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ThE dIStInctIOn bEtWEEn chRIStOlOGy And thE QuESt fOR thE hIStORIcAl JESuS- John P. Meier*


Introduction

Teaching the faith is never a task to be taken or taken on lightly. But it is made all the more difficult today by the fact that the laity whom priests, reli- gious, and lay catechists seek to serve in their catechetical ministry are bom- barded from every side not just by silly and superficial distractions from the entertainment world but also, more seriously, by distorted ideas about Christ and his Church that are widely disseminated in the news media and popular culture. Be it via television, movies, or nowadays the internet and social media, the more sensationalistic and absurd an idea about Jesus is, the more it tends to be celebrated - often with the implicit message that the latest academic "discovery" calls into question traditional faith in Jesus Christ.


To take but one example: on September 18, 2012, at the International Congress of Coptic Studies held in the city of Rome, Professor Karen L. King of Harvard Divinity School presented to other academics a fragment of a papy- rus written in the last stage of ancient Egyptian, namely, Coptic1. This leaf of papyrus supposedly depicted Jesus speaking about "my wife." The news media went wild, immediately proclaiming the discovery of "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife" - a title Prof. King used when she published the text. All this excitement ignored the clear facts of the case: the fragment's origins were unknown and indeed suspect; the key sentence broke off after the words "my wife," so that we were left with a few words floating in a vacuum; and the papyrus fragment itself dates from around the seventh or eighth century A.D., more than half a millennium after the time of Jesus. (Let us pass over in silence the glaring er- ror of defining the literary genre of a whole work, in this case "Gospel", from a mere scrap). More important, the larger context of scholarship that deals with Christian Coptic material was largely ignored by the popular media. The fact of the matter is that we are already well acquainted with a large mass of Coptic manuscripts dating from around the 4th century A.D., and many of these documents are full of imaginary and bizarre statements and stories about Jesus, statements that no sober historian would take seriously as a source for knowl- edge of the historical Jesus. Nevertheless, claims about the papyrus proving that Jesus had a wife received wide coverage in the newspapers, on television, and online. Scholarly questions and doubts about the papyrus were not reported with the same zeal and insistence2.

The public may be forgiven if they are unaware that in June of 2016 an investigative reporter named Ariel Sabar published in The Atlantic Monthly magazine online a lengthy article demonstrating that the Coptic fragment about Jesus' wife is most likely a forgery3. Even Professor King has admitted that forgery seems to be the most likely hypothesis. I say "the public may be for- given if they are unaware" of these developments because the indications of the forgery and the professor's admission have not received the same circus-like, raucous coverage that the original claim enjoyed. This, sadly, is the contempo- rary world in which catechists, clerical and lay, have to exercise their teaching ministry, no doubt at times with a feeling of great frustration.


1. Transition

As was the case with the so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife", sensation- alistic reports in the media usually revolve around the person and work of Jesus and are often said to be supported by the "latest discoveries" in the area of New Testament research called the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Having spent some 25 years of my academic career on this question, resulting in the five volumes in my series entitled A Marginal Jew, I have seen one extravagant claim about the historical Jesus after another exalted in the news media, only to give way to a still more outrageous claim, the second claim often being the exact opposite of the first. That one claim contradicts the other does not seem to bother the popular media in the least.

Now, it is easy enough for me to explain to my academic colleagues how absurd the latest "new discovery" about the historical Jesus is. But how are pastors and teachers to deal with this constant barrage of dubious informa- tion when they are trying to instruct and form ordinary Catholics who are not academics? To address this practical, pastoral question, I present in this essay a set of concepts or distinctions, which, properly employed, can unmask the muddled thinking of the popular media when it presumes to pontificate on the subject of the historical Jesus. In particular, I would like to focus on three key concepts that are often confused in public discussions about Jesus: namely, "the real Jesus," "the historical Jesus," and "the Jesus of faith"4.


2. The Real Jesus

The first concept to be examined, and perhaps the one most often misused or misunderstood, is "the real Jesus". Quite often, authors propagating their latest theories about the historical Jesus will claim that they have discovered the "real Jesus". This should serve as an immediate warning that such authors do not know what they are talking about. The real Jesus is not the historical Jesus, and the historical Jesus is not the real Jesus. This paradox demands some elucidation.


To start with the basics: if we restrict ourselves to the realm of empirical, historical research, putting aside for the moment questions of faith or theology, what does it mean to speak of the real Socrates, or the real Julius Caesar, or the real Barack Obama, and hence the real Jesus of Nazareth?

