Vermes on the Historical Jesus.
I particularly liked this paragraph:
It's a regular complaint, I know, but I find the title of the article unfortunate, because it gives the impression that historical Jesus study is all about stripping away fiction and getting down to a kind of untouched core of "real Jesus" material. The difficulty in this context is that it puts the backs up of many of the Christian readers who might otherwise have been sympathetic to an article on what can be said about the historical Jesus with certainty. I suppose I am sensitive to such things because I often talk to evangelical students who instinctively balk at historical Jesus study because it appears to them to be a quest to strip away fact from fiction, and so to discredit Christianity, rather than as an enquiry into what the historian is able to say with confidence in a public arena. In other words, the rhetoric implied by the title is unnecessarily provocative given the useful content.
I think this is exactly right; the point of (good) historical Jesus scholarship is simply the point of any historical discipline: namely, what can be said about the subject when it is passed through the filter of a given set of standards of evidence; and this, far from being a stripping away of elements (in any historical case), is an increase in our understanding of the whole thing. I always feel a bit awkward in talking about historical scholarship, because the historical work I do, history of philosophy, is sometimes a very peculiar historical discipline (particularly for the period in which I primarily work, early modern, which is not by any means the most historically conscious of the HoP disciplines). But the point of historical work at all (as I see it, at least) is primarily to map out the overall landscape of our evidences (in all their varied forms) of the past, and see how that enriches our understanding of the things that happened, the people who lived, the works they accomplished. And on such a view, there's a real need for historical Jesus study, and things like it, whatever one's background beliefs.
I've posted here and there on the problems there are with the way biological information is reaching the general public; and I think Biblical studies is an example of a historical discipline with analogous problems. Part of it is the rhetoric, part of it is the difficult of the lay person discerning what's good and what's not, part of it is the bizarre things journalists say, and part of it is who-knows-what-else. But scholarly blogging has the excellent potential to provide some clarification and open new channels of communication; which is an exciting thing, I think, although there are bound to be limits. Nonetheless, it's an exciting thing.