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Historical Jesus Theories: Gerd Lüdemann

The purpose of this web page is to explain and explore some of the theories offered up by contemporary scholars on the historical Jesus and the origins of the Christian religion. Issues include the nature of the historical Jesus, the nature of the early Christian documents, and the origins of the Christian faith in a risen Jesus Christ.

Gerd Lüdemann

The Great Deception:  Buy at! Lüdemann sets out four criteria of inauthenticity and five criteria of authenticity in The Great Deception, which is something of an abridged and popular version of his subsequent comprehensive work Jesus After 2000 Years. The first criterion of inauthenicity is that sayings presupposing Jesus as the exalted Lord are not from the earthly Jesus. The second is that actions that presuppose the violation of natural laws are unhistorical. The third states that sayings that appear to be devised to answer the problems of later communities are inauthentic. The fourth criterion of inauthenticity says that sayings or actions that presume a Gentile rather than a Jewish audience do not go back to Jesus. The first criterion of authenticity says that sayings or actions that are offensive to Christian sensibilities are not likely to be fabrications. The criterion of difference states that sayings that do not appear to reflect the ideas of post-Easter communities likely go back to the historical Jesus. The criterion of growth says that material around which additional traditions have accumulated may be old enough to go back to Jesus. The criterion of rarity indicates that sayings with few parallels in the Jewish sphere are likely to be distinctive to Jesus. The fifth criterion of authenticity, that of coherence, says that a saying or action that fits in seamlessly with other identified authentic material may also be deemed authentic. An examination of the authenticity of all the Jesus traditions with use of criteria such as these can be found in Jesus After 2000 Years.

According to Lüdemann, Jesus like many first century Palestinian Jews went to be baptized for the remission of sins and believed in the imminent end of the world preached by John the Baptist. Lüdemann says that Jesus developed the Baptist's ideas in a new direction in three ways: "first, in the long term he did not like John's fundamentally ascetic attitude. In keeping with this, secondly, he had a tremendous experience of the kingdom of God which was prefigured in meals with him to which anyone could come. And thirdly, he found his capacity to heal an overwhelming experience which he also associated with the coming of the kingdom of God." (Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 689) Lüdemann thinks that Jesus saw himself in battle against Satan in healing sickness and sin, which were inextricably linked.

Lüdemann writes (Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 690): "In its decisive phase, Jesus' life was shaped by the unshakable faith that he had to interpret God's law authoritatively in God's name. Broadly speaking, his interpretation was to be perceived as an accentuation of the will of God. Thus he forbade divorce with an appeal to God's good creation, by which in marriage man and woman irrevocably have become one flesh (Mark 10.8). He focussed the commandment to love on the demand to love one's enemy (Luke 6.27). He forbade judging (Matt. 7.1) and swearing (Matt. 5.34). Now and then he reduced the law in sweeping manner and by so doing in fact made the food laws irrelevant (Mark 7.15); he focussed the sabbath on human well-being (Mark 2.27). But anything that - in modern terms - looked like autonomy was grounded in theonomy. Jesus could ordain this free and at the same time radical interpretation of the law only because he had received the authority to do so from God, who he addressed lovingly, as Paul did later, as Abba (a term denoting deep intimacy and affection). At this point Jesus and his heavenly Father were almost one, and that must have been most offensive to his Jewish hearers."

Against those who would make a strict dichotomy between the timeless wisdom and eschatological expectation in the words of Jesus, Lüdemann insists that wisdom and apocalyptic exist side by side in the thought of Jesus as it does in the thought of Paul. That Jesus expected an imminent end is indicated, for example, by Mark 14:25, which Lüdemann deems authentic, saying "Only Jesus' expectation of the future kingdom of God stands at the centre, and not Jesus was redeemer, judge, or intercessor" (The Great Deception, p. 77). On Luke 11:20, Lüdemann writes: "The flight of the demons is a sign that the power of the evil one has been overcome, even if a final destruction of the evil powers will only take place in the final judgment, which is imminent" (The Great Deception, p. 83).

Lüdemann comments on passages such as Thomas 98, Luke 16:1-7, Matthew 13:44, Luke 12:39, and Luke 18:2-5 as being stories of immoral heroes: "However, Jesus did not just make immoral heroes the main characters in his parables. In a way his own life was that of an immoral hero. Occasionally he deliberately transgressed the sabbath commandment (cf. Mark 2.27). He taught those who should have taught him. He called on the people to love those whom they really should have hated. In public he was regarded as a friend of tax-collectors and sinners, as a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7.34). The life of Jesus was not that of a hero who went his way to victory without hindrance; his life was not the kind that had a happy ending. Jesus' condemnation, his death on the cross and the immediate failure of his activity formally made him the opposite of a hero. Putting all existing values in question and thus turning them upside down, he became an extremely immoral anti-hero." (The Great Deception, pp. 96-97)

Please enjoy exploring the varied Historical Jesus Theories offered by these authors through the links below.

Jesus the Myth: Heavenly Christ

Jesus the Myth: Man of the Indefinite Past

Jesus the Hellenistic Hero

Jesus the Revolutionary

Jesus the Wisdom Sage

Jesus the Man of the Spirit

Jesus the Prophet of Social Change

Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet

Jesus the Savior

For more information on the debate over the historical Jesus, visit the Christian Origins web site.

Go to the Chronological List of all Early Christian Writings

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Kirby, Peter. "Historical Jesus Theories." Early Christian Writings. <>.