To those outside the field of critical biblical studies who read the Bible “literally,” it means what it says and it says what it means. But the historian must properly ask, given Mark’s core narrative of Jesus last week in Jerusalem, which sections most likely reflect actual history and which were created by Mark or his community for theological purposes. Did Jesus ride down the Mt. of Olives on a donkey, was he examined by Pontius Pilate, did Joseph of Arimathea take him corpse and bury it in a nearby tomb, and did women visit that tomb Sunday morning and find it empty? And when Jesus speaks or teaches to what degree do we have what he actually said and to what degree are we hearing the theological memory of his followers four or five decades after his death who are passing on traditions from Jesus relevant to their own concerns and times? In other words, to what extent is Mark, our core story, reflecting the situation related to the devastation of 70 CE and the first Jewish Revolt (see Mark 13 sandwiched within the narrative), and interpreting Jesus as the Christ he came to be, and to what extent is Mark’s story related to the historical Jesus and his own situation 40 years earlier–and how would one know? Further, since Matthew and Luke basically follow Mark’s passion narrative, what about John? Is John an independent source from Mark, or is his heavily theologized narrative of the last days of Jesus essentially Mark written over with his own vision of things?
I found this post very interesting as James Tabor introduces the similarities and differences between his method (and subsequent Jesus) from John Dominic Crossan's method (and Jesus) as well as the role of critical scholarship and archaeology in understanding early Christian origins.