(1) No historian would claim to know the total reality of a person, namely, everything the person ever thought, said, did, or experienced. That is beyond any researcher's ability to recapture or reconstruct. And yet it is the sum total of a person's words, actions, and experiences throughout his or her life that makes up that person's total reality. So no historian will ever be able to recount to us the total reality of Jesus or of anybody else in past history. The real Jesus in this sense is simply not to be had by historical research.

(2) Well then, what about a "reasonably complete" account of a person's life and thought? That is theoretically possible, and for great personages liv- ing in the twentieth or twenty-first century, historians can at times achieve a reasonably complete account. Think for instance of Winston Churchill or Charles de Gaulle - or, in the United States today, any contemporary president for whom a whole mammoth presidential library is built. In such libraries, full- time researchers collect every shred of evidence about the president, from his ancestors and birth through his entire life and career. Nowadays, of course, the historical record would include autobiographical writings and interviews, all supplemented by audio and visual recordings of key events as they unfolded in real time, with everything attested by many different news organizations re- peating the same event from different angles and with different interpretations. Obviously, the vast majority of the world's population will never have such a "reasonably complete" picture of themselves recorded for posterity. But the major leaders of the free world will. And granted smartphones, Facebook, and endless selfies - and who knows what other future technological intrusions into the little that is left of our private lives - technologically adept young people may be making themselves future candidates for this "reasonably complete" picture of a historical figure, though they may live to regret the Frankenstein monster they are creating.

(3) Once one moves from modern to ancient history, though, one cannot expect such a "reasonably complete" picture of even the "great ones" of the ancient world. Few if any reliable data are preserved for the infancy, childhood, and even early adulthood of a number of the famous figures of the Ancient Near East and the Mediterranean world. A noted historian once remarked to me that what we know with complete certainty about Alexander the Great could be fitted onto a couple of pages of print, since all the extant biographies date from centuries after his death, with many incidents and anecdotes unverifiable today5. We are in a better position with the relatively few renowned people who authored works that inform us of their lives and careers: for example, Cicero, Julius Caesar, and Marcus Aurelius. (To this list we might add the somewhat less renowned but still indispensable Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who has left us his self-serving Life as well as autobiographical information in his other writings). But even with these major figures, their early years remain largely unknown, except for some questionable anecdotes. Even in the case of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who wrote the famous Meditations, one modern biographer confesses that there are years during the Emperor's reign when we are not sure where Marcus is or what he is doing6. This hardly makes for what we moderns might call a "reasonably complete" picture of Marcus Aurelius. One can easily guess, then, that once we move to early Christian history, no Christian figure from the first few generations of Christianity will qualify for the label of a "reasonably full" portrait. The closest candidate would be St. Paul, thanks to his seven undisputed letters. But these cover less than a decade of his life - roughly 50 to 58 A.D. Granted, Paul gives us a few bits of auto- biographical information about his early days, and most critics would accept a fair amount, if not all, of what the Acts of the Apostles, and possibly the deutero-Pauline epistles, would add to the picture. But still, that would mean that we would be informed about some fifteen to twenty years of the life of one of the most important apostles in the first century A.D. - hardly a "reasonably complete" picture7.


(4) By now the reader can probably guess where I am going with this descending scale, which is measuring lower and lower degrees of the "real" in relation to our knowledge of important persons of ancient history. When we reach one obscure Jew from Nazareth in first-century Palestine named Yēšûa‛


W, i.e., Joshua or Jesus, what can the historian, acting purely as a historian, know about him? Jesus lived for approximately thirty-four to thirty-eight years at the turn of the era, and most of those years were no doubt filled with many things Jesus said, did, and experienced, along with his physical, intellectual, and spiritual development. Or, as St. Luke puts it, "Jesus developed [proeko- pten] in wisdom and stature and grace in the eyes of God and human beings" (Luke 2:52). If Jesus was truly and fully human, as the Council of Chalcedon affirmed in 451 A.D., how could it be otherwise? Yet of those approximately thirty-eight years of his human growth and experience, encompassing all his words and deeds, of how many years do we have historically reliable informa- tion? Apart from scattered data about his birth and infancy, all we have are selected sayings and actions from the last few years of Jesus' life. And here I am not reflecting some extreme form of modern skepticism. Traditional Chris- tianity has often spoken of the "hidden years" of Jesus' life. The problem is that those hidden years turn out to be all the years of Jesus' life except for as little as two or three years at the end. And when it comes to those last two or three years, it is John's Gospel, the one that seems most informed about Jesus' attendance at temple feasts, about the topography of Jerusalem and of Palestine as a whole, and about the chronology of Jesus' last days - it is John's Gospel that stresses that it is supplying only a selection from a vast amount of available material (John 20:30-31; 21:25)8. And as any perceptive reader can see from comparing the four Gospels, each evangelist feels free to reorder the events of the public ministry to serve his theological purposes. In other words, there is no historically verifiable "before" and "after" in Jesus' ministry between his baptism and his last days in Jerusalem. For all we know, there may well have been some important development in Jesus' thought and preaching during the public ministry; but it is impossible for us to recapture any such evolution in his teaching from the sources we now have.


