Wayne Coppins’s Review of the Jesus Handbuch


The Jesus Blog is pleased today to publish Wayne Coppins’s detailed review of the new Jesus Handbuch, edited by Jens Schroeter and Christine Jacobi and published by Mohr Siebeck in their Handbuecher Theologie series.  This review will particularly be helpful for those readers of the Jesus Blog who can’t read the Jesus Handbuch in German, though an English translation is planned. You can find Wayne on the web here and you can buy the book here.


The Jesus Handbuch: An Excellent
Resource for Students and Scholars
Wayne Coppins, University of Georgia
Photo by Christoph Heilig from www.uzh.ch
Unlike the newest Star Wars movie, the Jesus
(Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017) exceeded my high expectations. Since
its success is due not least to the particular way that the volume has been conceptualized
by the editors, I recommend that one begin by reading Jens Schröter and
Christine Jacobi’s introduction to the handbook (1-14) as well as their
introductions to each section of the volume (16-20, 126-130, 184-185, 488-489).
In my judgment, the extensive discussion of methodological, hermeneutical, and
historiographical considerations and developments in the section on the history
of historical-critical Jesus research is especially important to the overall
concept of the work. Accordingly, I have given somewhat greater attention to
this part of the book in my review.
The contents of the volume are as follows:
Preface (v-vi), Introduction (A: 1-14), History of Historical-Critical Jesus
Research (B: 15-124), The Historical Material (C: 125-181), Life and Activity
of Jesus (D: 183-486), Early Traces of Impacts and Receptions of Jesus (E:
487-561), List of Contributing Authors (563-564), Bibliography (565-617), and Indexes

Because the individual sections are
relatively succinct and presented with clarity, the handbook will be an
excellent resource for students who wish to gain an introduction to a specific
topic or to historical Jesus research as a whole. At the same time, since the
authors have been given enough space and freedom to develop their ideas at the highest
level, it will also be of great benefit to scholars in the field. With regard
to the high quality of the volume, credit is due not only to the editors and
authors but also to Lena Nogossek for her significant contributions to the realization
of the project and to Matthias Müller for his excellent translation of the
English essays (vi).

Let me now provide some brief comments on 22
of the 65 sections of the handbook, highlighting lines of argument that I regard
as especially interesting, insightful, or significant. At the end of my review,
I will conclude with one specific point of criticism and one suggestion for
revision with respect to future editions of the handbook.

In his valuable section on “The Critical Historical
Scholarship of the Late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century” (pp. 37-42), Eckart
David Schmidt claims that Ranke’s statement that the historian wants “merely to
say how it actually was” should not be misinterpreted in a “positivistic”
sense. In his view, this represents a misinterpretation both because this
statement does not represent Ranke’s own program but rather a qualification or
demarcation from the particular approach of Enlightenment pragmatism and
because Ranke himself stresses shortly beforehand that “the aim of a historian
depends on his point of view” (40).

James Carleton Paget provides an outstanding
analysis of Johannes Weiss’s and Albert Schweitzer’s interpretations of the
kingdom of God as an eschatological concept (55-65). In terms of content, I
found it significant that Weiss revised his advocacy of thoroughgoing
eschatology in the second edition of his work, namely by conceding that “not
all ethical statements of Jesus must be exclusively traced back to his
eschatological worldview” (61). Here, I was especially struck by the extent to
which Weiss’s thinking prefigured that of Dale Allison, who modified his earlier
views on thoroughgoing eschatology in a similar manner in Constructing Jesus
(see 134n461 with 97, 134-135, and 144-146). Since Weiss and Allison both explicitly
revised their earlier endorsement of “thoroughgoing eschatology,” I think that
scholars should cease using this phrase to describe their respective views of
Jesus’s eschatology. In terms of methodology, Carleton Paget rightly stresses
the need to treat Weiss and Schweitzer as equal discussion partners rather than
as representatives of stages of development (57-58). Indeed, in reading Carleton
Paget’s section, I realized how a tacit acceptance of Schweitzer’s developmental
framework had contributed to my failure to read Weiss’s actual work—sackcloth
and ashes!
