"Five Gospels But No Gospel: Jesus and the Seminar" (N.T. Wright)


#1

Yes, another Tom Wright article, this time dealing with the infamous Jesus Seminar and their 'Five Gospels' approach. One advice: read.


#2

[quote="patrick457, post:1, topic:309609"]
Yes, another Tom Wright article, this time dealing with the infamous Jesus Seminar and their 'Five Gospels' approach. One advice: read.

[/quote]

This article is 14 years old and the "Jesus Seminar" a relic of a rather bizarre theology that didn't seem to include God. What about this did you want comment on, because my advice is: don't read and try to forget it ever happened or was given a bit of scholarly credence.


#3

The Jesus Seminar = reminds me of historical revisionism


#4

Au contraire, those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.


#5

Which is what it is ultimately.


#6

[quote="patrick457, post:5, topic:309609"]
Which is what it is ultimately.

[/quote]

They remind me of many a mainstream media documentary about Catholicism - filled with historical revisionism to the point of sheer recklessness.
That said, The Jesus Seminar had made themselves lose any credibility as scholars.


#7

[quote="Julia_Mae, post:2, topic:309609"]
This article is 14 years old and the "Jesus Seminar" a relic of a rather bizarre theology that didn't seem to include God. What about this did you want comment on, because my advice is: don't read and try to forget it ever happened or was given a bit of scholarly credence.

[/quote]

Note:

The Jesus Seminar activities are still strong.

A couple of years back there was a children's book on Christmas. Also a few years back, John Dominic Crossan was an interviewed expert on a television program. Being older than dirt, I remember the historical approach of noted scholar DePaul professor Crossan.

For current activities, one can check Google, for example, the Westar Institute, the home of the Jesus Seminar
westarinstitute.org/ and westarinstitute.org/Seminars/seminars.html

Here is a typical example of the current Jesus Seminar assault on the Divinity of Christ, the 2012 book, Embracing the Human Jesus: A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity.

Speaking of old, I see that Matthew Fox (designated "priest" by Google) is still around.

Since the days when people walked away from Jesus (Chapter six, Gospel of John) there is nothing new under the sun.

And -- those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.


#8

Well, you have to make a distinction between the activities of the ‘Jesus Seminar’ as a group and the individual scholars who belong to it. In this particular instance, Wright notes:

But, second, which scholars? Seventy-four names are listed in the back of the book, and there have been other members, quite influential in earlier stages of the debate, who are not explicitly mentioned here. [11: For example, Burton Mack, author of *A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1988) and other works which have had a profound impact on the work of the Jesus Seminar. Over 200 members are reported to have belonged at one stage or another; Funk and Hoover (eds.). The Five Gospels, 34.] Some of them are household names in the world of New Testament studies: Robert Funk himself, the driving force behind the entire enterprise, whose earlier work on the Greek grammar of the New Testament is universally recognized as authoritative; Dominic Crossan, whose combination of enormous erudition, subtlety of thought, and felicitous writing style have rightly ensured him widespread respect; James Robinson, whose work on the Nag Hammadi texts has placed the entire discipline in his debt; Marcus Borg, Bruce Chilton, and Walter Wink, all of whom have made distinguished and distinctive contributions to the study of Jesus in his context (and to much else besides); Ron Cameron, whose forthright and provocative writings on Thomas and related topics are rightly famous; John Kloppenborg, one of the leading specialists on the hypothetical source “Q.” In any list of contemporary North American biblical scholars, all these would find a place of honor.

