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.
Obviously, embarrassment may have been a factor when Luke (23,46), toward the end of the first century, rewrote the Marcan Passion Narrative for a Gentile audience and substituted the much more comforting Ps 31,5 ("Into your hands I commend my spirit") for Psalm 22. But this tells us nothing about the original event. If anything, it highlights the importance of placing the criterion of embarrassment within the context of Jewish sensitivities. The criterion of embarrassment therefore has both distinct limitations as well as distinct advantages.
Needless to say, the same holds true of the criterion of discontinuity. Discontinuity was a favorite criterion first of Bultmann, then of Käsemann, and still later of Norman Perrin. Perrin, in particular, exalted it as the fundamental criterion that allows us to distill an assured minimum of material coming from the historical Jesus39. However, as many critics have pointed out since, discontinuity carries with it a number of problems. We are not so well informed about either Judaism or Christianity in the 1st century A.D. that we can always affirm with certainty that a particular action or teaching of Jesus is unique to him. Moreover, even when we can apply discontinuity, the obsession with what is unique to Jesus can result in a caricature cut off from the Judaism that formed him and the faith of the disciples that he formed. Jesus makes sense as a historical phenomenon and could function as an effective teacher in 1st-century Palestine only if he was very much connected with his past, present, and immediate future. Then, too, what is unique to Jesus is not always identical with what is central to his message. Discontinuity argues, for instance, that Jesus, unlike contemporary Judaism and later Christianity, forbade fasting by his followers. Now, this is a precious nugget of information; it confirms Jesus sense that the kingdom of God was somehow already present, at least partially, in his ministry. Yet no one would want to make the prohibition of fasting the central or defining characteristic of Jesus message and mission.
I would suggest that, if we are to continue to use the problematic category of "unique" in describing the historical Jesus, perhaps it is best to use it not so much of individual sayings or deeds of Jesus as of the total Gestalt, the total configuration or pattern of this Jew