The Jesus Seminar is a group of about 150 individuals including scholars with advanced degrees in
biblical studies, religious studiesor related fields as well as published authors who are notable in the field of religionfounded in 1985by the late Robert Funkand John Dominic Crossanunder the auspices of the Westar Institute. [ [http://www.westarinstitute.org/index.html Westar Institute] accessed November 6, 2006] One of the most active groups in biblical criticism, [ [http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_hcri.htm Biblical Criticism] ] the seminar uses votes with colored beads to decide their collective view of the historicity of Jesus, specifically what he may or may not have said and done as an historical figure. ["The Jesus Seminar: Select Your Own Jesus" http://biblequery.org/OtherBeliefs/LiberalChurches/JesusSeminar.htm;"21st Century Alchemy?", by Dr. Paige Patterson http://www.beliefnet.com/story/29/story_2942_1.html] In addition, the seminar popularizes the quest for the historical Jesus. The public is welcome to attend the twice-yearly meetings. They produced new translations of the New Testamentand apocrypha to use as textual sources. They published their results in three reports "The Five Gospels" (1993), "The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus" (1993) Polebridge Press (Macmillan), ISBN 0-02-541949-8] "The Acts of Jesus" (1998),"The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus" (1998), Harper SanFrancisco, ISBN 0-06-062979-7] and "The Gospel of Jesus" (1999). "The Gospel of Jesus: According to the Jesus Seminar" (1999), Polebridge Press (Macmillan), ISBN 0-944344-74-7] They also run a series of lectures and workshops in various U.S. cities.
The seminar's reconstruction of the
historical Jesusportrays him as an itinerantHellenistic Jewish sage who did not die as a substitute for sinners nor rise from the dead, but preached a " social gospel" in startling parables and aphorisms. An iconoclast, Jesus broke with established Jewish theological dogmas and social conventions both in his teachings and behaviors, often by turning common-sense ideas upside down, confounding the expectations of his audience: He preached of "Heaven's imperial rule" (traditionally translated as " Kingdom of God") as being already present but unseen; he depicts God as a loving father; he fraternizes with outsiders and criticizes insiders.
The seminar treats the
gospels as historical artifacts, representing not only Jesus' actual words and deeds but also the inventions and elaborations of the early Christiancommunity and of the gospel authors. The fellows placed the burden of proof on those who advocate any passage's historicity. Unconcerned with canonical boundaries, they asserted that the Gospel of Thomasmay have more authentic material than the Gospel of John. [ Wright, NT, [http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Five_Gospels.pdf Five Gospels but no Gospel] , 1999, p.5 ]
While analyzing the gospels as fallible human creations is a standard
historical-critical method, [The historical-critical method "studies the biblical text in the same fashion as it would study any other ancient text and comments upon it as an expression of human discourse." [http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/PBCINTER.HTM Interpretation of the Bible] ] the seminar's premise that Jesus did not hold an apocalypticworld view is controversial. Rather than revealing an apocalyptic eschatology, which instructs his disciples to prepare for the end of the world, the fellows argue that the authentic words of Jesus indicate that he preached a sapiential eschatology, which encourages all God's children to repair the world.):6. Leaven: Lk13:20–21 (83%), Mt13:33 (83%), Th96:1–2 (65%):7. Emperor & God (82%): Th100:2b–3, Mk12:17b, Lk20:25b, Mt22:21c (also Egerton Gospel3:1-6):8. Give to beggars (81%): Lk6:30a, Mt5:42a, Didache1:5a:9. Good Samaritan(81%): Lk10:30–35:10. Congrats, hungry!: Lk6:21a (79%), Mt5:6 (59%), Th69:2 (53%):11. Congrats, sad!: Lk6:21b (79%), Mt5:4 (73%):12. Shrewd manager (77%): Lk16:1–8a:13. Vineyard laborers (77%): Mt20:1–15:14. Abba, Father (77%): Mt6:9b, Lk11:2c:15. The Mustard Seed: Th20:2–4 (76%), Mk4:30–32 (74%), Lk13:18–19 (69%), Mt13:31–32 (67%)
ome probably authentic sayings, as determined by the seminar
The top 15 (of 75) Pink sayings are::16. On anxieties, don't fret (75%): Th36, Lk12:22–23, Mt6:25:17. Lost Coin (75%): Lk15:8–9:18. Foxes have dens: Lk9:58 (74%), Mt8:20 (74%), Th86 (67%):19. No respect at home: Th31:1 (74%), Lk4:24(71%), Jn4:44 (67%), Mt13:57 (60%), Mk6:4 (58%):20. Friend at midnight (72%): Lk11:5–8:21. Two masters : Lk16:13a, Mt6:24a (72%); Th47:2 (65%):22. Treasure: Mt13:44 (71%), Th109 (54%):23. Lost sheep: Lk15:4–6 (70%), Mt18:12–13 (67%), Th107 (48%):24. What goes in: Mk7:14–15 (70%), Th14:5 (67%), Mt15:10-11 (63%):25. Corrupt judge (70%): Lk18:2–5:26.