But one could compile a very long list of North American New Testament scholars, including several who have written importantly about Jesus, who are not among those present, and whose work has had no visible impact on the Seminar at all. The most obvious is Ed Sanders, whose work, massive in its learning, and almost unique in its influence over the present state of scholarship worldwide, seems to have been ignored by the Seminar—except for one tiny particular, and that precisely where Sanders is at his weakest. [12: Cf. Sanders, *Jesus and Judaism, remarkably absent from the bibliography of The Five Gospels; cf. too Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus. E. P. Sanders and M. Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London: SCM; Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1989), is listed in the bibliography of The Five Gospels as “an excellent guide,” though anyone taking it seriously would be forced to reject a good deal of the Jesus Seminar’s methods and results. See below.] Another figure whose work has been totally ignored is Ben F. Meyer, who has more understanding of how ancient texts work in his little finger than many of the Jesus Seminar seem to have in their entire word-processors, and whose writing on Jesus is utterly rigorous, utterly scholarly, and utterly different in its results from anything in the volume we are considering. [13: Cf. esp. Meyer, *The Aims of Jesus; idem, Christus Faber; idem, “Jesus Christ.”] So, too, one looks in vain for members of the teaching faculties of many of the leading North American colleges and universities. There is nobody currently teaching at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke, McGill, or Stanford. Toronto is well represented; so is Claremont (not least by its graduates); several Fellows of the Seminar have doctorates from Harvard. But where is the rest of the guild—those who, for instance, flock to the “Historical Jesus” sessions of the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature? They are conspicuous by their absence.


#9

No doubt some within the Seminar would suggest that this comment is academic snobbery, but they cannot have it both ways. The Jesus Seminar is in something of a cleft stick at this point. On the one hand, the members are determined to present to the general public the findings which “scholars” have come up with. Away with secrecy, and hole-in-a-corner scholarship, they say: it is time for scholars to come out of their closets, to boldly say what no one has said before. They must, therefore, present themselves as the pundits, the ones in the know, the ones the public can trust as the reputable, even the authorized, spokespersons for the serious tradition of biblical scholarship. [14: For example, see Funk and Hoover (eds.), *The Five Gospels, 34-35, whose triumphalism is as breathtaking as it is unwarranted: “Critical scholars practice their craft by submitting their work to the judgment of peers. Untested work is not highly regarded. The scholarship represented by the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar is the kind that has come to prevail in all the great universities of the world.” Only in the most general terms is the last sentence true; the present essay is a response to the invitation of the previous sentences.] But, on the other hand, they lash out at the “elitism” of their critics within the broader academic world [15: For examples, see Funk and Hoover (eds.), *The Five Gospels, 1: the present book is “a dramatic exit from windowless studies”; 34: “we have been intimidated by promotion and tenure committees ... It is time for us to quit the library and speak up ...”; the Seminar’s methods have been attacked by “many elitist academic critics who deplored [its] public face.”]—while saying on the next page that attacks on members of the Seminar have tended to come from “those who lack academic credentials.” Sauce for the goose and sauce for the gander: either academic credentials matter, in which case the Seminar should listen to those who possess them in abundance and are deeply critical of their work, or they don’t matter, in which case the Seminar should stop priding itself on its own, over against the common herd. ‘The attitude to critics expressed in this book reminds me of John 7:49: in the Scholars Version, it reads: “As for this rabble, they are ignorant of the Law! Damn them!” It becomes apparent that the work we have here does not represent “scholars,” as simply as that; it represents some scholars, and that mostly (with some interesting exceptions) from a very narrow band among serious contemporary readers of the Gospels worldwide. [16: There is, for instance, a good deal of important work on Jesus emanating from Latin America; but one would not guess it from reading the Seminar’s publications.]

These comments about the make-up of the Seminar highlight a point which must be clearly made before we go one step further. Though this book claims, on every page, to speak for all the Fellows of the Seminar, it becomes increasingly apparent that it comes from the Seminar’s Chair, Robert W. Funk (R. W. Hoover is named as co-author, though there is no indication of which author drafted which parts). Dissentient voices are, of course, recorded in the reporting of voting patterns. But it would be a mistake to saddle all, perhaps even most, of the Fellows with the point of view, and the arguments, that we find on page after page. Only occasionally is this really acknowledged. In the bibliography, for instance, one of Marcus Borg’s books is listed, with the comment “It goes almost without saying that he didn’t vote with the majority on every issue.” [17: Funk and Hoover (eds.). The Five Gospels, 540, referring to Borg, *Jesus: A New Vision.] One suspects that that is something of an understatement. In the present essay, therefore, I am discussing the work of Funk and Hoover, not necessarily that of other Fellows; we may note, though, that the whole layout and intent of the book predisposes the reader—not least the non-academic reader, who is clearly in view—to assume that the verdicts reached are those of “scholars” in a much broader sense.


