Historical Jesus Theories: Comparison Chart

Modern historians have differentiated between the "historical Jesus" (what can be known about Jesus from academic historical study) and the "Christ of faith" (what can be known about Jesus through faith and theology) and attempted to discover the nature and teachings of the historical Jesus.

The following chart provides a summary of the main “theories of the historical Jesus” and those who teach them (including those who believe the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith to be one and the same), listed in alphabetical order by author.

It is important to note that although the authors are listed equally in this chart, not all have equal credentials or expertise, and some are not academics at all.

 

Person The Historical Jesus Was... Sources
Marcus J. Borg "A spirit person, subversive sage, social prophet, and movement founder who invited his followers and hearers into a transforming relationship with the same Spirit that he himself knew, and into a community whose social vision was shaped by the core value of compassion."

Jesus did not believe he was the Messiah, nor did he regard "the supernatural coming of the Kingdom of God as a world-ending event in his own generation."

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (1995)
The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (2000)
Conflict, Holiness, and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus
(1998)
The Lost Gospel Q: The Original Sayings of Jesus
(1996)
Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (1995)
Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship (1994)
Jesus: A New Vision (1991)
A Renaissance in Jesus Studies
David Friedrich Strauss: Miracle and Myth
The Historical Jesus and Christian Preaching
John Dominic Crossan A displaced Galilean peasant artisan fed up with the situation under the Romans.

Jesus preached a radical message of an egalitarian Kingdom of God present on earth and available to all.

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
The Historical Jesus
(1993)
Excavating Jesus (2001)
The Birth of Christianity
(1999)
The Jesus Controversy (1999)
Who Is Jesus? (1999)
The Essential Jesus
(1998)
Who Killed Jesus?
(1996)
Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography
(1995)
In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (1994)
The Historical Jesus (1993)
The Crossan Inventory
Was Jesus Buried?
Simple Choices? A Response to John Dominic Crossan
Stephen Davies A "spirit-possessed" healer who was possessed by the "Spirit of God," by which he performed his healings.

Jesus' followers came to think of him as divine by identifying him with the Spirit of God that had possessed him.

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
Jesus the Healer: Possession, Trance, and the Origins of Christianity (1995)
Jesus the Healer: Possession, Trance, and the Origins of Christianity (1995)
New Testament Fundamentals (1994)
The Revolt of the Widows: The Social World of the Apocryphal Acts (1980)
The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom (1983, online)
The Gospel of Thomas Homepage
Summary of Jesus the Healer
Earl Doherty A myth. Jesus never existed as a real historical figure.

The idea of a mythical divine Christ was combined with an anonymous collection of wisdom sayings by the author of Mark, then copied by the other gospel writers.

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? (1999)
Challenging the Verdict: A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ" (2001)
The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? (1999)
Historical Jesus or Jesus Myth? The Jesus Puzzle
Bart Ehrman, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, UNC-Chapel Hill An apocalyptic prophet who expected the imminent end of the world.

The teachings of Jesus are an "interim ethic" intended to apply to the short period of under a generation between the time of Jesus and the end of the age. Elements of realized eschatology in some of the gospels are a softening of Jesus' original message.

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (1999)
Misquoting Jesus (2007)
Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code (2004)
Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (1999)
The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (1999)
The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (1996)
The Neglect of the Firstborn in New Testament Studies
Text and Interpretation
Text and Transmission
UNC Profile of Bart Ehrman
Robert Eisenman A nationalistic Jew of insurrectionist bent.

Jesus' teachings were continued by James the Just, but "Jamesian Christianity" was played down by the Gospels, which are pro-Gentile, pro-Roman fictions which deliberately portray Jesus as a pacifistic, spiritual Messiah. Jesus and Paul are also identified with figures in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
James the Brother of Jesus (1998)
James the Brother of Jesus (1998)
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians (1996)
The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered (1993)
Paul as Herodian
Robert Eisenman's James The Brother Of Jesus: A Higher-Critical Evaluation
Paula Fredriksen, Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture at Boston University An apocalyptic prophet who did not present himself as the Messiah.

"This Jesus thus is not primarily a social reformer with a revolutionary message; nor is he a religious innovator radically redefining the traditional ideas and practices of his native religion. His urgent message had not the present so much as the near future in view."

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus (2000)
Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity (2000)
From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus (2000)
Jesus, Purity and the Christian Study of Judaism
What You See is What You Get: Context and Content in Current Research on the Historical Jesus
Excerpts from Paula Fredriksen
Timothy Freke, BA in philosophy and speaker on spirituality, and Peter Gandy, MA in classical civilization AJewish myth based on pagan gods and mystery religions. Jesus never existed.

The authors draw parallels between the Christ of the Gospels and the Osiris-Dionysus myth.

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God? (2001)
The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God? (2001)
Jesus and the Lost Goddess: The Secret Teachings of the Original Christians (2001)
CNN: 'Raising a holy ruckus' (2000, online)
Robert Funk (1926-2005), founder of The Jesus Seminar An itinerant sage who was not apocalyptic, but taught the arrival of the Kingdom of God as both present and future.

Jesus' subtlety was lost on his followers, who were apocalyptic like John the Baptist.

