The IBR Jesus group has put out a new online video about the historical Jesus. You can view the first video of the series here. The Institute of Biblical Research is a sub-group of the Society of Biblical Literature--more conservative than SBL at large but not as restrictive as the Evangelical Theological Society.
The work that the IBR Jesus group is doing is important because of the influence that the Jesus Seminar (another sub-group of SBL) has on the way that Jesus is portrayed in the media. The Jesus Seminar essentially paints Jesus as a wandering Galilean sage, whose followers elevated him to the theological position of "Son of God." Just about any documentary you see on television about the historical Jesus points out all of the "errors" in the biblical witness and portrays Jesus according to the Jesus Seminar's interpretation.
The Jesus Seminar's task is noble. On the surface, the group exists to sift through theology and discover the true historical Jesus. Religious literature tends to elevate its heroes and to create stories about them to justify the religious community's worship of that hero. We recognize this in the literature of other religions, why should we doubt it about the Bible? If we do not approach the Bible with preconceived notions about its accuracy or "inerrancy," we would be a little more hesitant to accept stories like Jesus walking on water or feeding 5,000 with just a few small loaves and fish. Thus, the Jesus Seminar seeks to distinguish "history" from "theology."
However, the Jesus Seminar's portrayal of Jesus is so different from that of the sources they use, it raises questions about the objectivity of their search. May there be ulterior motives behind the quest for the historical Jesus?
The IBR Jesus group uses the same methods of the highly influential Jesus Seminar to paint a completely different picture of Jesus. Essentially, they turn the issue around and show that unless you approach the Bible with preconceived notions of its inaccuracy, there is nothing in the story of Jesus that cannot be true. They have shown through historical investigation that Jesus really lived, that he was baptized by John the Baptist, that he proclaimed the coming reign of God, that he was considered a wonder-worker and exorcist, that he was crucified by the Romans for claiming to be Messiah, and that his followers claimed that he rose from the dead. From that historical framework, it is not too difficult to justify the more theological claim that he is the "Son of God."
I studied the historical Jesus with Dr. Darrell Bock (who is featured in the video) for a semester, and he had us investigate events in Jesus life according to the methods of historians. I looked at the Last Supper. The class was invaluable because it taught me to approach the issue of Jesus without preconceived theological ideas, and that one can do "good history" and still maintain a conservative interpretation of Jesus.
Dr. Bock has his own blog on issues related to the historical Jesus, and he also contributes to Primetime Jesus, a blog about Jesus in the media.
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