Came across this today in my reading. I won’t reveal the source. Any guesses who it comes from? And no, it isn’t Barth! If you are one of those people who knows which book I am now reading, please don’t spoil the fun for the rest.
As historical-critical scholarship advanced, it led to finer and finer distinctions between layers of tradition in the Gospels, beneath which the real object of faith–the figure [Gestalt] of Jesus–became increasingly obscured and blurred. At the same time, though, the reconstructions of this Jesus (who could only be discovered by going behind the traditions and sources used by the Evangelists) became more and more incompatible with one another: at one end of the spectrum, Jesus was the anti-Roman revolutionary working–though finally failing–to overthrow the ruling powers; at the other end, he was the meek moral teacher who approves everything and unaccountably comes to grief. If you read a number of these reconstructions one after the other, you see at once that far from uncovering an icon that has become obscured over time, they are much more like photographs of their authors and the ideals they hold. Since then there has been growing skepticism about these portrayals of Jesus, but the figure of Jesus himself has for that very reason receded even further into the distance.
All these attempts have produced a common result: the impression that we have very little certain knowledge of Jesus and that only at a later stage did faith in his divinity shape the image we had of him. This impression has by now penetrated deeply into the minds of the Christian people at large. This is a dramatic situaiton for faith, because its point of reference is being placed in doubt: Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air.
To be sure, there isn’t anything “ground-shaking” in this brief evaluative analysis of the “quest for the historical Jesus.” It was the source and the last line taken together that struck me the most. Any guesses?