Prodigal son(70%): Lk15:11–32:27. Leave the dead (see also But to bring a sword, Nazirite): Mt8:22 (70%), Lk9:59–60 (69%):28. Castrationfor Heaven (see also Origen, Antithesis of the Law) (70%): Mt19:12a:29. By their fruit (69%) (see Antinomianism): Mt7:16b, Th45:1a, Lk6:44b (56%):30. The dinner party, The wedding celebration: Th64:1–11 (69%), Lk14:16-23 (56%), Mt22:2-13 (26%)
Overall reliability of the five gospels
The Seminar concluded that of the various statements in the "five gospels" attributed to Jesus, only about 18% of them were likely uttered by Jesus himself (red or pink). The
Gospel of Johnfared worse than the synoptic gospels, with nearly all its passages attributed to Jesus being judged inauthentic [ [http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jsem.htm Jesus Seminar] ] . The Gospel of Thomasincludes just two unique sayings that the seminar attributes to Jesus: the empty jar (97) and the assassin (98). Every other probably-authentic or authentic saying has parallels in the synoptics.
Gehenna and Hades
The gospels use the terms
gehennaand hades for places of fiery punishment and death. The fellows rated Jesus' references to gehenna and hades as gray at best, often black. Some such references (such as the parable of Lazarus and Dives) have features that the fellows might regard as authentic, such as dramatic reversals of fortune. These received gray designations. The fellows regarded other references as inventions of early Christians responding to those who rejected Jesus' message or to "false" Christians within the community.
Example: the beatitudes
The Jesus Seminar rated various beatitudes as red, pink, gray, and black.
To analyze the beatitudes, they first innovated a nonliteral translation for the formula "blessed are," as in "Blessed are the poor." Modern readers are familiar enough with the beatitudes that this construction doesn't shock or surprise, as the original sayings allegedly did. As the modern equivalent, the Scholar's Version uses "Congratulations!"
Three beatitudes are "paradoxical" and doubly attested. They are rated red (authentic) as they appear in Luke 6:20-21.
Congratulations, you poor!
God's domain belongs to you.
Congratulations, you hungry!
You will have a feast.
Congratulations, you who weep now!
You will laugh.
These beatitudes feature the dramatic presentation and reversal of expectations that the seminar regards as characteristic of Jesus.
The beatitude for those persecuted in Jesus' name might trace back to Jesus as a beatitude for those who suffer, the fellows decided, but in its final form the saying represents concerns of the Christian community rather than Jesus' message. Thus it received a gray rating.
Matthew's version of the three authentic beatitudes were rated pink. The author has spiritualized two of them, so that they now refer to the poor "in spirit" and to those who hunger "and thirst for justice." Matthew also includes beatitudes for the meek, the merciful, the pure of heart, and peace-makers. These beatitudes have no second attestation, lack irony, and received a black rating.
Acts of Jesus
In 1998 the Jesus Seminar published "The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus".According to the front flap summary: "Through rigorous research and debate, they have combed the gospels for evidence of the man behind the myths. The figure they have discovered is very different from the icon of traditional Christianity."
