(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Howard Clark Kee is known for his numerous publications on the social and cultural study of emergent Christianity. His work should be understood in the context of two centuries of critical historical study of the Bible, which has developed methodologies for evaluating and interpreting evidence concerning Jesus. Kee maintains that differences in the Gospels must be understood in terms of the diverse sociocultural settings from which they emerged.

As modern biblical criticism developed, scholars tended to eliminate or explain away irrational and mythical accounts of the life of Jesus, retaining only his teachings on universal ethical ideals and high moral principles. However, nineteenth century scholars such as Ferdinand Baur and Heinrich Holtzmann reacted to these tendencies by showing that a careful comparison of the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke would reveal evidence about the life of a first century Jew who was crucified. This critical work established, among many discoveries, that Mark was the earliest of the gospels (c. 65 c.e.), that John came from another tradition, and that Matthew and Luke used a common source for the sayings of Jesus (referred to as Q).

Study of nonbiblical, Jewish, and pagan texts clearly established the existence of Jesus. In Antiquitates Judaicae (93 c.e.; The Antiquities of the Jews, 1773), Flavius Josephus refers to Jesus as a Jewish nationalist and troublemaker. Indirect references to Jesus in Jewish sources tend not to deny his existence, observes Kee, but to discredit his claims. Allusions to Jesus can also be found in the works of Roman historians Pliny, Suetonius, and Tacitus. However, Kee concludes, on balance, noncanonical or apocryphal sources of the life of Jesus add very little to what can be learned from the Gospels.

In spite of positive evidential achievements in critical methodology concerning Jesus, twentieth century rationalists brushed aside the narrative of his life—including the miracles he performed, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection—to concentrate on his teachings. Scholars with liberal humanitarian values separated Jewish apocalypticism—the belief that God’s purpose in history had been revealed only to his chosen people—to find more universal human values. Some devout scholars focused only on the Word of Jesus, the Logos, which demanded an existential, faith-based choice of ethical life. All these interpretive theories were served by Gnostic documents found at...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Catchpole, David. Jesus People: The Historical Jesus and the Beginning of Community. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2006. Critical and theological examination of the Jewish community in which the Jesus movement of the Gospels arose.

Dunn, James D. G., and Scot McKnight, eds. The Historical Jesus in Recent Research. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2005. An anthology of modern scholarly essays about the historical Jesus.

Kee, Howard Clark. Knowing the Truth: A Sociological Approach in New Testament Interpretation. Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Fortress, 1989. A concise statement of the sociological, historical, and linguistic methodologies Kee uses to develop his theories of community-based belief.

Neusner, Jacob, et al., eds. The Social World of Formative Christianity and Judaism: Essays in Tribute to Howard Clark Kee. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988. A festschrift dedicated to Kee of essays placing Judaism at the time of Jesus and early Christianity into their social setting. Includes an extensive Kee bibliography.