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.
It was precisely to underline and pose that question as sharply as possible that I chose the provocative title of my series, A Marginal Jew24. "Marginal" was my way of trying to pose the problem of Jesus precise place on the map of Judaism without resorting to the strategy of speaking about "Judaisms" in the plural, a popular locution in the United States today25. While understandable as a way of overcoming a naïve idea of some sort of monolithic Judaism in the 1st century, "Judaisms" strikes me as a questionable usage. After all, Christianity and indeed Catholicism display today remarkable varieties of expression and practice, yet few if any would want to condemn academics to speak constantly of "Christianities" and "Catholicisms," however much the use of those phrases now and then might help highlight all the diversity hiding under the singular noun. Similarly, in the face of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Judaism, we still tend to speak in the singular of "modern Judaism". So too, in my opinion, there is a justification for speaking of "ancient Judaism". Most 1st-century Palestinian Jews, for all their differences, agreed upon such basics as Yahweh, the one true God who had chosen his people Israel, as well as on the importance of circumcision, the food laws, the Jerusalem temple, and the Mosaic Torah. Hence, despite the endless quarrels over various practices, there was a "mainstream" Judaism to which Jesus both belonged and yet over against which he consciously made himself marginal in various respects26. It is that paradox in the Jewishness of Jesus that needs to be taken seriously and explored in the context of present-day reconstructions of Palestinian Judaism at the turn of the era. To return, though, to my main point: the third quest deserves credit for its earnest attempt to sketch a historically accurate portrait of 1st-century Judaism in all