Depending on their assumptions and methods people who write about the historical Jesus end up all over the place in their conclusions. Look here for a summary in chart form. Click on the link and look at the alternatives. If you don’t, the rest of this won’t make much sense.
This is not what you learned in Sunday School. These books are not offered by your Christian book store. Some of them are not really scholarly. They are just weird.
No wonder the average Christian (who talks to Jesus everyday) is bewildered by all this. Modern retellings of the story of Jesus cannot help being subjective. The author either experiences God’s presence or absence in his or her life. That determines what one thinks is possible or impossible. Modern people cannot easily put themselves in the environment or mindset of first century people.
Actually, though, the various authors are not as divergent as they seem at first glance. Notice that several of the approaches talk about Jesus as a prophet. These include Ehrman, Fredriksen, Ludemann, Meier, and Sanders. You could add Dale Allison, who is not in the chart.
So a lot of these people think Jesus was a prophet. I am not sure, though, that people have any idea what that means. A lot of people think prophecy means predicting the future. Others use the term “prophet” metaphorically of an inspiring or courageous change agent such as Martin Luther King. There is something to both of these contemporary uses, but Jesus was more than a psychic or a social justice advocate.
The people who see Jesus as a prophet start with the continuity of Jesus with his predecessor, John the Baptist. John shows up not only in the gospels, but in the Jewish chronicles of Josephus. So this gives historians a starting place. More about this next time. . .