theological insight narrated as a historical event.

Yet I am a man of faith—indeed, a Catholic priest. Since the quest is so difficult and the results so tenuous, why pursue it so relentlessly, as I and countless other scholars have done?

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