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.
of the sayings of Jesus seems much less probative of authenticity today than it did perhaps fifty years ago. After all, a good number of the earliest Christians were Palestinian Jews whose native tongue was the same Aramaic Jesus spoke. How do we know that the supposed Aramaic substratum beneath a particular gospel saying goes back to Jesus teaching in A.D. 29 rather than to one of his Palestinian Jewish-Christian disciples teaching in A.D. 35? Likewise, the ease or difficulty with which a gospel saying can be retroverted into Aramaic supplies no sure criterion. Ease of retroversion might depend on the degree to which an Aramaic saying be it from Jesus or from early Christians was translated into Greek in a literal, wooden way or in an elegant, creative way sensitive to Greek modes of expression.
In a similar vein, Joachim Jeremias sought to use the distinctive rhythm and rhetorical structures he discerned in the sayings of Jesus as a criterion of authenticity. The problem here is the danger of circular logic. One must first have a fund of sayings that most probably come from Jesus before one can abstract from them particular rhythms and rhetoric distinctive of Jesus. And what if early disciples of Jesus, not as obtuse as those depicted in Marks Gospel, imitated the rhetorical style of the Master they had listened to for a number of years? Presumably Jesus did not have a monopoly on rhythmic Aramaic and antithetical parallelism in first-century Palestinian Judaism. Similar objections could be raised against criteria that appeal to the Palestinian environment reflected in Gospel sayings, since some of Jesus Jewish disciples obviously continued to live in Palestine for decades after his crucifixion.
But not all criteria have been found wanting when tested in the fires of debate. Thanks to scholarly dialogue and gradual corrections, critics are able to use some criteria today with a better sense of their proper purpose and limitations. For example, early on the precise distinction between the criterion of embarrassment (or contradiction) on the one hand and the criterion of discontinuity (or dissimilarity) on the other was hazy at best. Ongoing dialogue has helped refine these tools. To take one instance: the historicity of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is based largely on the criterion of embarrassment, not discontinuity38. Both the Baptist and the early