John P. Meier, «The Present State of the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus: Loss and Gain», Vol. 80 (1999) 459-487
Despite the questionable method and positions of the Jesus Seminar, the third quest for the historical Jesus has resulted in seven notable gains as compared with the old quests. (1) The third quest has an ecumenical and international character. (2) It clarifies the question of reliable sources. (3) It presents a more accurate picture of first-century Judaism. (4) It employs new insights from archaeology, philology, and sociology. (5) It clarifies the application of criteria of historicity. (6) It gives proper attention to the miracle tradition. (7) It takes the Jewishness of Jesus with utter seriousness.
United States, such as Luke Timothy Johnson, have questioned the thrust not only of the Jesus Seminar but also of the third quest in general7. The paradox here is that some Catholic critics have adopted a new version of the once-scandalously skeptical position of Rudolf Bultmann: the quest for the historical Jesus is both historically impossible and theologically illegitimate8.
Amid the thrust and parry of mutually exclusive positions, often presented in sensationalistic fashion in the American media, one might well ask: has anything positive emerged from the third quest, or has the whole movement of the last decade been a total fiasco and loss, as some conservative Catholics have claimed? It is the contention of this article that, despite the questionable use of the media to popularize highly dubious theses, and despite the consequent loss of academic credibility on the part of some scholars, seven notable gains for serious research have been achieved by the third quest.
I. The Ecumenical and International Dimension
A first gain has been the truly ecumenical and inter-faith nature of the present scholarly dialogue on the historical Jesus. To a large degree, the first two quests were the work of German Protestants. This is not said to denigrate the contributions of great scholars of the past, but inevitably these two quests were colored by and mostly restricted to the theological concerns of Protestant Germany in the late 19th and early-to-mid-20th centuries. The wide spectrum of scholars, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and agnostic, who have participated in the third quest not only in the United States but also in Canada, Britain, Germany, and elsewhere has given an