According to the Jesus Seminar:
* Jesus of Nazareth was born during the reign of
Herod the Great.
* His mother's name was Mary, and he had a human father whose name may not have been Joseph.
* Jesus was born in
Nazareth, not in Bethlehem.
* Jesus was an itinerant
sagewho shared meals with social outcasts.
* Jesus practiced healing without the use of ancient medicine or magic, relieving afflictions we now consider
* He did not walk on water, feed the multitude with loaves and fishes, change water into wine or raise Lazarus from the dead.
* Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem and crucified by the Romans.
* He was executed as a public nuisance, not for claiming to be the
Son of God.
empty tombis a fiction -- Jesus was not raised bodily from the dead.
* Belief in the resurrection is based on the visionary experiences of Paul, Peter and
The 10 authentic ("red") acts of Jesus are:
# The Beelzebul controversy: , , , , and , , , , , , ,
#Eating with defiled hands:
#The blind man of Bethsaida:
#Emperor & God: , Thomas 100:1-4, Egerton 3:1-6
#The arrest: core event not accurately recorded
#Before the high priest: core event not accurately recorded
#Before the Council: core event not accurately recorded
#Before Pilate: core event not accurately recorded
Also 1 red "summary and setting" (not a saying or action): Women companions of Jesus: .
Criticism of the Jesus Seminar
Many scholars, the majority of whom are conservative Christians, have questioned the methodology, assumptions and intent of the Jesus Seminar. Michael J. Wilkins & J.P. Moreland, General Editors, "Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus," Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, ISBN 0-310-21139-5] Scholars who have expressed concerns with the work of the Jesus Seminar include
Richard Hays, ["The Corrected Jesus" in "First Things" 43, May 1994] Ben Witherington, ["The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth"] Gregory A. Boyd, ["Cynic Sage or Son of God?"] N.T. Wright, ["Jesus and the Victory of God"] William Lane Craig, [Paul Copan, Editor, "Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate Between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan," Baker Books, 1998, ISBN 0-8010-2175-8] Craig A. Evans, Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, and Edwin Yamauchi. The specific criticisms leveled against the Jesus Seminar include charges that:
* the Jesus Seminar creates a Jesus who is separated from both his cultural setting and his followers;
* the voting system is seriously flawed;
* the criteria defining what constitutes red/pink/grey/black are inconsistent;
* it was an error to exclude apocalyptic messages from Jesus' ministry;
* the attempt to popularize Jesus research degraded the scholarly value of the effort;
* the conclusions largely represent the premises of the fellows, even though the seminar has warned themselves to "Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you";
* the Jesus Seminar is hypercritical of canonical accounts of Jesus, but unduly credulous and uncritical when it comes to relatively late extra-canonical accounts;
* only about 14 of the fellows are leading figures in New Testament scholarship; and
* the fellows do not represent a fair cross-section of viewpoints.