In “Historical Jesus and Kerygmatic
Christ” (66-74), Reinhard von Bendemann provides a sympathetic yet critical
analysis of the contributions of Martin Kähler, Rudolf Bultmann, and Luke
Timothy Johnson. Notably, von Bendemann stresses that Bultmann was indeed concerned
to uphold, better understand, and make theologically fruitful “a ‘historical’
connection between the historical Jesus and the post-Easter Christology and
theology” (69). Moreover, he argues that Bultmann’s talk of “historical
presupposition” should not be interpreted to suggest otherwise, and claims that
Bultmann, like Schweitzer, did not suspend the quest for the historical Jesus
or lead it to its end but rather attempted to make his own contribution to it
In “The Literary Conceptions of the
Gospels and Their Relation to the Historical Jesus” (75-86), Cilliers
Breytenbach skillfully develops his own perspectives in dialogue with the
history of research. On the one hand, in critical dialogue with Willi Marxsen
and Rudolf Bultmann, he insists with Julius Schniewind and Ernst Käsemann that
Mark is not a sermon in which the exalted one directly addresses the Markan
community but rather a narrative in which Mark has “the earthly one
speak to the disciples and not the exalted one to the community” (78).
Moreover, he thinks that Jürgen Roloff has successfully demonstrated that “Mark
presents the relationship between the Markan Jesus and the disciples of the
Gospel as a past event” (80). On the other hand, Breytenbach criticizes Roloff
for failing to distinguish between ‘Jesus’s history’ and ‘Jesus’s history according
to Mark’ and stresses that the question of the closeness of Mark’s portrayal to
the history of the earthly Jesus must be answered via tradition history and not
through literary methods (80-81). Finally, Breytenbach turns specifically to
the topics of narrative, memory, and history. Here, he claims that rather than
being a record of events experienced by individual witnesses, Mark is based on
the structured, secondary recollection of the community (83). Moreover,
he argues that the Gospel of Mark as a whole, i.e. the macro-narrative, must be
viewed as a fictional narrative rather than a historical one, while allowing
that individual aspects of the plot may be used for a historical construction (83-84).
Altogether, Breytenbach emerges as Wrede redivivus, formidably reasserting
the concerns of the great master within the horizon of current New Testament
Chris Keith’s section, “The Gospels as
‘Kerygmatic Narratives’ about Jesus and the ‘Criteria’ in Jesus Research”
(86-98), examines the establishment of “criteria” for the determination of
“authentic” material by means of a close reading of the work of Ernst Käsemann,
Günther Bornkamm, and Ferdinand Hahn. Through a careful analysis of the metaphors
they employ, Keith highlights both their fundamental assumption that authentic
and non-authentic material are joined in the Gospels in a way that permits them
to be identified and separated and their corresponding goal of detaching the
authentic, original Jesus material from the kerygmatic narratives of the
Gospels (89, 91, 94). At the same time, Keith perceptively points out that rather
than limiting themselves to this approach, Bornkamm and Hahn looked for more
than one way to the historical Jesus (93, 95). With respect to the implications
of Keith’s analysis, it is crucial to stress to that Keith’s focus is not
on “criteria” in general but rather on the emergence and logic of the criteria
of authenticity with special reference to the assumption that it is
possible to employ such criteria to get behind the Gospels to a Jesus who is
still untouched by the interpretations of his first followers (96-97; cf. 121,
124 [Jens Schröter]). For me, Keith’s analysis raised the question of whether
it is beneficial for scholars to continue using the terms authentisch/authentic, Authentizität/authenticity, and Echtheit/genuineness, since the shared use of
these shorthand expressions can mask rather different assumptions and
understandings of what is being claimed.
In his section on “The ‘Remembered Jesus’:
Memory as Historical-Hermeneutical paradigm of Jesus Research” (112-124), Jens
Schröter distinguishes between two “memory” models, one in which the concept of
memory is related to “individual processes of memory of persons from the
environment of Jesus” (115), and one in which “the concept of memory is used as
a cultural-hermeneutical category” (118). For Schröter, the most fundamental
difference between them is that the latter model “does not place the question
of the origin and transmission of the Jesus tradition in the center but rather
the question of the appropriation of the past from the perspective of the
respective present” (120). Moreover, what one is seeking to grasp with this
concept of memory is not “processes of preservation or forgetting in the memory
of individuals” but rather “those processes through which communities form
traditions that preserve the past that is relevant for their own
self-understanding, a past that is made present time and again in texts,
rituals, festivals, and places of memory” (120).
