(1) Statements made by the Christian sources (tradition)
(2) Hypotheses derived from critical reasoning
Largely based on an agenda of what people find important or where they want their studies to end up, different people take different approaches towards the value or importance of respecting either of these sources that could then define the boundaries of a historical study. This is an element of human subjectivity that arises especially from the contemporary importance attached to the investigation and the result.
It is my contention that a low-to-moderate view of (1) combined with a moderate-to-high view of (2) is largely the area of attraction for serious secular academics, but this is a field which is open to other, less academic approaches, whether popular or pious or both.
|Minimal Regard for Tradition||Moderate Regard for Tradition||Maximal Regard for Tradition|
|Minimal Regard for Critical Reasoning||Conspiracy Theory||Novelizations||Pious Imagination|
|Moderate Regard for Critical Reasoning||Theories about no-HJ||Theories about the HJ||Resurrection Apologetics|
|Maximal Regard for Critical Reasoning||Minimalist History||Bare Historicity of Jesus||Inerrancy Apologetics|
Even if we limit ourselves to the square of secular academics - theories about no-HJ, theories about the HJ, minimalist history, and bare historicity - only the approach of minimalist history offers the glimmer of hope that we might be able to hammer out a consensus document of what we know and what cannot be said. As soon as we add the modicum of special respect for tradition that seems to characterize even the bare historicity hypothesis, wrapped up as it is with other hypotheses accorded special respect such as the authenticity of the Pauline letters, there is a multiplication of views because people disagree about what parts of tradition to give extra respect and because there is no reasonable way to arbitrate what is inherently not based on reason. Once we loosen up the requirement of holding a high view of the importance of critical reasoning, mutually exclusive hypotheses abound (Historical Jesus Theories).
However, there are not enough people working in the field of the minimalist history of Christian origins to allow them ever to claim enough adherents to represent a consensus. There is something that is deeply unsatisfying--at least, at this time and for most people--to the idea that we could learn several things about Christian origins but that "the stuff that matters" about whether Jesus existed and who he was like doesn't fall into that category.
Because we need to know more than we can actually know, there is not now (and may never be) a consensus about Christian origins.