Rob the Cuban is having a chat on Historical Jesus issues; if you're interested, you might check out the comments, as Rob and Stephen Peltz and I go at it.
Meanwhile, I'm reading at LTS again today. I found something interesting in Richard Bauckham's essay, "Reading Scripture as a Coherent Story," in Hays and Davis, The Art of Reading Scripture:
The existence of the four Gospels, not to mention commentary in the apostolic letters, keeps readers aware that Jesus is neither captured in the text nor existent only as a textual contruction but that he had and has his own reality to which the texts witness.I'm thinking about this in the context of the differences between the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels and John's Jesus. If you've read the Bible for any period of time, you might have noticed that the Johannine Jesus is a little more esoteric and mystical, and spends more time talking, particularly about who he is. The Jesus the other evangelists talk about does more stuff and tells stories and talks a whole lot about the Kingdom and quotes Scripture all over the place. These are uncontestable facts: if you actually read this stuff, you have to say, "Golly gee, the way John describes Jesus is really very awfully different than the way the others do!"
Now here's what that doesn't mean: it doesn't mean that one is "wrong." If the gospels are bearing witness to the truth of Jesus the Christ as experienced by the apostolic communities (and indeed the people who hung out with Jesus) it's okay for them to care about different things. If we need these things to be straight-up and complete histories in and of themselves, one of them is definately "wrong." For example, the synoptics execute Jesus on Friday. John kills him on Saturday. Who's right? For John, Jesus performed his temple action at the beginning of his ministry, and according to the others, he did it at the end - which for my money is the most likely reason for both the blasphemy charge, and ultimately his execution. John moves it around, however, and has to credit another reason for his death: calling himself the "Son of God." However, this was actually a Davidic title and even a common designation for miracle workers: it implied nothing about being "divine." However, for John, it does - because John has a more developed, and even a proto-Trinitarian Christology. But you know what? John was written later. John is more theologically developed, and has more to say about the "essence" of who Jesus was as the incarnate logos, while the others didn't have quite the time to think about it in the course of editing and story-telling (and yes, I am for the moment ignoring things like "Johannine community" as opposed to John - one thing at a time). That's really okay. If you treat the Bible like it's relating straight history in the modern sense, it will disappoint you, frustrate you, and just generally freak you out, because it simply won't work that way.
The gospels bear witness to the truth about Jesus. I think the synoptics are more "historical accounts" while John is more "metaphysical." That doesn't make John "historically unreliable," but it does limit how much you can use John and what you can use John for when "doing history."
Did the real live Jesus who walked around Palestine 2,000 years ago necessarily say the things attributed to him in John's gospel? No. Are the things spoken by the Johannine Christ true of Jesus? Yes.
Don't make me get started on those infancy narratives...