Steve Mason provides a wonderful
discussion of the non-Christian texts about Jesus. In his section on “Greek,
Roman, and Syriac Texts” (159-165), he suggests that these ancient sources do
not provide independent information but rather make use of Christian tradition
(164), while mentioning the possibility that Tacitus might be dependent upon
Josephus for his information (163). Moreover, he argues that the phrase impulsore Chresto in Suetonius is probably
not a reference to Christ or Christian missionaries (162). Mason’s discussion
of “Jewish Sources: Flavius Josephus” (165-170) was one of my favorite sections
in the handbook. Here, special mention may be made of his respectful dialogue
with Richard Carrier’s thesis (JECS
20:489-514) that in Ant. 20:200 Josephus refers not to James the brother of
Jesus but rather to James the brother of the high priest Jesus ben Damneus. While
recognizing the intellectual merit of this proposal as an “original,
alternative explanation,” Mason argues that it “creates more problems than it
can solve,” since it “explains neither the accusation of transgressing the law
… nor the fact that James is condemned with other men” and also leaves
unexplained “the reaction of the other members of the Jewish leadership to the illegal
proceedings” and “the presentation of a high priest who has overstepped his
authority in legal proceedings, but not in an action against competitors within
the Jewish leadership” (169). Thus, for Mason: “the simplest explanation for
the text in Ant. 20 … remains the assumption that in Book 18 Josephus had
already mentioned a Jesus, who was called Christos,
to which he now refers” (169). 
Daniel R. Schwartz’s analysis of the
“Political Conditions: Roman Rule, Herod the Great, Antipas” (184-197) is a
tightly argued section marked by clarity of presentation and coherence of
argument. What I found especially noteworthy was his thesis that from the
beginning Rome’s endgame was to annex Judea, together his corresponding
suggestion that Herod the Great’s long reign facilitated their decision to do
so, insofar as it convinced them that it was possible to separate the Jewish
religion from the state, so that the state could be conducted as a normal
kingdom (194-195).
In his discussion of the “Religious
Context” (197-213), Lutz Doering uses the categories of “integration” and
“diversification” to describe Judaism in the Hellenistic-Roman period, noting that
this approach represents both a continuation and nuancing modification of
Sanders’ model of “common Judaism,” which rightly stressed what was common but
did not give sufficient attention to the profiles of the different groups (199;
cf. also 204).
From Stephen Hultgren’s section on “The
Education and Language of Jesus” (219-227) I learned that our picture of the
linguistic situation in Jewish Palestine has changed to a greater extent than I
had realized. In short, it seems that, in addition to Aramaic, both Hebrew and
Greek were in greater use than I had thought (225-226; cf. also 234, 239 [J. K.
In his section on “Galilee and
Surroundings as Sphere of Activity” (230-237), Jürgen K. Zangenberg makes the
valuable observation that with respect to the Galilean context of Jesus, the Gospels provide only an excerpt and
not a representative Durchschnitt of
the Galilean milieu. More specifically, the Jesus tradition creates “its”
Galilee just as Josephus sets forth “his” Galilee in various works (230). Concretely,
Zangenberg explains that “Galilee at the time of Jesus was a region set in motion
by inner and outer factors” and suggests that the Jesus tradition’s emphasis on
the personae miserae and the subversive character of the kingdom of God should
be attributed not to an especially oppressive poverty in Galilee but rather to
an accent set by Jesus himself (237). Notably, Darrell Bock and Jens Schröter
develop a similar line of argument in their section on “Jesus’s Perspective on
Israel” (338-348). Arguing that Jesus’s activity and teaching should not be
explained primarily as a reaction to foreign rule and social oppression but
rather have a more fundamental orientation, they claim that this is already
probable because “Galilee at the time of Jesus was not characterized by
far-reaching political and social tensions” (339).
