To the editors:
As a graduate student in the Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago, I read the recent interview with Mr. Sheehan [April 21] with great interest. Undoubtedly Mr. Sheehan is a thoroughly competent philosopher, but with regard to his expertise in the study of the “Historical Jesus” he clearly shows himself to be little more than an armchair amateur who has familiarized himself with some portions of the relevant secondary literature.
This is most clearly demonstrated in Mr. Sheehan’s assertion that scholars agree on the six “facts” he enumerates about Jesus of Nazareth. This is a gross misrepresentation of the actual state of affairs in the present “Quest of the Historical Jesus.” If Mr. McClory had bothered to examine a representative sample of the major lines of thought on this matter such as: Gunther Bornkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth, Geza Vermes’ Jesus the Jew, E.P. Sanders’ Jesus and Judaism, and Burton L. Mack’s Myth of Innocence, he would have found an enormous discrepancy between each of these noteworthy scholars’ view of the content and meaning of Jesus’ message and ministry not to mention how and why his death came about.
If this had proved too difficult a task for Mr. McClory he could have just come down to Hyde Park and interviewed Mr. H.D. Betz and Mr. Arthur J. Droge (the two professors of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the U. of C.) and he would have been given appreciably different answers to the six points upon which Mr. Sheehan claims scholarly unity. In fact, Mr. McClory would have come away with three startling different portraits of Jesus of Nazareth.
Perhaps, in the future, Mr. McClory should do his homework and Mr. Sheehan should not misrepresent the present state of the question in an attempt to legitimate his gospel.
J. Andrew Foster
E. 56th St.
Robert McClory replies:
It would be helpful if Mr. Foster would cite one example of the “enormous discrepancy” he refers to rather than hurl a barrage of names. The six areas of consensus about Jesus came, as the article noted, from Father John Meier, editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly. Furthermore, as the article also noted, Father David Tracy, a University of Chicago theologian and the leading American Catholic expert on theological pluralism, stated (in an article in Commonweal magazine) that “Sheehan is right . . . in his basic description of the liberal consensus for interpreting the Scriptures.” This doesn’t mean Tracy follows Sheehan all the way on his radical journey. And there are definite differences on a variety of matters within the liberal consensus. But if an “enormous discrepancy” exists, it has escaped the attention of two of the most respected and visible theological scholars of our day.