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Jesus Seminar

Jesus Seminar

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The Jesus Seminar is a group of about 150 critical scholars
Biblical criticism
Biblical criticism is the scholarly "study and investigation of Biblical writings that seeks to make discerning judgments about these writings." It asks when and where a particular text originated; how, why, by whom, for whom, and in what circumstances it was produced; what influences were at work...

 and laymen
Layman
A layperson or layman is a person who is not an expert in a given field of knowledge. The term originally meant a member of the laity, i.e. a non-clergymen, but over the centuries shifted in definition....

 founded in 1985 by Robert Funk under the auspices of the Westar Institute
Westar Institute
The Westar Institute is best known as the sponsoring organization of the Jesus Seminar. A non-profit foundation founded in 1985, it is, according to its mission statement, a "research and educational institute dedicated to the advancement of religious literacy." It is considered to be one of the...

.
The seminar uses votes with colored beads to decide their collective view of the historicity of the deeds and sayings of Jesus of Nazareth
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

. They produced new translations of the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 and apocrypha
New Testament apocrypha
The New Testament apocrypha are a number of writings by early Christians that claim to be accounts of Jesus and his teachings, the nature of God, or the teachings of his apostles and of their lives. These writings often have links with books regarded as "canonical"...

 to use as textual sources. They published their results in three reports: The Five Gospels (1993), The Acts of Jesus (1998), and The Gospel of Jesus (1999). They also run a series of lectures and workshops in various U.S. cities.

The seminar's reconstruction of the historical Jesus
Historical Jesus
The term historical Jesus refers to scholarly reconstructions of the 1st-century figure Jesus of Nazareth. These reconstructions are based upon historical methods including critical analysis of gospel texts as the primary source for his biography, along with consideration of the historical and...

 portrays him as an itinerant
Itinerant
An itinerant is a person who travels from place to place with no fixed home. The term comes from the late 16th century: from late Latin itinerant , from the verb itinerari, from Latin iter, itiner ....

 Hellenistic Jewish sage and faith healer
Faith healing
Faith healing is healing through spiritual means. The healing of a person is brought about by religious faith through prayer and/or rituals that, according to adherents, stimulate a divine presence and power toward correcting disease and disability. Belief in divine intervention in illness or...

 who preached a gospel of liberation from injustice
Injustice
Injustice is the lack of or opposition to justice, either in reference to a particular event or act, or as a larger status quo. The term generally refers to misuse, abuse, neglect, or malfeasance that is uncorrected or else sanctioned by a legal system. Misuse and abuse with regard to a particular...

 in startling parable
Parable
A parable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive principles, or lessons, or a normative principle. It differs from a fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as characters, while parables generally feature human...

s and aphorism
Aphorism
An aphorism is an original thought, spoken or written in a laconic and memorable form.The term was first used in the Aphorisms of Hippocrates...

s. 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
Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven is a foundational concept in the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.The term "Kingdom of God" is found in all four canonical gospels and in the Pauline epistles...

") as being already present but unseen; he depicts God as a loving
Love of God
Love of God are central notions in monotheistic and polytheistic religions, and are important in one's personal relationship with God and one's conception of God ....

 father
God the Father
God the Father is a gendered title given to God in many monotheistic religions, particularly patriarchal, Abrahamic ones. In Judaism, God is called Father because he is the creator, life-giver, law-giver, and protector...

; he fraternizes with outsiders and criticizes insider
Insider
An insider is a member of any group of people of limited number and generally restricted access. The term is used in the context of secret, privileged, hidden or otherwise esoteric information or knowledge: an insider is a "member of the gang" and as such knows things only people in the gang...

s. According to the seminar, Jesus was a mortal man born of two human parents, who did not perform nature miracles nor die as a substitute for sinners nor rise bodily from the dead. Sightings of a risen Jesus were nothing more than the visionary experiences
Vision hypothesis
The vision hypothesis is a term used to cover a range of theories that question the physical resurrection of Jesus, and suggest that sightings of a risen Jesus were visionary experiences. As the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus is a cornerstone of Christian belief, the vision hypothesis is...

 of some of his disciples rather than physical encounters.

The seminar treats the canonical gospels as historical sources that represent Jesus' actual words and deeds as well as elaborations of the early Christian
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

 community and of the gospel authors
Four Evangelists
In Christian tradition the Four Evangelists are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the authors attributed with the creation of the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament that bear the following titles:*Gospel according to Matthew*Gospel according to Mark...