More extreme reactions have come from Christian organizations such as the Fundamental Evangelistic Association, [ [http://www.fundamentalbiblechurch.org/Foundation/fbcjesus.htm The Critics vs. the Critics: The Jesus Seminar Under Attack] ] and the Watchman Expositor. [ [http://www.watchman.org/reltop/slipslop.htm The Jesus Seminar: The Slippery Slope to Heresy] ] The Christian Arsenal go so far as to depict the Jesus Seminar as a tool of Satan, meant to undermine Biblical beliefs. [ [http://www.christianarsenal.com/conttopic/ContTopics013.htm Jesus Seminar] ]
Divorcing Jesus from his cultural context and followers
One of the Seminar's tests for inauthenticity is that it "matches closely with beliefs of the early Church community". Matthias Zahniser,
Asbury Theological Seminarycriticizes this saying that it prohibits the possibility that Jesus would be concerned with anything the early Church is concerned with. Fact|date=March 2007 J. Ed Komoszewski and co-authors state that the Jesus Seminar's "Criteria for In/Authenticity" create "an eccentric Jesus who learned nothing from his own culture and made no impact on his followers". [Komoszewski et al (2006), [http://www.reinventingjesus.info/ Reinventing Jesus] , Kregel, p.49] Others ask rhetorically, "why would such a Jesus be crucified?" [ [http://www.veritas-ucsb.org//library/pearson/home.html Pearson, BA,] [http://www.veritas-ucsb.org//library/pearson/seminar/js6.html The Gospel According To The Jesus Seminar] , 1996] The same criticism has been made by Craig Evans. Craig A. Evans, "Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels," InterVarsity Press, 2006 ISBN 0-8308-3318-8]
Use of a flawed voting system
The voting system has been criticized by, among others,
NT Wright, who says '... I cannot understand how, if a majority ... thought a saying authentic or probably authentic, the "weighted average" turned out to be "probably inauthentic". A voting system that produces a result like this ought to be scrapped.' [ Wright, NT, [http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Five_Gospels.pdf Five Gospels but no Gospel] , 1999, p.7 ]
Ignoring evidence for eschatological teachings of Jesus
Dale Allisonof Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, in his 1999 book "Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet", cited what he felt were problems with the work of (particularly) John Dominic Crossanand Marcus Borg, arguing that their conclusions were at least in part predetermined by their theological positions. He also pointed out the limitations of their presumptions and methodology. Allison argued that despite the conclusions of the seminar, Jesus was a prophetic figure focused to a large extent on apocalyptic thinking.Dale C. Allison, "Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet," Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1998, ISBN 0800631447] Some scholars have reasserted Albert Schweitzer's eschatological view of Jesus. [Schweitzer wrote that Jesus and his followers expected the imminent end of the world. [http://home.pcisys.net/~jnf/schauth/rq2.html Review of "The Mystery of the Kingdom of God"] ]
Creating a Jesus based on the presuppositions of the members
Luke Timothy Johnson[ [http://www.candler.emory.edu/ABOUT/faculty/johnson.cfm Luke Timothy Johnson] ] of the Candler School of Theologyat Emory University, in his 1996 book "The Real Jesus", voiced concerns with the seminar's work. He criticized the techniques of the Seminar, believing them to be far more limited for historical reconstruction than seminar members believe. Their conclusions were "already determined ahead of time," Johnson says, which "is not responsible, or even critical scholarship. It is a self-indulgent charade."
Bias against canonical sources and for non-canonical sources
Daniel L. Akin, writing in the Journal of the Southern Baptist Convention, called the work of the Jesus Seminar "destructive criticism". [Daniel L. Akin, [http://www.sbclife.org/articles/2006/04/sla7.asp "Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility,"] SBC Life, April 2006] Craig Blombergnotes that if the Jesus Seminar’s findings are to be believed then “it requires the assumption that someone, about a generation removed from the events in question, radically transformed the authentic information about Jesus that was circulating at that time, superimposed a body of material four times as large, fabricated almost entirely out of whole cloth, while the church suffered sufficient collective amnesia to accept the transformation as legitimate.” Craig Evans argues that the Jesus Seminar applies a form of hypercriticism to the canonical gospels that unreasonably assumes that "Jesus' contemporaries (that is, the first generation of his movement) were either incapable of remembering or uninterested in recalling accurately what Jesus said and did, and in passing it on" while, in contrast, privileging extra-canonical texts with an uncritical acceptance that sometimes rises to the level of special pleading.
