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Monday, July 17, 2006 

The Value of E.P. Sanders' "Jesus and Judaism": Conclusion

In this series of posts concerning the value of E.P. Sanders' work in historical Jesus research I have called attention to three aspects of Sander's particular methodological procedure. By way of summary, they are:

1.) To commence the reconstruction process from the facts about Jesus' life that many scholars regard as probably historical rather than to focus on the sayings of Jesus as the principal means to recovering the "historical Jesus."

2.) To assign the "sayings" of Jesus to a secondary role and to incoporateinto the historical data only those sayings which can most probably be said to have originated from Jesus.

3.) To develop a plausible hypothesis which seeks to incoporate data from 1 and 2 above and which accounts satisfactorally for three factors:

a. It situates Jesus believably within Judaism.
b. It explains why the movement eventually broke with Judaism.
c. It provides a plausible connection between Jesus' mission and subsequent death.

This is a very concise summary of the methodological procedure Sanders presents in the introduction to his book. Obviously, to gather a more comprehensive understanding of Sanders' particular reasons for adopting this method I can do no better than simply point you to the book itself.

The result of the appropriation of this method leads Sanders, in my opinion, to reconstruct the most plausible "historical Jesus" to date. And though I by no means agree with every one of Sanders' conclusions (particularly his stance on Pharisees) I think Sanders' method provides the surest way to reconstructing the historical Jesus. Of course, I never discussed whether such a resconstruction was possible or even needed at all. But that is obviously a discussion for another time.

Oh and while we are on the subject of the historical Jesus be sure to check out this series of posts on the historicity of Jesus by Michael Pahl: parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Also there is a new blog by Matthew Hopper called Historical Jesus and Paul which if you cannot guess by the title is devoted to historical Jesus and Pauline studies. Welcome, Matthew to the biblioblogosphere.

A mighty fine job you've done here, Chris. I often wonder what HJ studies would look like today if not for Sanders, and your series has lit on many of the reasons why he should be accorded the top slot you (and Rick, and I) gave him.

though I by no means agree with every one of Sanders' conclusions (particularly his stance on Pharisees).

That sounds like good material for a post. I think the depiction of the Pharisees in the Gospels is largely a caricature, but I also think there's likely more validity to it than Sanders would allow.

I think Dunn is excellent on this point … as usual.


Thanks for the generous comments and by the way your post on the "weak of faith" in Romans 15 has finally convinced me to by Mark Nanos' book on Romans. It is on its way as we speak.


You're right that a post on the Pharisees would be good material. Perhaps I will try to do this sometime but as of the moment I do not feel quite qualified (or informed enough) to do so.

You'll enjoy Mystery of Romans. It's one of those rare books that comes along and makes you smack your head and say, "Why didn't anyone see this before?"

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