In his section on “Jesus and the
Political and Social Environment of his Time” (252-262), James Crossley sets a somewhat
different accent than Bock/Schröter with respect to the situation in Galilee (Zangenberg
arguably falls somewhere between them on the spectrum). Crossley is especially
interested in the social effects of the urbanization projects, irrespective of
whether the population regarded these developments as responsible for the
changing life conditions (254). On the one hand, he is cautious about what can
be said regarding the life standard, the extent of disturbances, the use of
physical violence, and the “oppression” of the population in Galilee (254). On
the other hand, he stresses that “in the time in which Jesus grew up in Galilee
there were, in fact, dramatic upheavals, which probably also included
resettlements and expulsions” (254-255). For me, a particularly illuminating
insight from Crossley’s discussion of Galilee was his observation that what is
decisive is not simply the political, social, or economic situation as such but
rather “how certain changes were perceived by the population” (254, my
Annette Weissenrieder’s section on
“Jesus’ Healings” (298-310) proved insightful at many points. In my case, her
documentation of the similar descriptions of the symptoms of the sick and
possessed in the Gospels and in ancient medical literature was particularly
instructive (300), for example the parallels to Matthew’s use of “moonstruck” (
σεληνιάζομαι, 17:15) in Aret. SD 1.4.2; Gal.di.dec. 3.2 [9.902-903 Kühn];
loc.aff. 3.9 [8.175-177, 233]. In terms of the state of research, it is noteworthy
that Weissenrieder challenges the applicability of the distinction between
“disease” as biological sickness and “illness” as social (and ritual)
experience on the ground that it presupposes a clear separation between the
physical and social-cultural phenomena of a sickness, which she regards as problematic
in light of the connection between them in the ancient texts (301).
In his section on “Tax Collectors
and Sinners as Addressees of the Activity of Jesus” (348-356), Yair Furstenberg
provides a fine discussion of the designation “sinner,” a classic crux
. In critical dialogue with Sanders, Furstenberg argues that
“sinner” is not a fixed category but rather a designation whose scope and
meaning depends on the precise context in which it is used (350). Moreover, he
suggests that the accusation of fellowship with sinners is specifically related
to Jesus’s disregard of the existing conventions of table fellowship, according
to which Jesus’s eating with evildoers called into question his moral integrity
In “Jesus’s Picture of God and the
Significance of Father Metaphoricism” (361-368) Christine Gerber consciously
interprets Jesus’s picture of God in continuity with Jewish conceptions of God
(361). In terms of methodology and content, a strength of her treatment lies in
the attention she gives to the metaphorical character of the individual
statements, which are interpreted with a view to “what from the ancient
father conception is concretely transferred to God in each case
” (366).
Among other things, she notes here that “father” is a “term of relation,” which
implies a relation that is characterized by lifelong duration and asymmetrical
exclusivity. Negatively, she makes the interesting observation that there is no
explicit talk of “fatherly love,” while granting that it indirectly comes into
play in Luke 6.36; 15.11-32 (367).
Among the many striking lines of
argument in Thomas Kazen’s section on “Jesus’s Interpretation of the Torah”
(402-416), special mention may be made of the way that he attempts to situate
the Jesus tradition in relation to developments in the halakic patterns of
argumentation toward the end of the second temple period (408). Notably, this approach
leads him to a different evaluation of the development of the tradition at many
points. For example, while many scholars treat the rabbinic principle that
acute danger to a person’s life overrides the Sabbath regulations (piquach
nefesh) as the background context of Jesus’s arguments with his
interlocutors, Kazen argues that the formulation of this principle represents a
later stage of development, which was not yet in play for Jesus’s own debates with
the Pharisees and was first introduced by the evangelists with a view to the
current state of discussion in their day (409-410).
Michael Wolter’s section on “Jesus’s
Self-Understanding” (425-431) reflects well his characteristic combination of
exegetical precision and conceptual clarity. What is refreshing about this
section is that rather than restricting his attention to a few classic texts,
Wolter’s presentation incorporates an extremely wide range of texts and themes.
In terms of content, Wolter argues at several points that Jesus claims to act
in the place of God (426, 427) and states that “Jesus proclaims not simply the
mercy of God, who forgives humans their sins, but he is God’s mercy or
stated more fullythat God’s mercy takes place in his activity” (428). While many texts
are drawn upon, it is notable that Wolter (431) gives only minimal attention to
the so-called “titles of majesty,” which often play a larger role in this
Michael Labahn achieves a very high
level of conceptual clarity in his section on “Discipleship, Radical
Renunciation, ‘A-Familial’ Ethos” (445-454). Indeed, for me his analysis gave much
sharper contours and depth to many of my favorite themes and sayings in the
Jesus tradition. Against Schweitzer, Labahn rightly argues that Jesus’s radical
demands are not an “interim ethic” but rather “form a counterpole to structures
of the present world and anticipate the kingdom of God” (454).
In his section on Jesus’s entry into
Jerusalem and his stance toward the temple (460-467), Markus Tiwald provides an
instructive discussion of early Jewish positions on the temple (462) and the potential
relevance of this material for interpreting Jesus’s temple action and temple
saying (463-466). The significance of his analysis is not simply that he
identifies Jesus’s action as a prophetic sign act rather than a “temple
cleansing” but, more specifically, his twofold claim that Jesus, too, expected
a new temple in the endtime and that he, as the messenger of the kingdom of
God, saw it as his duty to reclaim the temple in the sense of his message, not
as an abrogation but as an integration of the temple institution into the idea
of the now dawning kingdom of God (464).
