Was the real Jesus of history one and the same as the Christ of faith whom we read about in the New Testament and worship in the church? Was Jesus really raised from the dead? Is he really the divine Lord of lords? Or is it possible that the portrait of the divine Son of God is an exaggeration, at best, or a complete fabrication, at worst, of the original Jesus? Could the one whom Christians worship be merely a mythological creation or is he real?
These questions have exercised many great minds and have been the dominant issue in New Testament studies during this century. Between 1910 and 1950 approximately 350 lives of Jesus were published in the English language alone. Since then the numbers have increased significantly. Not only are Christians writing about Jesus, but also Communists, Jews, atheists and agnostics are taking up their pens to paint a portrait of Jesus. Not only is this being done by the professional scholars, but also by playwrights, journalists and many others not academically qualified to pursue such a study within the canons and controls of proper historical enquiry. This has led Luke Timothy Johnson of Emory University to refer to some studies of Jesus as "Amateur Night." With a literature this immense it is obvious that we can only note a few high points in the lesson today, but a bibliography at the end of the booklet provides sufficient resources for a more thorough investigation by those who are interested.
In the past decade these questions have escaped the confines of scholarly journals and scholarly discussions and exploded on the scene as a question of newsworthy interest equal to wars, politics and sports. We are used to seeing world leaders on the cover of national news magazines, but Jesus has been making the cover of Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report with increasing regularity. Jesus has become the central character of musical and theatrical productions. We are used to seeing television documentaries on Hitler, Roosevelt or Einstein, but Jesus is the subject of numerous similar productions in the past decade.
What needs to be understood very clearly is that this radical, skeptical way of thinking about Jesus did not come about due to some archeological discovery. It did not result from some historical document, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, which called into ...