. The fellows placed the burden of proof on those who advocate any passage's historicity. Unconcerned with canonical
Biblical canon
A biblical canon, or canon of scripture, is a list of books considered to be authoritative as scripture by a particular religious community. The term itself was first coined by Christians, but the idea is found in Jewish sources. The internal wording of the text can also be specified, for example...

 boundaries, they asserted that the Gospel of Thomas
Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel According to Thomas, commonly shortened to the Gospel of Thomas, is a well preserved early Christian, non-canonical sayings-gospel discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945, in one of a group of books known as the Nag Hammadi library...

 may have more authentic material than the Gospel of John
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

.

The seminar holds a number of premises or "scholarly wisdom" about Jesus when critically approaching the gospels. They act on the premise that Jesus did not hold an apocalyptic
Apocalypticism
Apocalypticism is the religious belief that there will be an apocalypse, a term which originally referred to a revelation of God's will, but now usually refers to belief that the world will come to an end time very soon, even within one's own lifetime...

 worldview, an opinion that is controversial in mainstream scholarly studies of Jesus.http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/jesus/epsanders.html Rather than revealing an apocalyptic eschatology
Eschatology
Eschatology is a part of theology, philosophy, and futurology concerned with what are believed to be the final events in history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world or the World to Come...

, which instructs his disciples
Disciple (Christianity)
In Christianity, the disciples were the students of Jesus during his ministry. While Jesus attracted a large following, the term disciple is commonly used to refer specifically to "the Twelve", an inner circle of men whose number perhaps represented the twelve tribes of Israel...

 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 of God's children to repair the world
Tikkun olam
Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase that means "repairing the world." In Judaism, the concept of tikkun olam originated in the early rabbinic period...

.

The method and conclusions of the Jesus Seminar have come under harsh criticism by biblical scholars, historians and clergy for a variety of reasons. It is the assertion of such critics that the Fellows of the seminar are not all trained scholars, that their voting technique doesn't allow for nuance, that they are preoccupied with Q
Q source
The Q source is a hypothetical written source for the Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Luke. Q is defined as the "common" material found in Matthew and Luke but not in the Gospel of Mark...

and the Gospel of Thomas but omit material in other sources such as the Gospel of the Hebrews
Gospel of the Hebrews
The Gospel of the Hebrews , commonly shortened from the Gospel according to the Hebrews or simply called the Hebrew Gospel, is a hypothesised lost gospel preserved in fragments within the writings of the Church Fathers....

, and that they rely excessively on the criterion of embarrassment
Criterion of embarrassment
The criterion of embarrassment, also known as criterion of dissimilarity, is a critical analysis of historical accounts in which accounts embarrassing to the author are presumed to be true because the author would have no reason to invent an embarrassing account about himself...

.

Use of historical methods


The scholars attending attempt to reconstruct the life of the historical Jesus
Quest for the Historical Jesus
The quest for the historical Jesus is the attempt to use historical rather than religious methods to construct a verifiable biography of Jesus. As originally defined by Albert Schweitzer, the quest began in the 18th century with Hermann Samuel Reimarus, up to William Wrede in the 19th century...

. They try to ask who he was, what he did, what he said, and what his sayings meant, using a number of tools. Their reconstruction is based on social anthropology
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

, history
Historical method
Historical method comprises the techniques and guidelines by which historians use primary sources and other evidence to research and then to write histories in the form of accounts of the past. The question of the nature, and even the possibility, of a sound historical method is raised in the...

 and textual analysis. The key feature is the rejection of apocalyptic eschatology
Eschatology
Eschatology is a part of theology, philosophy, and futurology concerned with what are believed to be the final events in history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world or the World to Come...

. They use cross-cultural anthropological studies to set the general background, narrow in on the history and society
Society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 of first-century Palestine
Iudaea Province
Judaea or Iudaea are terms used by historians to refer to the Roman province that extended over parts of the former regions of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms of Israel...

, and use textual analysis (along with more anthropology and history) to focus on Jesus himself. They use a combination of primary sources, secondary sources, and archaeological evidence. Their methodology
Methodology
Methodology is generally a guideline for solving a problem, with specificcomponents such as phases, tasks, methods, techniques and tools . It can be defined also as follows:...

, which was developed by a team of scholars (who expounded papers for the review of other Fellows and published many in Forum) and is explained in The Five Gospels (the four canonical gospels plus the Gospel of Thomas
Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel According to Thomas, commonly shortened to the Gospel of Thomas, is a well preserved early Christian, non-canonical sayings-gospel discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945, in one of a group of books known as the Nag Hammadi library...

), involves canvassing the records of the first four centuries for traditions about Jesus and sifting them by criteria such as multiple attestation
Criterion of multiple attestation
The criterion of multiple attestation or independent attestation is a tool used by Biblical scholars to help determine whether certain actions or sayings by Jesus in the New Testament are from Historical Jesus. Simply put, the more independent witnesses that report an event or saying, the better...

, distinctiveness, and orality.