The problem, then, is clear. Not only can modern historians not give us the real Jesus in the fullest sense of that word. Not only can they not give us a reasonably complete picture of the man's life and actions in the Barack- Obama-presidential-library sense of the phrase. Not only can they not give us a reasonably complete picture simply of his public career, as is the case with the adult Julius Caesar. They cannot even give us a relatively secure biography for, say, approximately 10 years, with a chronological before-and-after, as we can construct in the case of St. Paul, complete with autobiographical statements.

To be sure, from the four Gospels, written between forty to seventy years after Jesus' crucifixion, the modern historian can gather individual sayings and deeds of Jesus' public ministry - in no particular order - along with the main events of his final days in Jerusalem. That does not qualify for a biography in the modern sense or even, I would claim, in the ancient sense. A promi- nent scholar of the historical Jesus, John Dominic Crossan, once wrote a book dealing with the historical Jesus that he entitled In Fragments9. That may be a somewhat extreme expression of the problem, but it is a bracing antidote to the glib claims of the supposed latest "discovery" of some papyrus giving us the real Jesus. Modern historical research may give us many things. But if it restricts itself to the generally accepted criteria used to make solid academic judgments about ancient historical figures, it cannot give us the real Jesus.

What then are we to conclude? That historical research can tell us nothing about the first-century Jew named Jesus? Certainly not. Historical research cannot introduce us to the real Jesus, but it can introduce us to the historical Jesus. This conclusion leads us to our second main category. What exactly is the historical Jesus?


3. The Historical Jesus

In a nutshell, the historical Jesus is the Jesus whom we can recover, re- capture, or reconstruct by applying the tools of modern historical research to the ancient sources available to us today. In other words, the historical Jesus is a modern academic construct or hypothetical model. Or, put in the simplest way possible, the historical Jesus is the Jesus constructed by modern histori- ans. Hence there is no historical Jesus in this sense before the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century and the rise of critical history as a distinct academic discipline in the modern university in the nineteenth century.


The basic requirement of historical Jesus research is that any claim made by a person searching for the historical Jesus must be verifiable in principle by any fair-minded, well-informed scholar, believer or nonbeliever alike. It was to offer a concrete image of this requirement that I introduced in Volume One of A Marginal Jew the imaginary committee that I called "the unpapal conclave"10. Imagine that a group of honest and competent historians - including Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and agnostics - all experts in the history and culture of the Ancient Near East and the Mediterranean world, were locked up in a library and not allowed to come out until they composed a consensus statement on who Je- sus of Nazareth was, what he said and did, and what he intended by his mission to his fellow Jews in first-century Palestine. No doubt the resulting document would suffer from all the deficiencies found in many ecumenical documents formulated by committees over the past half century. Having once served on an international commission of ecumenical dialogue between Roman Catholics and a Protestant group called the Disciples of Christ (The Christian Church) for close to 20 years, I am well aware of how incomplete and unsatisfying to all sides such documents can be. Some disputed points have to be passed over in silence, while other disagreements on various intractable issues are openly ad- mitted. In the end, broad, even vague, language may have to be used to express agreement on major points. Such would be the case with any document on the historical Jesus issued by the unpapal conclave. No one would be entirely happy with it. Some important items would be missing, but at least it would form a basis for further dialogue about Jesus Christ - a dialogue so important today in our fractured and terrorized world, a world in which dialogue between faiths may well be an indispensable condition for survival and world peace.

