Mark Goodacre sees the following difficulties with the quest for the historical Jesus:
(1) So much data is missing, e.g. there is so little on Jesus’ life before 30.
(2) The data we do have is highly prejudiced, mainly pro-Christian propaganda.
(3) The sources we have are disputed — different scholars value the sources differently.
(4) The sources are sometimes contradictory and difficult to interpret.
(5) Our distance from the data is so great — we read our own prejudices into the texts.
(6) And now there is so much secondary literature available that it is difficult to navigate our way through it all.
(7) Jesus is a figure in whom so many have a stake, and the quest is often controversial.
A good list. I think the seventh is the most problematic, and if I were teaching a course on the subject I’d be inclined to make Bill Arnal’s The Symbolic Jesus a required text. Arnal argues that people have a stake in Jesus for rather complex reasons, and that agendas have become more “subterranean” (as he puts it) than ever before. Back in the good old days, scholars just made Jesus in their self-images, but now they use certain aspects of Jesus — particularly his “Jewishness” — to validate more oblique agendas relating to academic politics, religious sensibilities, and the distinctiveness of one’s creed.
Mark’s sixth point about the flood of secondary literature seems closely related to the seventh, in some ways even the result of the seventh. Incidentally, I hope to see the literature evolve out of certain trends, such as: (1) No more books with title, Jesus the ‘X’! If there is any ‘X’, it is “apocalyptic healer”, and probably best left at that. (2) Fewer reconstructions of Jesus relying on Q, Secret Mark, and/or Thomas. (3) Less Crossan/Craig and Borg/Wright debating (which is intra-Christian, liberal vs. conservative) and more of the Bird/Crossley kind of debating (Christian vs. secular).