"Seven pillars of scholarly wisdom"


The Five Gospels lists seven bases for the modern critical scholarship of Jesus. These "pillars" have developed since the end of the 18th century.
  1. Distinguishing between the historical Jesus
    Historical Jesus
    The term historical Jesus refers to scholarly reconstructions of the 1st-century figure Jesus of Nazareth. These reconstructions are based upon historical methods including critical analysis of gospel texts as the primary source for his biography, along with consideration of the historical and...

     and the stories that the gospels tell about him. Hermann Samuel Reimarus
    Hermann Samuel Reimarus
    Hermann Samuel Reimarus , was a German philosopher and writer of the Enlightenment who is remembered for his Deism, the doctrine that human reason can arrive at a knowledge of God and ethics from a study of nature and our own internal reality, thus eliminating the need for religions based on...

     (1694–1768) started the historical Jesus project and David Friedrich Strauss established it as part of biblical criticism with his book Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1835).
  2. Distinguishing between the Synoptics
    Synoptic Gospels
    The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and sometimes exactly the same wording. This degree of parallelism in content, narrative arrangement, language, and sentence structures can only be...

     and John
    Gospel of John
    The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

    . Since the 1800s, Bible scholars have distinguished between the Jesus of the Synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) and the Jesus in John, generally favoring the synoptics as more historical and John as more spiritual.
  3. Identifying Mark as the first gospel
    Markan priority
    Markan priority is the hypothesis that the Gospel of Mark was the first written of the three Synoptic Gospels, and that the two other synoptic evangelists, Matthew and Luke, used Mark's Gospel as one of their sources. The theory of Markan priority is today accepted by the majority of New Testament...

    . By 1900, critical scholars had largely concluded that Mark came before Matthew and Luke and served as a source for each.
  4. Identifying the hypothetical Q document
    Two-source hypothesis
    The Two-Source Hypothesis is an explanation for the synoptic problem, the pattern of similarities and differences between the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It posits that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke were based on the Gospel of Mark and a lost, hypothetical sayings...

    . By 1900, scholars had hypothesized this lost collection of Jesus' sayings, thought to be the source of material found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark.
  5. Questioning eschatological (apocalyptic) Jesus. In 1906, Albert Schweitzer
    Albert Schweitzer
    Albert Schweitzer OM was a German theologian, organist, philosopher, physician, and medical missionary. He was born in Kaysersberg in the province of Alsace-Lorraine, at that time part of the German Empire...

     portrayed Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet, and this analysis virtually put an end to historical inquiry into Jesus. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, critical historians returned to the topic of historical Jesus. Some of these scholars identified the apocalyptic imagery in the gospels as originating with John the Baptist
    John the Baptist
    John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

    , and not authentic to Jesus.
  6. Distinguishing between oral and print cultures. Since Jesus lived and preached in an oral culture, scholars expect that short, memorable stories or phrases are more likely to be historical.
  7. Reversing the burden of proof. In his day, Strauss had to offer evidence to question the historicity of any part of the gospels because his audience assumed that the gospels were historical. Today, the assumption is nearly the opposite, with the gospels understood to be so thoroughly embellished that one needs evidence to suppose that anything in them is historical.

Noneschatological Jesus


While some of these pillars are noncontroversial, some scholars of the historical Jesus follow Albert Schweitzer
Albert Schweitzer
Albert Schweitzer OM was a German theologian, organist, philosopher, physician, and medical missionary. He was born in Kaysersberg in the province of Alsace-Lorraine, at that time part of the German Empire...

 in regarding him as apocalyptic. The Five Gospels says that the non-apocalyptic view gained ground in the 1970s and 1980s when research into Jesus shifted out of religious environments and into secular academia. Marcus Borg
Marcus Borg
Marcus J. Borg is an American Biblical scholar and author. He is a fellow of the Jesus Seminar, holds a DPhil degree from Oxford University and is Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture, an endowed chair, at Oregon State University, from which he retired in 2007...

 says "the old consensus that Jesus was an eschatological prophet who proclaimed the imminent end of the world has disappeared," and identifies two reasons for this change. First, since the 1960s, the gospel references to the coming Son of Man
Son of man
The phrase son of man is a primarily Semitic idiom that originated in Ancient Mesopotamia, used to denote humanity or self. The phrase is also used in Judaism and Christianity. The phrase used in the Greek, translated as Son of man is ὁ υἱὸς τοὺ ἀνθρώπου...

 have been sometimes viewed as insertions by the early Christian community. Second, many scholars came to see Jesus' kingdom of God
Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven is a foundational concept in the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.The term "Kingdom of God" is found in all four canonical gospels and in the Pauline epistles...

 as a present reality, a "realized eschatology
Realized eschatology
Realized eschatology is a Christian eschatological theory popularized by C. H. Dodd that holds that the eschatological passages in the New Testament do not refer to the future, but instead refer to the ministry of Jesus and his lasting legacy...