This, then, is one goal of a serious quest for the historical Jesus. But one must admit, such a "serious quest" has rarely been achieved. Instead, ironi- cally, modern research into the historical Jesus has generated its own tangled history of widely and wildly different portraits of Jesus11. One reason for this muddle is that, as many a scholar has noted, the historical Jesus easily turns into a clear, crystal pool into which each researcher gazes to see himself or herself, only then to gasp at how relevant Jesus is. Since the historical Jesus is only a hypothetical construct, this danger of self-projection, of seeing oneself and one's own interests and agendas in the historical Jesus, is ever present. One might call this the danger of the historian's selfie.


Let me give just a few examples of this kind of self-projection. On the left wing of ideology, a political, economic, or indeed Marxist interpretation of the historical Jesus has proved popular in secular academia12. But such an interpretation has no claim to be a serious historical reconstruction. It turns a first-century eschatological prophet of Israel into a modern social reformer or revolutionary, addressing a society that never existed before the modern period. Such a projection of modern ideology onto an ancient figure involves not just a hopeless anachronism (despite claims of embedding Jesus in the socio-economic and political context of Roman Palestine). More seriously, this secular mindset also drains the historical Jesus of the beating heart of his whole mission: the basic faith of Israel in the God of the covenant, the God who chose Israel as his special people, the God who was now calling this people to repentance in the last days, as the final prophet sent to Israel began to regather all twelve tribes for both salvation and judgment. In the end, then, a secular re-imagining of Jesus is deeply un-Jewish, no to say anti-Jewish. It erases the God-centered message of Jesus the Jew - that the kingdom of God has drawn near to his people Israel - and replaces it with a human-centered message of political or economic reform. It is a prime example of what is wrong with so many reconstructions of the historical Jesus: Jesus becomes a beautiful but empty crystal glass into which we pour the vintage Chianti of our favorite ideological program.


However, this same problem of self-projection can be found on the right wing of ideology as well, when the historical Jesus is reduced simply to a use- ful tool of Christian apologetics. Now, to be sure, there is nothing wrong with Christian apologetics. An intellectually robust Christian apologetics is much needed today in the arena of popular culture as well as of academic debate. But Christian apologetics is not the same thing as the quest for the historical Jesus. When the two are confused, the result is an academic muddle that is neither fish nor fowl.


This is the case, I would maintain, with well-known and deeply esteemed Christian scholars like Joachim Jeremias and N.T. Wright13. Both seek to offer academic presentations of the historical Jesus. But in fact one finds in their writ- ings an undifferentiated mixture of two separate types of statements: (1) on the one hand, affirmations of facts open to verification in principle by any historian, believer or nonbeliever alike; and (2) on the other hand, statements involving the truths of faith, i.e., truths revealed by God in Jesus Christ and known by Christian faith. Once a scholar introduces the second type of statement into his work, mixing it indiscriminately with the first type, the result is not a quest for the historical Jesus, but rather a type of historically informed christology.


Now, let me stress: I welcome any christology that is historically informed. Given the historical mindset of the modern Western world, a christology that remains simply an expression of an abstract philosophical system has difficulty addressing an educated laity today. Hence a christology that has learned from and absorbed insights from a sober quest for the historical Jesus is a christology for our times. By the way, in my opinion, that is what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has given to the Church as a lasting legacy in his three-volume work, Jesus von Nazareth14. Benedict carefully and repeatedly states that he is not writing another book on the historical Jesus. He in fact mentions the work of Joachim Gnilka and my own volumes of A Marginal Jew as examples of the quest for the historical Jesus15. Benedict intends instead to move beyond this type of quest, while using some of its insights, to present his learned meditations on christol- ogy as believed and lived out in the world today. I would suggest that, whether they realize it or not, scholars like Jeremias and Wright have likewise authored historically informed christologies, despite their claims about pursuing the quest for the historical Jesus. Actually, with these observations, we begin to approach our third major category - in addition to the real Jesus and the historical Jesus - namely, the Jesus of faith, the proper object of christology.


4. The Jesus of Faith

What do we mean by christology, and what do we mean by the Jesus of faith, the object of christology's systematic reflections? Put simply, chris- tology is a subdivision of theology. And theology, in the famous definition of St. Anselm of Canterbury, is faith seeking understanding, fides quaerens intel- lectum16. Hence Christology is faith in Jesus Christ that is engaged in seeking further understanding of this faith in Jesus Christ. By the way, the reader may have noticed that throughout this essay I use the phrase "the Jesus of faith", instead of the more usual "Christ of faith," when I refer to the proper object of christology. I do this on purpose. The usual academic distinction between the "Jesus of history" and the "Christ of faith" can all too easily be taken to mean, at least in the minds of some students, that we are speaking of two to- tally different realities or persons. Or, with a somewhat different confusion of philosophical categories with historical categories, some students might think that the historical Jesus means the same thing as Jesus' human nature while the Christ of faith simply means his divine nature. That is to confuse two different academic frames of reference. The Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith are ultimately the one and the same person, considered (1) from different academic viewpoints and (2) according to different ways of knowing that employ differ- ent criteria of verification.


