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.
to ask about correlations with Christian faith and academic christology15.
II. Clarification of the Question of Reliable Sources
A second gain has been a critical rethinking and reexamination of the various texts proposed as reliable sources for the quest16. In the last few decades, practically every source imaginable has been exploited by one or another scholar. The Jesus Seminar has elevated the Coptic Gospel of Thomas to a coequal status with the four canonical gospels in a book appropriately entitled The Five Gospels. Actually, when one considers how Johns gospel is largely dismissed by the Seminar, the book should have received the more pedestrian title of The Four Gospels: the Synoptics plus Thomas. In addition to Thomas, Crossan has highlighted the 2d-century apocryphal Gospel of Peter17. Within Peter, Crossan detects a primitive Cross Gospel that he claims is the key source of the Passion Narratives of all four canonical gospels. Pushing this romance with apocryphal gospels to the extreme, Richard Bauckham has appealed not only to the Gospel of Peter but also to the Protevangelium Jacobi and the Greek Infancy Gospel of Thomas to help resolve the question of the brothers and sisters of Jesus18. In my view, if we can use the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, we can use Alice in Wonderland just as well. As for the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, the careful saying-by-saying analysis of Michael Fieger persuades me that this gnostic gospel did know at least some of the canonical gospels19. In the Synoptic-like sayings, it often presents a conflation of Matthew and Luke, rewritten from a gnostic perspective. Hence it cannot serve as an independent source.
In the face of this uncritical romping through the apocrypha, I would urge a return to sobriety. It is a reasonable conclusion of historical-critical research and not a ploy of apologetics that