I feel uneasy about the textual criticism your authors do. Can you give me some reassurance?

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Both Jewish and Christian members of the School take very seriously the stories in the Gospels.

David Bivin responds:

Jerusalem Perspective’s authors, Christian and Jewish alike, take very seriously the Gospel accounts. Although our Jewish writers do not view Jesus as the Messiah, nor hold the same view of inspiration of the New Testament as our Christian writers, I am certain all benefit from the vast resources and insights our Jewish authors bring to the table.

Textual criticism is a very useful tool for study of the deeds and words of Jesus. Sadly, it was the influential Christian textual critic, Rudolf Karl Bultmann, who concluded: “I do indeed think that we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary; and other sources about Jesus do not exist.”[1]

I do not agree with Bultmann, nor share his view that the miracles of Jesus are merely literary devices or myths to convey some central moral or ethical theme. Bultmann insisted that it is impossible to reach the historical Jesus through the Gospels. I believe that not only is it possible to see and understand Jesus from the Gospels, but that we can even see him better when we read the Gospel accounts through the eyes of their first Jewish readers.

The most serious handicaps suffered by Christian New Testament scholars studying the words of Jesus are a lack of fluency in rabbinic Hebrew and an unfamiliarity with the teachings and practices of Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries. A great deal that Jesus said and did has been distorted because the Church has grown unacquainted with its Hebraic roots. Since 1921, when Bultmann published the first edition of his influential Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (History of the Synoptic Tradition), the Church and its academic institutions have taken a wrong turn in viewing the Gospel stories primarily as mythology.

I believe there is abundant evidence suggesting that Jesus’ sayings were recorded soon after his death—and in Hebrew, the language in which they were probably spoken. Consequently, I begin my study with a different set of assumptions than Bultmann and his disciples, and I am able to take a much more optimistic view of our ability to recover accurate information about the Jesus of history.


  • [1] Jesus and the Word, trans. L. P. Smith and E. H. Lantero (London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1934, 1958), 14. The German original reads: Denn freilich bin ich der Meinung, das wir vom Leben und von der Persönlichkeit Jesus so gut wei nichts mehr wissen können….” (Jesus [Berlin: Deutsche Bibliothek, 1929], 12).

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