Sanders and Davies survey the entire field of Gospel scholarship.
When they finish weighing and sifting the various theories and
methodologies, they come away with some striking conclusions.
Although these conclusions do not always accord with the weight of
scholarly authority, they are always well-reasoned and well-defended.
Sanders and Davies state the Synoptic Problem, and then analyze the
various theoretical solutions. Then they address form criticism,
redaction criticism, and Gospel genres. Finally they embark upon a
quest for the historical Jesus.
The analysis of the Synoptic Problem
is particularly good. Each theory is studied in detail, its strong
and weak points weighed and assessed, and a final judgment
passed. They finally settle upon a modified form of the Goulder
hypothesis, sometimes known as Mark without Q. Of the currently
fashionable literature on the reconstruction of Q, they say:
"This work is mostly of curiosity value, since it shows how far a
hypothesis can be pushed despite its lack of fundamental
The middle sections on the various types of criticism
and Gospel genre are not as good, the analysis being turgid and
sometimes opaque, but they redeem themselves when they go questing for
the historical Jesus. They "cross examine" the Gospels,
using four precise tests for historicity. The four tests put one in
mind of the Jesus Seminar's "seven pillars of scholarly
wisdom". The Jesus Seminar's seven pillars are not nearly as
well-conceived nor as well-applied as Sanders and Davies' four tests.
The conclusions Sanders and Davies draw at the end of their quest are
astonishingly circumspect when compared to the findings of most
contemporary questers after the historical Jesus.