Christine Jacobi’s section on
“Resurrection, Appearances, Instructions of the Risen One” (490-504) is
chock-full of perceptive insights. Perhaps most fundamentally, she fruitfully
develops the insight that “from a history-of-theology perspective the
appearance experiences and resurrection faith are … to be understood not as
caesura but as junction” (491). A strength of Jacobi’s analysis is her
attention both to the tradition historical background of the Christian
confession that Jesus was raised from the dead and to possible starting points
in the activity of the earthly Jesus (492). Throughout she skillfully
identifies patterns of interpretation that may have co-determined the character
of the appearance experiences themselves or informed their interpretation, while
consistently showing an appropriate sensitivity to points of difference with
regard to proposed parallels. One of her most striking lines of thought
involves the suggestion that the innovative Christian connection of an
individual resurrection with the dawning of the endtime and the expectation of
a general resurrection may have been informed by a post-Easter interpretation
of distinctive features of the pre-Easter proclamation, e.g., the conviction
that in Jesus’s resurrection the endtime resurrection of the dead is announced
could have been formed by analogy to the connection between the episodic
presence of the kingdom in Jesus’s activity and the future coming of the
kingdom in power (500-502).
Let me now offer one specific
criticism and one suggestion for revision. My criticism pertains to a statement
found in Craig A. Evans and Jeremiah J. Johnston’s section on the “Kingdom of
God” (369-378). With respect to Matthew’s preferential use of the phrase “kingdom
of heaven,” they explain that “the difference is purely formal and reflects
Matthew’s tendency to avoid the name of God, which probably follows the use of
the contemporary synagogue” (376). In my view, this widely held interpretation
is no longer tenable, having been effectively challenged by my UGA colleague
Robert Foster in his article “Why on Earth Use ‘Kingdom of Heaven’?: Matthew’s
Terminology Revisited” (NTS 48 [2002], 487-499) and then decisively
refuted by Jonathan T. Pennington in his book Heaven and Earth in the Gospel
of Matthew
(Leiden: Brill, 2007). Rather than being attributable to a
tendency to avoid the name of God, the phrase kingdom of heavens must be
interpreted in relation to Matthew’s other ‘heavenly’ language (Foster) and,
more specifically, with reference to its function in his heaven and earth theme
My suggestion for revision concerns the
handbook’s treatment of the synoptic problem. My criticism here is not primarily
directed at individual authors. In particular, while it is commendable that
Ruben Zimmermann explicitly addresses the issue (382), I think it is also
perfectly reasonable that many authors develop their argument on the basis of
the two-source hypothesis without further justification. There is simply not
space for everything within the confines of a handbook. Likewise, I think it is
appropriate for John S. Kloppenborg to give exclusive attention to the
two-source hypothesis in his valuable sections on “The Introduction of the
Concept of Myth into Jesus Research and the Emergence of the Two-Source Theory”
(47-55) and “The Synoptic Gospels, the Sayings Source (Q), and the Historical
Jesus” (130-137). Instead, my criticism and suggestion for revision is principally
addressed to the two editors. Due to the extent to which historical Jesus
research is informed by the solution that one adopts to the synoptic problem, I
think that a 2017 handbook on the historical Jesus needs to discuss
or at least highlightthe fact that at present the two-source hypothesis does not seem to
command the same level of consensus as it did in some other phases of Jesus
research. Moreover, in light of this perceptible shift, I think that it would be
beneficial for the handbook to include at least some discussion of different
solutions to the synoptic problem and their bearing upon historical Jesus
research. How this should be done is less clear to me. One option would
be to include a brief discussion of the synoptic problem and its relevance for historical
Jesus research in the editors’ introduction to section C. Another solution
might be to (also) add a new section after C.II.1.1 on the “Farrer Hypothesis
and the Historical Jesus,” which could include a very brief discussion of other
rivals to the two-source hypothesis in its opening paragraph.
Let me conclude my review by restating
my conviction that the Jesus Handbuch is an excellent volume that will
prove to be a rich resource for both students and seasoned scholars. I hope
that the German volume will be widely read and that it will translated into
English in due course.


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