As I have already emphasized, the quest for the historical Jesus restricts its claims to what is empirically verifiable in principle by any competent his- torian, believer or nonbeliever. Thus, for the sake of the method, the Christian believer engaged in the quest prescinds from or brackets what he or she knows by faith. Now, the strength of the method demanded by the quest lies in its ability to create a level playing field on which all scholars, of whatever belief system, can join in collaborative research and honest debate. Its weakness lies in its narrow constraints. As we have seen, our limited ancient sources give us only fragments of the full reality that is Jesus of Nazareth, and our knowl- edge would remain quite limited even if more extensive ancient records were available to the historian. And more important, the methodological limitations of all empirical history necessarily block the historian qua historian from the ultimate, transcendent reality of who this Jesus was and is. It is to the total human-and-divine reality that faith in Jesus - and faith alone - gives us full access. This is why I prefer the phrase "the Jesus of faith" - in order to em- phasize that in Christology we are dealing with the same ultimate reality that we studied in a much more constricted way and from a different angle in the quest for the historical Jesus.

There is an intriguing corollary to this distinction between the historical Jesus and the Jesus of faith. Once we move from the realm of empirical histori- cal investigation into the realm of faith-knowledge of Jesus, the phrase "the real Jesus" takes on a new and deeper meaning. Within the vision granted by faith, the phrase "the real Jesus" comes to mean the one and the same person who became incarnate, who preached and healed, who suffered and died, and who rose from the dead. And how do we know this real Jesus? The real Jesus is the Jesus whom we come to know and experience through Scripture and tradition, through prayer and the sacraments, through the ongoing testimony of great saints and teachers, through living contact with the poor and the suffering, in whom Jesus is espe- cially and palpably present - in short, through the entire life of the community of Christian believers down through the ages. It is this ongoing experience of Jesus in his Church, spread out through time and space, that gives each and every believer access to the real Jesus of faith and hence to eternal life.


This, then, is the most vital and fundamental difference between the Je- sus of history and the Jesus of faith. The Jesus of faith is accessible to every sincere and well-disposed person who is willing to open himself or herself to God's free gift of faith in Jesus. And not only is this Jesus of faith accessible in principle to all, since God wills the salvation of all (1 Tim 2:4). This Jesus of faith is all that is necessary for salvation. More than a millennium and a half of Christians never thought of or heard of the modern construct we call the historical Jesus, and many devout but uneducated believers in the develop- ing world today will probably never hear of the historical Jesus either. Their Christian lives will be no less deep and authentic, since belief in the real Jesus of faith is no less accessible to them than to the educated Western believer who has studied the historical Jesus at length.

5. Why Bother with the Historical Jesus?


A final question therefore arises. If indeed knowledge of the Jesus of faith, granted by God's grace within the community of believers, is all that is necessary for a living relationship with Jesus and the salvation he offers, why bother with the historical Jesus at all? In particular, why should I as a scholar spend decades writing five volumes on the subject, with another volume still to come? A general answer would be that, simply as a matter of fact, many people in the Western world who are highly educated, including many sin- cere nonbelievers, frequently raise questions about the historical reality of the Jesus proclaimed by the church. Not to engage these sincere inquirers on the level of academic history would be to fail in our duty to them, and no doubt to leave many educated Catholics wondering about the historical foundations of their faith.

But I think there are more specific ways in which the quest for the histori- cal Jesus, apart from its justification simply as a legitimate historical endeavour investigating a significant figure of ancient history, can contribute today to the Church's proclamation of the Jesus of faith. In other words, while the histori- cal Jesus is neither the proper object of Christian faith nor the proper object of christology, it can and should contribute to a full and healthy development of a modern-day christology that addresses itself, as it must, to the historical con- sciousness of educated believers. Space allows for only a brief elaboration of this claim. I would suggest that the quest for the historical Jesus can contribute to contemporary christology in five specific ways:

