My problem: I had to start from scratch, because theological Jesus research
is ideologically suspect due to its close links with the church. Beyond the theological genius cult around the religion’s founder, Jesus, and beyond the outdated thesis that people make history, the questions to be answered are the usual historical issues: sources, environment, story of events, impact, literary history of source texts.
The next point is usually the question of the actual status of research. The topics of Jesus and early Christianity are usually only examined academically from the theological point of view, however; non-theological work invariably depends on the theologians’ preparation of the sources.
I have the advantage of being independent of the church. Theologians
interpret the Bible in the light of Christian dogma and the needs of the contemporary church. No one can deny their right to do so. Historical Bible research, however, must have different priorities and different standards.
Historically, the very diversity that has been overpainted by dogma in favour of Christian unity is interesting. Historically, the heretical statements in and outside the Bible are interesting. Investigating and appreciating them is not likely to advance a theologian’s career, unfortunately. Who could blame them for not touching these subjects?
This is my advantage: I am financially and emotionally independent of the church, so I can examine and describe many things impartially.
(Continued) 3. We owe to Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann the insight that reality is always
“socially constructed”, in other words, embedded in society. This also applies to the Bible’s authors, of course. The religious reality they describe follows contemporary social conventions that we are no longer familiar with, so we need to research them.
The difference between oral and written tradition must also be taken into account. As long as traditions are passed on orally, the wording can change. As soon as they are written down, a change of meaning can only take place through an interpretation of the tradition.
Because the written versions of the Gospels and Acts were preceded by a long period of oral tradition, we must assume that they were adapted to the changing early Christian consciousness before being written down.