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Historical Jesus Theories: John P. Meier

The purpose of this web page is to explain and explore some of the theories offered up by contemporary scholars on the historical Jesus and the origins of the Christian religion. Issues include the nature of the historical Jesus, the nature of the early Christian documents, and the origins of the Christian faith in a risen Jesus Christ.

John P. Meier

A Marginal Jew, v. 1:  Buy at! In the first volume, Meier looks at "the roots of the problem and the person." Meier distinguishes between the real Jesus, the actual person who walked the sands of Palestine, and the historical Jesus, an abstraction representing what we can know about Jesus. Meier identifies Q, Mark, special Matthew, special Luke, and John as representing five independent sources within the New Testament. Bucking a trend of the "Third Quest," Meier rejects the attempts to argue that the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, and other noncanonical material may be independent of the New Testament. Meier argues that Josephus provides independent confirmation of the historicity of Jesus, but the other references in Jewish and pagan literature have little value. Meier lays out his criteria of historicity; five primary criteria of embarrassment, discontinuity, multiple attestation, coherence, and "rejection and execution" as well as four dubious criteria of traces of Aramaic, Palestinian environment, vividness of narration, and tendencies of the developing synoptic tradition. Meier argues that Nazareth is a more likely birthplace than Bethlehem as well as that Jesus had real brothers. Meier argues that Jesus was unlike many of his contemporaries in that he was literate. Meier attempts an analogy for the economic status of Jesus as "a blue-collar worker in lower-middle-class America" (p. 282), by which he means that Jesus' economic situation was typical of Galileans, though this in itself was not great.

A Marginal Jew, v. 2:  Buy at! In the second volume, Meier examines "mentor, message, and miracles." Meier argues strongly for the baptism of Jesus by John. Meier also argues that the historical Jesus, like the historical John, preached the Kingdom with a future sense, not just a present sense. "Jesus not only presented himself as the eschatological prophet of the coming kingdom of God, not only presented himself as the Elijah-like miracle-worker who made the future kingdom already effective and palpable to his followers, but at the same time presented hmself as a teacher who could tell Israelites how to observe the Law of Moses - indeed, who could even tell Israelites what they should or should not observe in the Law." (p. 1046) Meier states that an Elijah-like miracle-working eschatological prophet is not so readily relevant to us today as a domesticated "kindhearted rabbi who preached gentleness and love" (p. 1045). Yet, Meier says, the historical Jesus was such a prophet.

Please enjoy exploring the varied Historical Jesus Theories offered by these authors through the links below.

Jesus the Myth: Heavenly Christ

Jesus the Myth: Man of the Indefinite Past

Jesus the Hellenistic Hero

Jesus the Revolutionary

Jesus the Wisdom Sage

Jesus the Man of the Spirit

Jesus the Prophet of Social Change

Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet

Jesus the Savior

For more information on the debate over the historical Jesus, visit the Christian Origins web site.

Go to the Chronological List of all Early Christian Writings

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Early Christian Writings is copyright © Peter Kirby <E-Mail>.

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Kirby, Peter. "Historical Jesus Theories." Early Christian Writings. <>.