(1) In a number of modern approaches to christology, especially from the time of David Friedrich Strauss onwards, and increasingly under the influence of such thinkers as Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell17, there is a tendency to reduce or transform Jesus into a mythic symbol or a timeless archetype. Indeed, this is especially a problem in the United States today. American sociologists of religion have identified a large group within the general population labeled "the nones."18 They are made up particularly of young people who no long belong to any organized religion, yet who still cling to a vague type of spiritual- ity or belief in God. Most of them do not wish to be identified as atheists. One senses a tendency among these young people to turn Jesus into a content-less cipher, an empty vessel that each individual can fill with his or her favorite cause or personal spirituality. As a counterpoise to this spiritual narcissism, the quest for the historical Jesus reminds us that to speak of Jesus is to speak of a specific human being who said and did specific things in the first century A.D. The historical Jesus acts as a barrier against a Jesus manufactured by popular culture or New Age spirituality, a Jesus who is infinitely useful because he is simply an infinitely malleable symbol.

(2) The Protestant theologian Oscar Cullmann once remarked that devout Catholics sometimes lean in the direction of a kind of crypto-monophysitism. By this he meant that the constant need to defend the divinity of Christ from modern doubts and denials easily leads some zealous Catholics to an over- shadowing or neglect of Jesus' true and full humanity. Granted such a religious climate, the historical Jesus can act, as it were, as a "Chalcedonian corrective", a modern-day version of Pope Leo the Great calling us to embrace the true and full humanity of Jesus Christ, united in one person with his true and full divinity.

(3) In our own day, the historical Jesus can serve to prevent a bourgeois form of Christianity from domesticating Jesus, i.e., turning him into a comfort- able prop for our comfortable lifestyle. It is hardly by accident that Catholic liberation theology has often appealed to the historical Jesus to emphasize the more embarrassing, disruptive aspects of his ministry - for example, his association with people who were deemed disreputable by the religious or social elites, his keen concern for the poor and the suffering, and his prophetic critique of a religion that is absorbed in the minutiae of external observance, while neglecting religion's heart and soul19.


(4) At the same time, though, as I have already noted, the historical Je- sus refuses to be coopted for the latest political or economic program. Jesus announced the imminent coming of the kingdom of God. Accordingly, he showed himself remarkably unconcerned with detailed programs for reform of the economic order of this present world or with the key social issues of first-century Palestine. In this, he is notably different from such denouncers of social and political injustice in Israelite society as the Old Testament prophets Amos and Isaiah.

(5) Finally, the historical Jesus reminds us that, when the Word became flesh in the incarnation, the Word did not become some all purpose, a-histor- ical, antiseptic flesh. No, the Word became Jewish flesh. The Word became a particular first-century Jew named Yēšûa', who lived and ate and worshiped and died as a Jew, not as a Christian. As John's Gospel reminds us, "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). Indeed, salvation is from one specific observ- ant Jew, however disruptive and nonconformist he might at times have been. Taking the historical Jesus seriously demands that we take his Jewishness seri- ously, because that Jewishness affirms beyond all evasion or evaporation the concrete reality of the incarnation: no truly Jewish Jesus, no truly human Jesus. Need I point out that if this insight, emphasized by the quest for the histori- cal Jesus, had remained front and center in Christian thought about Jesus, the shameful and at times murderous treatment of Jews during the last millennium and a half would not have taken place - at least, not at Christian hands and not in the name of Jesus Christ, Yēšûa' the Messiah.

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6. Coda and Conclusion

By way of a coda to my exposition of the distinctions between the real Jesus, the historical Jesus, and the Jesus of faith, I would add a word about the phrase emblazoned on the cover of each of my volumes: "A Marginal Jew." When I introduced the phrase in Volume One of my series, I specifically did not use it to define who the historical Jesus was20. Rather, it was initially employed to point out a particular historical riddle and paradox: namely, that a relatively obscure first-century Palestinian Jew named Jesus hardly attracted any atten- tion from the great historians or thinkers of his own time. Only Josephus and Tacitus mention him in their histories, and then only in passing, as a figure of no great significance. Yet this Jew, who was largely ignored in the Greco- Roman Mediterranean world of his own day, and who experienced the ulti- mate marginalization of crucifixion as a duly condemned criminal, wound up becoming the center of an entirely new religion and a figure so pivotal to the lture of the Western world that his name was used to divide up all history into before Christ and after Christ. It was to this basic puzzle that I wished to draw attention by using the phrase "a marginal Jew." Thus, this phrase aimed not at supplying a definition of the historical Jesus but rather at underlining this historical riddle that calls us to treat this person as a phenomenon worthy of academic research.

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