Composition of the Seminar and qualifications of the members
Luke Timothy Johnson[ [http://www.candler.emory.edu/ABOUT/faculty/johnson.cfm Luke Timothy Johnson] ] of the Candler School of Theologyat Emory University, in his 1996 book "The Real Jesus", also argued that while many members of the seminar are reputable scholars (Borg, Crossan, Funk, others), others are relatively unknown or undistinguished in the field of biblical studies. One member, Paul Verhoeven, holds a Ph.D. in mathematics and physics, [ [http://www.cinema.com/people/002/054/paul-verhoeven/index.phtml Paul Verhoeven biography] by professor Dan Shaw] not biblical studies, and is best known as a film director. Johnson also critiqued the seminar for its attempts to gain the attention of the media for the 2000 ABC Newsprogram "The Search for Jesus" hosted by news anchor Peter Jennings. Seminar critic William Lane Craig has argued that the self-selected members of the group do not represent the consensus of New Testamentscholars. He writes:
Of the 74 [scholars] listed in their publication "The Five Gospels", only 14 would be leading figures in the field of New Testament studies. More than half are basically unknowns, who have published only two or three articles. Eighteen of the fellows have published nothing at all in New Testament studies. Most have relatively undistinguished academic positions, for example, teaching at a community college. [ [http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/rediscover1.html Rediscovering the Historical Jesus] by William Lane Craig]Others have made the same point and have further indicated that thirty-six of those scholars, almost half, have a degree from or currently teach at one of three schools, Harvard, Claremont, or Vanderbilt: all considered to favor "liberal" interpretations of the New Testament. [Craig A. Blomberg, "Where Do We Start Studying Jesus?" in "Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus," Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, page 20, ISBN 0-310-21139-5]
Response of the Jesus Seminar
Members of the Jesus Seminar have responded to their critics in various books and dialogues, which typically defend both their methodology and their conclusions. Among these responses are "The Jesus Seminar and Its Critics" by Robert J. Miller, a member of the Seminar; "The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate", a dialogue with Allison, Borg, Crossan, and Stephen Patterson; "The Jesus Controversy: Perspectives in Conflict", a dialogue between Crossan, Johnson, and Werner H. Kelber. "The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions", by Borg and N. T. Wright demonstrated how two scholars with divergent theological positions can work together to creatively share and discuss their thoughts.
Fellows of the Jesus Seminar
This is a partial list of past and present members of the Jesus seminar per "The Five Gospels" and [http://www.westarinstitute.org/Fellows/fellows.html The Westar Institute Website] .
Robert W. Funk, Ph.D. John Dominic Crossan, Ph.D.
Andries G. van Aarde, D.D.
Valerie A. Abrahamsen, Th.D.
Martin L. Appelt
Richard L. Arthur, Th.D.
Harold W. Attridge, Ph.D.
Robert Bater, Ph.D.
William Beardslee, Ph.D.
Joseph Bessler-Northcutt, Ph.D.
Edward F. Beutner, Ph.D.
Sterling Bjorndahl, Ph.D.
Anthony Blasi, Ph.D., Th.D.
Marcus Borg, D.Phil.
Willi Braun, Ph.D.
James R. Butts, Ph.D.
Marvin F. Cain, Ph.D.
Ron Cameron, Ph.D.
Bruce D. Chilton, Ph.D.
Kathleen E. Corley, Ph.D.
Wendy J. Cotter C.S.J., Ph.D.
Jon Daniels, Ph.D.
Jean Jacques D'Aoust
Stevan L. Davies, Ph.D.
Jon F. Dechow, Ph.D.
Arthur J. Dewey, Th.D.
Joanna Dewey, Ph.D.
John Dillenberger, Ph.D.
Darrell J. Doughty
Dennis C. Duling, Ph.D.
Susan M. Elliott, Ph.D.
Robert T. Fortna, Ph.D.
Robert M. Fowler
James Goss, Ph.D.
Heinz Guenther, Th.D.
Maurice Hamington, Ph.D.
Walter Harrelson, Th.D.
Stephen L Harris, Ph.D.
Charles W. Hedrick, Ph.D.
James D. Hester, D.Theol.
C.M. Kempton Hewitt, Ph.D.
Jack A. Hill, Ph.D.
Julian V. Hills, Th.D.
Richard Holloway, D.D., D.Litt.
Roy W. Hoover, Th.D.
Benjamin J. Hubbard
Michael L. Humphries, Ph.D.
Margaret D. Hutaff
Glenna S. Jackson, Ph.D.
Arland D. Jacobson, Ph.D.
Clayton N. Jefford, Th.M, Ph.D.
Gregory C. Jenks, Ph.D.