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
The Gospel of Jesus According to the Jesus Seminar (1999)
The Gospel of Jesus According to the Jesus Seminar (1999)
The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus (1998)
The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (1997)
Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millennium (1997)
The Jesus Seminar Description Website
Premises and Rules of Evidence
The Jesus Seminar: Decisions of Authenticity
Richard Horsley A social revolutionary who believed that God would soon effect a historical transformation on behalf of Israel.

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine (1992)
Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark's Gospel (2001)
Whoever Hears You Hears Me: Prophets, Performance, and Tradition in Q (2000)
Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus (1999)
Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee: The Social Context of Jesus and the Rabbis (1996)
Galilee: History, Politics, People (1995)
Sociology and the Jesus Movement (1994)
The Liberation of Christmas: The Infancy Narratives in Social Context (1993)
Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine (1992)
Luke Timothy Johnson, Catholic professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University The same as the "Christ of faith" - the Son of God who died for our sins. Johnson criticizes the Jesus Seminar for going beyond what little can actually be known about the historical Jesus. What is not known for certain (such as the resurrection) should be accepted based on tradition and the authority of the church.

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and Truth of the Traditional Gospels (1997)
The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation (1999)
The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and Truth of the Traditional Gospels (1997)
"Whose Faith Saves?" Summary of a Lecture by Luke Timothy Johnson
The New Testament and the Examined Life: Thoughts on Teaching
Reshuffling the Gospels: Jesus According to Spong and Wilson
Higher Critical Review. The Real Jesus. By Robert Price.
Jesus at 2000: The e-mail debate
Article in Naples News
Gerd Lüdemann A apocalyptic follower of John the Baptist and wisdom teacher. "In its decisive phase, Jesus' life was shaped by the unshakable faith that he had to interpret God's law authoritatively in God's name." Jesus did not do miracles nor regard himself as an exalted Lord.

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
Jesus After 2000 Years: What He Really Said and Did (2001)
Jesus After 2000 Years: What He Really Said and Did (2001)
The Great Deception: And What Jesus Really Said and Did (1999)
Virgin Birth: The Real Story of Mary and Her Son Jesus (1998)
What Really Happened to Jesus: A Historical Approach to the Resurrection (1996)
Heretics: The Other Side of Early Christianity (1996)
Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology (1995)
Gerd Lüdemann on the Secular Web
Gerd Lüdemann's Homepage
Hyam Maccoby, scholar of Jewish writings "A Jewish messiah-figure who had no intention of starting a new religion. The real founder of Christianity as a separate religion was Paul."

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity (1987)
Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil (1992)
Paul and Hellenism (1991)
The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity (1987)
Burton Mack A Cynic-like Jewish teacher. Early Christianity developed away from Jesus as teacher in favor of a mystery-religion-type cult centered on the figure of Jesus as a noble martyr.

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q & Christian Origins (1994)
Christian Myth: Origins, Logic, and Legacy (2001)
Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth (1996)
The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q & Christian Origins (1994)
A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins (1988)
John P. Meier A lower-middle-class but literate Galilean who "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."

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 1 (1991)
A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 3 (2001)
A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 2 (1994)
A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 1 (1991)
Finding the Historical Jesus: An Interview With John P. Meier
The Present State of the 'Third Quest' for the Historical Jesus: Loss and Gain
The Historical Jesus and the Historical Samaritans: What can be Said?
The Historical Jesus and the Life of Faith (by David L. Bartlett, reproduced online)
"Companions and Competitors" - and Context?
E. P. Sanders, professor in the Duke University Department of Religion and former Professor of Exegesis at Oxford A preacher of "Jewish-restoration eschatology" who was regarded by his disciples as "king."

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
The Historical Figure of Jesus (1996)
Paul: A Very Short Introduction (2001)
The Historical Figure of Jesus (1996)
Studying the Synoptic Gospels (1990)
Jesus and Judaism (1987)
Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1983)
Paul, the Law and the Jewish People (1983)
Jesus in Historical Context (1993, online)
Duke Department of Religion: Prof. E. P. Sanders
Robert H. Stein The same as the "Christ of faith" - a sinless, supernatural Savior and Messiah. Studying the Synoptic Gospels : Origin and Interpretation (2001)
Jesus the Messiah: A Survey of the Life of Christ (1996)
The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings (1995)
Luke (The New American Commentary) (1993)
An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus (1981)
Geza Vermes A Hasid, a Jewish holy man. He was a charismatic teacher, healer, and exorcist who believed in the soon-to-be-realized Kingdom of God.

Main work on the Historical Jesus:
Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels (1981)
The Changing Faces of Jesus (2001)
The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (1998)
The Religion of Jesus the Jew (1993)
Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels (1981)
Interview: Providential Accidents
Excerpt from The Changing Faces of Jesus




Article Info

TitleHistorical Jesus Theories
URLwww.religionfacts.com/historical-jesus
Short URLrlft.co/1860
Published
UpdatedNovember 12, 2015
MLA Citation“Historical Jesus Theories.” ReligionFacts.com. 12 Nov. 2015. Web. Accessed 13 Feb. 2016. <www.religionfacts.com/historical-jesus>