I realize I should just accept that Generalisimo Jeebus Galt—who wants to starve the poor, punish retailers who don’t celebrate his birthday loudly enough, invade random countries, and hate teh gay—has nothing in common with the hippie Jesus described in the New Testament.
Each of these authors—as two of them actually tell us— inherited his stories from earlier written sources. Each of these sources had its own perspective as well. And before anyone bothered to write stories about Jesus, they had been circulated by word of mouth for years and years, among Christians who recounted them for a variety of reasons: to magnify the importance of Jesus, to convince others to believe in him, to instruct them concerning his relationship with God, to show how he understood the Hebrew Scriptures, to encourage his followers with the hope that his words could bring, and so forth. As the stories circulated orally, they were changed to suit the purposes at hand. And they were modified yet further when they were written down in such lost documents as Q and further still when rewritten by the authors of our Gospels.It is important to recall that this view is not based simply on scholarly imagination. We have evidence for it, some of which I have laid out in earlier chapters.Precisely because these documents were of such importance to people who believed in Jesus as the Son of God, their concerns, to put it somewhat simplistically, were less historical than religious. They were not interested in providing the brute facts of history for impartial observers, but in proclaiming their faith in Jesus as the Son of God. This was “Good News” for the believer. But it is not necessarily good news for historians, who are invested in getting behind the perspectives of the authors of the Gospels, and those of their sources, to reconstruct what Jesus really said, did, and experienced. How can “faith documents” such as the Gospels—writings produced by believers for believers to promote belief—be used as historical sources?