#10

[quote="Crescentinus, post:6, topic:309609"]
They remind me of many a mainstream media documentary about Catholicism - filled with historical revisionism to the point of sheer recklessness.
That said, The Jesus Seminar had made themselves lose any credibility as scholars.

[/quote]

Actually, the Jesus Seminar is on the path of historical elimination of the Divinity of Jesus Christ. The credibility of the Jesus Seminar John Dominic Crossan is still being sought. See post 7.

No matter how one slices the Jesus Seminar, John Dominic Crossan was and is a well-known, respected scholar in his field.

We need to recognize the fact that there are existing religions which consider Jesus a prophet among prophets (meaning a human only among only human prophets) What Dr. Crossan did was to provide historical support. That support, by the way, is still evident and Catholic apologists need to recognize its forms.


#11

The following section is particularly interesting, because it’s still kinda relevant even today.

A Driving Agenda

There is, thirdly, a further agenda involved at this point, which is, one may suspect, the major force which motivates the project in general and several (though by no means all) of its members. They are fundamentally antifundamentalist. Listen to these wonderfully objective, value-free, scholarly comments, taken from the book’s introduction:

[INDENT]Once the discrepancy between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith emerged from under the smothering cloud of the historic creeds, it was only a matter of time before scholars sought to disengage [the two] … It is ironic that Roman Catholic scholars are emerging from the dark ages of theological tyranny just as many Protestant scholars are reentering it as a consequence of the dictatorial tactics of the Southern Baptist Convention and other fundamentalisms. [18: Funk and Hoover (eds.). *The Five Gospels, 7-8.]

With the council of Nicea in 325, the orthodox party solidified its hold on the Christian
tradition and other wings of the Christian movment [sic] were choked off. [19: Funk and Hoover (eds.). *The Five Gospels, 35.]

There are only two positions allowed, it seems. One must either be some kind of close-minded fundamentalist, adhering to some approximation of the historic creeds of the Christian church; one notes that this lumps together Athanasius, Aquinas, Barth, Pannenberg, and Moltmann along with the TV evangelists who are among the real targets of the polemic. Or one must be non-judgmentally open to the free-for-all hurly-burly of Gnosis, Cynicism, esoteric wisdom, folklore and so on represented by various groups in the first three centuries—and to the baby-and-bathwater methodological skepticism adopted by the Seminar. [20: It is interesting to compare the Seminar’s work with the comment on the Gospels made by a leading secular historian, J. M. Roberts: “[the Gospels] need not be rejected; more more inadequate evidence about far more intractable subjects has often to be employed” (History of the Word [2nd ed., Oxford: Helicon, 1992] 210).] The strange thing is that there are several members of the Seminar itself who represent neither point of view; has the author of this introduction forgotten who some of his colleagues are? Unfortunately, as we shall see, this either-or has so dominated the landscape that a great many decisions of the Seminar simply reflect a shallow polarization which has precious little to do with the first century and, one suspects, a great deal to do with the twentieth, not least in North America. One suspects that several members of the Seminar do not actually know very many ordinary, nonfundamentalist, orthodox Christians. Would it be going too far to venture the supposition that more than one leading member of the Jesus Seminar is doing his (or her) best to exorcize the memory of a strict fundamentalist background? Unfortunately, the attempt to escape from one’s own past is not a good basis for the attempt to reconstruct someone else’s.

This question has another aspect to it which must be noted carefully. It is now endemic in North American Biblical Studies that very few practitioners have studied philosophy or theology at any depth. Such study, indeed, is sometimes regarded with suspicion, as though it might prejudice the pure, objective, neutral reading of the text. Leave aside for the moment the impossibility of such objectivity (see below). The real problem is that if one is to discuss what are essentially theological and philosophical issues, in terms both of the method required for serious study of Jesus and of the content and implications of Jesus’ proclamation, one really requires more sophistication than the Seminar, in this book at least, can offer. This will become apparent as we proceed.[/INDENT]


#12

What about the voting method?

