Historical Jesuses

In light of the claim that historians are not aiming to arrive at "exact historical fact" (Droysen), but instead are aiming to "re-construct" past events and persons based on the available sources, what is the goal of "historical Jesus" research:

The outcome of critical investigation of the sources will never be the ‘real’ person—whatever that may be—behind the sources, but always a portrait based on careful and comprehensive analysis of the available material by the historian. It is unavoidable, therefore, that such portraits are always combinations of present and past; that is, representations of the past in the form of historical narratives. The distinction between the ‘real’ and ‘historical’ Jesus, reinforced, for example, by John P. Meier in the first volume of his voluminous work on the historical Jesus, should remind us that the ‘historical Jesus’ is by no means to be equated with the ancient Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, who lived in first-century Galilee. Rather, the historical Jesuses portrayed in the Jesus books since the rise of historical criticism are the results of rendering the ancient material about Jesus to critical investigation, and thereby are attempts to replace the representations of Jesus in the Gospels by those of the modern historian.
— Jens Schröter, “The Criteria of Authenticity in Jesus Research and Historiographical Method” in Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity edited by Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne (London and New York: T&T Clark, 2013), 49-70 (here, 62).


The person who most influenced Jesus

A quote worth sharing:

Beyond having himself baptized, Jesus reportedly endorsed John’s ministry in his teaching. Indeed, if the Synoptics remember rightly, ‘no one engaged the attention of Jesus as throughly as did John the Baptist—no on from Israel’s past (for example, Abraham, Moses, David, or one of the prophets), no one from among the contemporaries of Jesus.’
— Dale C. Allison, Jr., Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 54, quoting Jürgen Becker, Jesus of Nazareth trans. James E. Crouch (New York: de Gruyter, 1998), 34.

John the Yogi?

Ernest Renan, in his small work Vie de Jésus made an interesting comment about John the Baptist:

From his infancy, John was Nazir—that is to say, subjected by vow to certain abstinences. The desert by which he was, so to speak, surrounded, early attracted him. He led there the life of a Yogi of India, clothed with skins or stuffs of camel’s hair, having for food only locusts and wild honey. A certain number of his disciples were grouped around him, sharing his life and studying his severe doctrine. We might imagine ourselves transported to the bans of the Ganges, if particular traits had not revealed in this recluse the last descendent of the great prophets of Israel.”
Life of Jesus translated by J.H. Holmes (New York: Random House, 1927), 136.
  Portrait of Joseph Ernest Renan, by F. Mulnier. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Joseph Ernest Renan, by F. Mulnier. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

This Frenchman's depiction aimed at making John "exotic" (he wrote the book in 1863), a "Yogi of India" who we may imagine living by the Ganges. Also, he makes the claim that John was the last great prophet of Israel, contentious in itself. But these comments give us a fascinating window into some of the "life of Jesus" writers of that day.

Dunn Defines (Christian) "Faith"

James D.G. Dunn's definition of "faith":

...the term itself (faith) embraces any conviction that Jesus has provided ‘a window into the divine’ (almost a definition of an icon). and/or that in some sense his death achieved salvation from sin, and/or that he was raised by God from death to a life beyond death.
Jesus Remembered (V. 1 of Christianity in the Making; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 12..
 James D.G. Dunn (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AFJinXD3BQ)

James D.G. Dunn (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AFJinXD3BQ)

John's diet and "the European prejudice against eating insects"

In James A. Kelhoffer's The Diet of John the Baptist his opening chapter has a survey of the scholarship done on the subject up to date. During the section "A 'Vegetarian' Historical Baptist?" he presented the views of several scholars who couldn't fathom John eating locust because is a "strange" thing to do. I kept thinking to myself, "Their views seem motivated not by historical data, but by their own diets!" Even those scholars who haven't had a problem with John eating locusts seem to think this makes him unique somehow, yet as Kelhoffer shows in this book, as well as his article "Did John the Baptist Eat like a Former Essene? Locust-Eating in the Ancient Near East," Dead Sea Discoveries 11.3 (2004), 293-314, locust eating is common in the Levant in the first century and it remains normal for many contemporary cultures today! 

Kelhoffer says in his book (p. 21), "A common bias running through these studies, to which the present author must also confess, is the European prejudice against eating insects." How often have I read about John and presumed the description of his diet found in Mk. 1.6c and Mt. 3.4c is included in order to show how unique a person John was. But if locusts aren't a unique snack, then maybe we're misreading these passages? This is a great example of how our own cultural bias, practices, and taboos shape our hermeneutic.

Participating in Public Rituals in the Roman Empire

This goes against what I thought I knew about the sociological implications of refusing to partake in public sacrifices in cities of the Roman Empire:

Normally in ancient towns there was no obligation to take part in public rituals. A glance at the dimensions of the buildings here large-scale public festivities were held makes clear that the entire population cannot possibly have take part in such celebrations. The first explicit requirement to take part in public worship, and obligation that was truly enforced and sanctioned, is to be found in Traianus Decius’ Edict of autumn/winter AD 249, at the time of the first extensive and official persecution of the Christians. Until then, no one was bound either to sacrifice or to take part in public rituals. Finally, there is plenty of good evidence for consciously cynical or indifferent attitudes toward the gods, and towards religious cult. Such views can be found in works by convinced atheists and the adherents of philosophies, such as Cynicism or Epicureanism, that denied the existence of the gods or questioned their ability to act in this world.
— Jörg Rüpke, Religion of the Romans, 7-8

I can't defend or challenge this argument, but it is different from what I thought I knew.