Mark Goodacre over at NT Pod had just put out a twenty-minute podcast outlining three different approaches to the historical Jesus by three prominent NT scholars (N.T. ‘Tom’ Wright, E.P. ‘Ed’ Sanders, and John Dominic Crossan).
Basically, it’s all about the question of what to use as the starting point when trying to study the historical Jesus. There’s Ed Sanders’ approach (Jesus and Judaism), which is to gather all the undisputed key facts about Jesus’ life (e.g., Jesus was a Galilean Jew, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus gathered disciples, Jesus had some run-ins with the authorities, Jesus was crucified) and then extrapolate something out of them. There’s also the Jesus Seminar type of approach, refined by John Dominic Crossan (The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant), which consists of looking at and analyzing various sayings of Jesus (“Blessed are the poor,” etc.) and using them to reconstruct a picture of the Man. Then there’s also Tom Wright’s method (Jesus and the Victory of God), which is simply to lay all the available data from the synoptics (without worrying first whether something is ‘authentic’ or not) and then try to work them into one’s synthesis of the historical Jesus.