F. Stanley Jones, D.Theol, Ph.D.
Larry Kalajainen, Ph.D.
Perry Kea, Ph.D.
John C. Kelly
William Doane Kelly, Ph.D.
Chan-Hie Kim, Ph.D.
Karen L. King, Ph.D.
John S. Kloppenborg, Ph.D.
Paul Alan Laughlin, Ph.D.
Nigel Leaves, Ph.D.
Lloyd Geering, D.D.
Davidson Loehr, Ph.D.
Sanford Lowe, D.Min, D.D.
John Lown, Ph.D.
Gerd Luedemann, D.Theol., D. Habil.
Dennis R. MacDonald, Ph.D.
Burton L. Mack, Ph.D.
Loren Mack-Fisher, Ph.D.
Francis Macnab, Ph.D. , D.D., D.Sc.
Shelley Matthews, Th.D.
Brian Rice McCarthy
Lane C. McGaughy, Ph.D.
Robin B. McGonigle, Dr. M
Edward J. McMahon II, Ph.D.
Marvin W. Meyer, Ph.D.
J. Ramsey Michaels, Th.M., Ph.D.
William R. Millar
L. Bruce Miller, Ph.D.
Robert J. Miller, Ph.D.
Robert L'H Miller, Th.D.
Winsome Munro, Ed.D.
Culver H. Nelson, D.D., D.D.
Rob Parrott, Ph.D.
Stephen J. Patterson, Ph.D.
Richard I. Pervo, Th.D.
Robert M. Price, Ph.D.
Anne Primavesi, D.Phil.
Vernon K. Robbins, Ph.D.
James M. Robinson, D.Theol, Ph.D.
John J. Rousseau, Ph.D., D.Rel.
Marianne Sawicki, Ph.D.
Daryl D. Schmidt, Ph.D.
Bernard Brandon Scott, Ph.D.
Andrew D. Scrimgeour
Philip Sellew, Th.D.
Chris Shea, Ph.D.
Thomas Sheehan, Ph.D.
Lou H. Silberman, D.H.L.
Dennis Smith, Th.D.
Mahlon H. Smith, M.S.L.
John Shelby Spong, D.D.
Michael G. Steinhauser, Th.D.
Robert F. Stoops, Jr., Ph.D.
Johann Strijdom, D.Litt., et Phil.
Jarmo Tarkki, Ph.D.
W. Barnes Tatum, Ph.D.
Hal Taussig, Ph.D.
Barbara Thiering, Ph.D.
Joseph B. Tyson, Ph.D.
Leif E. Vaage, Ph.D.
James Veitch, Ph.D., Th.D.
Paul Verhoeven, Ph.D. (mathematics)
Wesley Hiram Wachob, Ph.D.
William O. Walker, Jr., Ph.D.
Donna Wallace, Ph.D.
Robert L. Webb, Ph.D.
Theodore J. Weeden, Sr., Ph.D.
James E. West, Th.D.
John L. White, Ph.D.
John L. White, B.D.
L. Michael White
Walter Wink, Th.D.
Sara C. Winter., Ph.D.
* [http://www.westarinstitute.org/ The Jesus Seminar & Westar Institute Homepage]
* [http://virtualreligion.net/forum/ The Jesus Seminar Forum]
* [http://www.veritas-ucsb.org//library/pearson/seminar/home.html The Gospel According to the Jesus Seminar] from "Religion" (London), vol 25, October 1995, pp. 317-38
* [http://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-seminar.html Is there any truth to the Jesus Seminar?]
* [http://christiancadre.org/topics/jesusseminar.html Christian Cadre, The Jesus Seminar]
* [http://www.bsw.org/project/biblica/bibl80/Comm11.htm John P. Meier, "The Present State of the ‘Third Quest’ for the Historical Jesus: Loss and Gain"]
* [http://depts.drew.edu/jhc/rpltj.html Robert Price's rebuttal] of Luke Timothy Johnson's "The Real Jesus".
* [http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Five_Gospels.pdf N. T. Wright's Assessment of the Seminar's Scholarship]
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