All Cats Are Gray in the Dark

A note, next, on the color-coding of the sayings. This is clearly meant to convey a definite and precise meaning. The “ordinary reader,” browsing through The Five Gospels, picks up quite quickly that red or pink is a quite rare accolade, that black is common, and that gray, close enough (it seems) to black, also dominates at several points. The book’s cover reflects something of this balance, with a small red box on a large black background, and in the small red box the words “WHAT DID JESUS REALLY SAY?” It seems fairly clear that red denotes what Jesus said, black what he did not, and that pink
and gray are softer variants on these two.

Not so simple, however. The voting system was quite complex. [26: Described in Funk and Hoover (eds.), *The Five Gospels, 34-37.] There are two cumbersome sets of “meanings” for the four colors, and an intricate system of numberings for the votes, which were then averaged out. This means that in any given case, especially in relation to pink and gray, the color on the page does not represent what “scholars,” even the small selection of scholarly opinion represented in the Seminar, actually think. A pink vote almost certainly means that, on the one hand, a sizeable minority believed Jesus actually said these words, while a substantial minority were convinced, or nearly convinced, that he did not. Most, in fact, did not vote pink; yet that is what appears on the page. (I am reminded of the notorious fundamentalist attempts to harmonize how many times the rooster crowed when Peter denied Jesus. One of the only ways of doing it is to say that the rooster crowed, not three, but nine times. Thus a supposed doctrine of scriptural inerrancy is “preserved”—at the enormous cost of saying that what actually happened is what none of the texts record.) Thus, the Jesus Seminar could print a text in pink or gray, even though the great majority of the Seminar voted red or black. The colors, especially the two middle ones, cannot be taken as more than an averaging out of widely divergent opinion. It is perfectly possible that the color on the page, if gray or pink, is one for which nobody voted at all.

In particular, the gray sayings conceal a very interesting phenomenon. Spies on the Seminar report that in some cases the gray verdict could be seen as a victory—for those who, against the grain of the Seminar, think Jesus might well have said the words concerned. Take Luke 19:42-44 for an example. This stem warning about the coming destruction of Jerusalem fits with an “apocalyptic” strand of teaching which, in almost all other cases, the Fellows of the Seminar voted black by a substantial margin. But on this occasion a paper was given arguing that the words could indeed have been spoken by Jesus. Enough Fellows were persuaded by this to pull the vote up to gray— a quite remarkable victory for those who voted red or pink. Seen from within the Seminar, where a good number start with the assumption that virtually no sayings go back to Jesus himself, gray can thus mean “well, maybe there is a possibility after all . . .” Seen from outside, of course—in other words, from the perspective of those for whom the Seminar’s products, particularly this book, are designed—it conveys a very different message, namely “probably not.”


#13

(Continued)

Another example of this occurs in the summary account of the vote on Matt 18:3 (“If you don’t do an about-face and become like children, you will never enter Heaven’s domain”). The following is typical of literally dozens of passages:

[INDENT]The opinion was evenly divided. Some red and a large number of pink votes, in favor of authenticity, were offset by substantial gray and black votes. The result was a compromise gray designation for this version and all its parallels. [27: Funk and Hoover (eds.), *The Five Gospels, 213.]

Or again, in dealing with the Parable of the Two Sons, and the subsequent saying (Matt 21:28-3 la and 21:31b):

Fifty-eight percent of the Fellows voted red or pink for the parable, 53 percent for the saying in v. 3 1b. A substantial number of gray and black votes pulled the weighted average into the gray category. [28: Funk and Hoover (eds.). *The Five Gospels, 232.]

Without using a pocket calculator, I confess I cannot understand how, if a majority in each case thought the 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. The average reader, seeing the passage printed as gray, will conclude that “scholars” think it is probably inauthentic; whereas, even with the small company of the Seminar, the majority would clearly disagree. [29: See also Funk and Hoover (eds.). *The Five Gospels, 250, on Matt 24:32-33: 54 voted either red or pink, but a 35 black vote resulted in a gray compromise (for which, apparently, only the remaining 11 had voted).]

