I've been reading, trying to wrestle with questions that deal with the religious self-identity of Jews and early Christians in the first century.
I think this is an overlooked facet of Christian origins. Was there some kind of continuity between Second-Temple Judaism and the birth of Christianity? Almost certainly! -- But let us suspend our inherited assumptions and presuppositions for a brief moment and examine all of the evidence pertaining to the problem of Jewish-Christianity from a scientific hermeneutic (now that we have discovered and invented this useful tool) to try to determine the nature and extent of this continuity. This is difficult, not only because of the evidence is scant, but because what little we have is either passionately apologetic or passionately polemic. As Robert M. Grant put it in a paper on The Social Setting of Second-Century Christianity:
When we listen to ancient writers and try to hear what they may tell us about the social setting of the early church we are likely to be struck by the sound of the axes they are grinding. Statements from Christians or non-Christians reflect presuppositions more fully than observations.This is why I am so excited by the Jesus Project and what it could potentially contribute to scholarship on Christian origins. It's a bold and ambitious task they have appointed themselves, that is, to try to filter out the noise of the axes with our nifty new methodologies. Who knows, maybe it will turn out to be a dead end, but we'll never know it by stodgily ho-humming on whether such 'atheist' investigations of the early church are proper.
Why wouldn't it be proper?