Jesus Seminar

From Academic Kids

The Jesus Seminar is a controversial project led by Robert Funk at Westar Institute. The seminar's purpose is to discuss what Jesus, as a historical figure, did or did not say, or do.

The scholars attending attempt to reconstruct the life of Jesus. They try to ask - who he was, what he did, what he said, and what his sayings meant - using all the evidence and available tools. Their reconstruction is based on the triple pillar of social anthropology, history and textual analysis. They use cross-cultural anthropological studies to set the general background; narrow in on the history and society of first century Judaea; and use textual analysis (along with more anthropology and history) to focus on Jesus himself. They use a combination of primary sources (original texts, but with archaeological evidence) and secondary sources (anthropological and historical studies).

Their methodology, which was developed by John Dominic Crossan, involves using first stratum sources (those dateable to 30-70 CE) and only considering events and sayings with multiple independent attestations. They do not make claims about the validity of their methodology or the certainty of the resulting conclusions.



Attendees of the seminar vote about the accuracy of the events/statement using a bead system. The character of their vote was indicated by the colour of bead they voted with.

  • Red beads - indicated the voter believed Jesus did say the passage quoted, or something very much like the passage.
  • Pink beads - indicated the voter believed Jesus might have said something like the passage.
  • Grey beads - indicated the voter believed Jesus did not say the passage, but that the passage states Jesus' ideas.
  • Black beads - indicated the voter believed Jesus did not say the passage at all.

The first findings of the Jesus Seminar were published in 1993 as The Five Gospels : What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (ISBN 006063040X).

Criticism of the Jesus Seminar

Many scholars have questioned the methodology, assumptions and intent of the seminar.

Dale Allison of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary,in his 1999 book Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (ISBN 0800631447), cited what he felt were problems with the work of (particularly) Crossan, Funk and Marcus Borg, arguing that their conclusions were at least in part pre-determined by their personal political views and 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.

Luke Timothy Johnson of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, in his 1996 book The Real Jesus (ISBN 0060641665) 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. Johnson argued that while many members of the seminar are reputable scholars (Borg, Crossan, Funk, others), others are relatively unknown and undistinguished. He also critiqued the seminar for their attempts to gain the attention of the media.

Other well known scholars who have expressed concerns with the work of the Jesus Seminar are Richard Hays ("The Corrected Jesus" in First Things 43, May 1994), Ben Witherington (The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth ISBN 0830815449), N.T. Wright (Jesus and the Victory of God ISBN 0800626826), William Lane Craig (Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan ISBN 0801021758) and Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, Edwin Yamauchi, et. al. (Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus ISBN 0310211395).

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 (ISBN 094434478X) by Robert J. Miller, a member of the Seminar; The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate (ISBN 0944344895), a dialogue with Allison, Borg, Crossan, and others; The Jesus Controversy: Perspectives in Conflict (ISBN 156338289X), a dialogue with Crossan and Johnson, among others; and The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (ISBN 0060608765), by Borg and Wright.

See also

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