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When It's Futile to Argue about the Historical Jesus: A Response to Bock, Keener, and Webb

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This brief response to the essays by Darrell Bock, Craig Keener, and Robert Webb unfolds in three parts. First, I maintain that arguments about the historical Jesus can be productive only among those who already agree on a number of contested questions about historiographical method and the nature of the Gospels. Therefore, debates about the historical Jesus that occur between the 'evangelical' camp (which sees the canonical Gospels as fully reliable historically) and the 'traditional' camp (which sees the Gospels as blends of fact and fiction) are futile. Second, I propose a thought experiment designed to test our historical assessment of ancient biographies that portray their hero like the Gospels portray Jesus. I argue that the results of this experiment undermine Keener's conclusion that the historical reliability of the Gospels should be regarded as equal to that of ancient biographies of Roman emperors. Third, I pose the question of whether the methodological naturalism proposed by Webb allows us to conclude that events reported in the Gospels are unhistorical. I argue that either answer to that question reduces the appeal of methodological naturalism for historical-Jesus scholars.


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