In evaluating the color scheme, therefore, it is important not to think that consensus has been reached. The Seminar’s voting methods and results remind one somewhat of Italian politics: with proportional representation, everybody’s votes count to some extent, but the result is serious instability. Gray and pink sayings are like the smile on a politician’s face when a deal has been struck between minority parties; the informed observer knows that the coalition is a patch-up job, which will not stand the test of time. The reader, particularly the reader outside the scholarly guild, should beware. This volume is only a snapshot of what some scholars think within one particular context and after a certain set of debates. But even the snapshot is out of focus, and the colors have been affected by the process of development. This may be fine if what one wants is an impressionistic idea of the state of play. But the Seminar promises, and claims to offer, much more than that. It claims to tell the unvarnished truth. And therein lies the sixth and final point for comment at this stage.[/INDENT]


#14

[quote="patrick457, post:1, topic:309609"]
Yes, another Tom Wright article, this time dealing with the infamous Jesus Seminar and their 'Five Gospels' approach. One advice: read.

[/quote]

If one were to take Mr. Wright's observations of the Jesus Seminar and their 'Five Gospels"
as being accurately honest, then one would have to agree with him that the search for the historical Jesus did not happen with the "infamous Jesus Seminar".

Further, one would have to agree with Mr. Wright that a scholarly middle ground understanding between the conservative, fundamentalist understanding and the gnostic, fairy tale crowd understanding of the historical Jesus is yet to be found.

A Jewish panel of Torah, Talmud and historical scholars would give us a needed perspective.

God's peace

micah


#15

[quote="mercytruth, post:14, topic:309609"]
If one were to take Mr. Wright's observations of the Jesus Seminar and their 'Five Gospels"
as being accurately honest, then one would have to agree with him that the search for the historical Jesus did not happen with the "infamous Jesus Seminar".

Further, one would have to agree with Mr. Wright that a scholarly middle ground understanding between the conservative, fundamentalist understanding and the gnostic, fairy tale crowd understanding of the historical Jesus is yet to be found.

A Jewish panel of Torah, Talmud and historical scholars would give us a needed perspective.

God's peace

micah

[/quote]

Once again, very good summary. :D

Officially, we're in the 'third phase' of the Quest for the historical Jesus, although some argue that the 'Third Quest' is by now really dead.


#16

[quote="patrick457, post:4, topic:309609"]
Au contraire, those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.

[/quote]

What a ludicrous non sequitur.


#17

[quote="patrick457, post:8, topic:309609"]
Well, you have to make a distinction between the activities of the 'Jesus Seminar' as a group and the individual scholars who belong to it. In this particular instance, Wright notes:

[/quote]

Oh for goodness' sake, Patrick, the man is a terrible writer, how are we supposed to take any opinion he has on any scholarly topic seriously?

*But one could compile a very long list of North American New Testament scholars, including several who have written importantly about Jesus, *

How does one write "importantly," Patrick? Do you wear a tuxedo and use a large quill on parchment?

who are not among those present, and whose work has had no visible impact on the Seminar at all.

No visible impact at all? Could it have had a bit of no visible impact? Can we say "redundant?"

The most obvious is Ed Sanders, whose work, massive in its learning,

Massive in its LEARNING? Seriously? Could he possibly have meant erudition? I'm pretty sure the work doesn't learn.

It's pompous, pseudo-intellectual claptrap masquerading as the erudition he has apparently never acquired.

And copy/pasting basically the whole article into the thread is not recommended as far as I know.


#18

Seriously, could we have a discussion without us spewing bile and vitriol in all directions? :wink: Don’t you worry: I hope it’s only a matter of time before I… And then you will not have any troublemaker before you.

Now to get back on-topic.


#19

Anyone who doesn't believe that Jesus is God and is the Son of God and that the Catholic Church does not contain the fullness of truth is NOT a scholar!

knowing and revealing 10 trillion unknown minor truths is worth NOTHING if one deniest know the one simple truth that is Jesus IS God!


#20

The Jesus Seminar is kind of like designing a car by averaging multiple designers' sketches of a car. When put together, it just doesn't work. N.T. Wright is a great scholar himself, and gives credence to a number of great participants (Crossan, Funk, etc.). I'm aware of a number of other Bible scholars who have made similar statements on the Seminar, including Bart Ehrman (an agnostic).

N.T. Wright is a spectacular Bible scholar. I heartily recommend any of his works, though keep in mind he speaks from the position of an Anglican bishop. I do feel as though much of his recent work on the historical Jesus (e.g., Simply Jesus, How God Became King) are converging on Catholic teaching! :)


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