Who does Keener say the Jesus of the gospels is? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig Keener is a massive work showing Keener’s highly impressive scholarship in the area of Historical Jesus studies. As with many of the books, the bibliography, indexes, etc. are about as massive as the book itself. In this case, I’d say about half the book is the last half listing all of these numerous references. If there’s one thing Keener cannot be accused of, it is not doing sufficient research.
Keener starts with a brief history of NT scholarship on the historical Jesus and then moves to modern ideas, dispensing at the start with one of the easiest to deal with, the idea of Jesus as a cynic sage. Keener deals with issues such as the life of peasants, the nature of the cynics, and the Greek problem. No stone is left unturned for Keener.
Keener moves on then to talk about the relationship of Jesus to Judaism, which is where the third quest has landed us. I, for one, anticipate a fourth quest soon that will look at the social context even more of Jesus and see how he fits into an agonistic society.
From there, he deals with the objection of other gospels and why it is that the four canonical gospels that we have are in fact the best sources for information about the life of Jesus. As you can tell, Keener has made it a point to deal with common objections today. In fact, if you are familiar with internet debates on Jesus, the ideas that others consider so powerful in refuting Christianity, Keener deals with in just a paragraph or a footnote with the idea of “This idea is so far out there it’s not even worth serious time.”
Next, we deal with the nature of the Gospels and in this case, Acts as well since Luke and Acts are seen as one volume. Keener lists the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies with the possible exception of Luke which would be more historiography. Even if one says that, I would still contend there are Greco-Roman biographical tendencies within the work of Luke. The position of the gospels as Greco-Roman biographies is held by the majority of scholars today and is in fact growing. This further gives us evidence to treat the Gospels as serious historical works.
Keener also deals with the nature of them then by explaining how they would show their sources, which is not by modern styles today, and also how they would be read as works of rhetorical writing. This is not to say they’re all just word games, but rather they were written in a style to engage their reading audience and their listening audience since more people would hear the gospels rather than read them.
Speaking of the oral factor, Keener does deal with how oral tradition would be spread and why we should trust its reliability in the case of the NT. This is an important aspect for scholars and apologists both to grasp since in our world more modern analogies are drawn to ancient events when such comparisons really don’t fit.
At last comes the heart of the matter with the discussion of who Jesus was. The heart of this I leave to the reader who wants to find out more, but the reader will find the teaching of the Kingdom, how Jesus interacted with others, and Jesus as prophet, teacher, Messiah, and perhaps, something more.
The main body of the work concludes with a look at the historical events surrounding the death of Jesus and his resurrection, although there will not be a full apologetic for the resurrection. That has been written elsewhere.
After this main body, there are a number of appendices that deal with issues not fully argued for in the main text itself. These will provide helpful insight to the reader who wishes Keener had been fuller on some topics. (Whoever such people might be. It’s hard to imagine what more he could have said)
The only possible downside I can think of is that Keener does give a bit of how he came to Christianity by examining the arguments and hints about an experience that led to him becoming a Christian and abandoning atheism. This is all well and good, but my fear is that too many atheists would get to this part and say “Ah! Now I have a reason to just dismiss everything!” Of course, this would be fallacious to do as the arguments stand on their own independently of why one holds them, but I do see it as a possible reason some will give for discounting Keener’s work.
This book is definitely a must-read. If someone was wanting to start historical Jesus studies, it would be harder to think of a reason why a work like this would not be listed as essential reading.