", rather than an imminent end of the world (Luke 17:20-21). The apocalyptic elements attributed to Jesus, according to The Five Gospels, come from John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

 and the early Christian community (p. 4). While the noneschatological Jesus is a significant trend in contemporary research into historical Jesus, most scholars affirm the traditional view that Jesus prophesied the imminent end of the world.

The scholars translation


The Seminar began by translating the gospels into modern American English
American English
American English is a set of dialects of the English language used mostly in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of the world's native speakers of English live in the United States....

, producing what they call the "Scholars Version," first published in The Complete Gospels. This translation uses current colloquialisms and contemporary phrasing in an effort to provide a contemporary sense of the gospel authors' styles, if not their literal words. The goal was to let the reader hear the message as a first-century listener might have. The translators avoided other translations' archaic, literal translation of the text, or a superficial update of it. For example, they translate "woe to you" as "damn you". The authors of The Complete Gospels argue that some other gospel translations have attempted to unify the language of the gospels, while they themselves have tried to preserve each author's distinct voice.

Seminar proceedings


The Fellows used a "bead system" to vote on the authenticity of about 500 statements and events. The color of the bead represented how sure the Fellow was that a saying or act was or was not authentic.
  • Red beads – indicated the voter believed Jesus
    Jesus
    Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

     did say the passage quoted, or something very much like the passage. (3 Points)
  • Pink beads – indicated the voter believed Jesus probably said something like the passage. (2 Points)
  • Grey beads – indicated the voter believed Jesus did not say the passage, but it contains Jesus' ideas. (1 Point)
  • Black beads – indicated the voter believed Jesus did not say the passage—it comes from later admirers or a different tradition. (0 Points)


The consensus position was determined by the average weighted score, rather than by simple majority. This meant that all opinions were reflected in the decisions. The voting system means that the reader can second-guess each vote. The Five Gospels defines not only the result of the vote (red, pink, gray, or black) but also how many polls were necessary to reach a conclusion (if any were necessary at all) and why various fellows chose to vote in different ways.

Attendees, however, did more than vote. They met semi-annually to debate the papers presented. Some verses required extensive debate and repeated votes.

Sayings of Jesus


The first findings of the Jesus Seminar were published in 1993 as The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus.

Criteria for authenticity


Like other scholars of the historical Jesus, the Jesus Seminar treats the gospels as fallible historical artifacts, containing both authentic and inauthentic material. Like their colleagues, the fellows used several criteria for determining whether a particular saying or story is authentic, including the criteria of multiple attestation and embarrassment
Criterion of embarrassment
The criterion of embarrassment, also known as criterion of dissimilarity, is a critical analysis of historical accounts in which accounts embarrassing to the author are presumed to be true because the author would have no reason to invent an embarrassing account about himself...

. Among additional criteria used by the fellows are the following:
  • Orality: According to current estimates, the gospels weren't written until decades after Jesus' death. Parables, aphorisms, and stories were passed down orally (30 - 50 CE). The fellows judged whether a saying was a short, catchy pericope
    Pericope
    A pericope in rhetoric is a set of verses that forms one coherent unit or thought, thus forming a short passage suitable for public reading from a text, now usually of sacred scripture....

     that could possibly survive intact from the speaker's death until decades later when it was first written down. If so, it's more likely to be authentic. For example, "turn the other cheek".

  • Irony: Based on several important narrative parables (such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan
    Parable of the Good Samaritan
    The parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable told by Jesus and is mentioned in only one of the Canonical gospels. According to the Gospel of Luke a traveller is beaten, robbed, and left half dead along the road. First a priest and then a Levite come by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a...

    ), the fellows decided that irony, reversal, and frustration of expectations were characteristic of Jesus' style. Does a pericope present opposites or impossibilities? If it does, it's more likely to be authentic. For example, "love your enemies".

  • Trust in God: A long discourse attested in three gospels has Jesus telling his listeners not to fret but to trust in the Father. Fellows looked for this theme in other sayings they deemed authentic. For example, "Ask – it'll be given to you".

Criteria for inauthenticity


The seminar looked for several characteristics that, in their judgment, identified a saying as inauthentic, including self-reference, leadership issues, and apocalyptic themes.
  • Self-reference: Does the text have Jesus referring to himself? For example, "I am the way, and I am the truth, and I am life" .

  • Framing Material: Are the verses used to introduce, explain, or frame other material, which might itself be authentic? For example, in Luke, the "red" parable of the good samaritan is framed by scenes about Jesus telling the parable, and the seminar deemed Jesus' framing words in these scenes to be "black".

  • Community Issues: Do the verses refer to the concerns of the early Christian community, such as instructions for missionaries or issues of leadership? For example, Peter as "the rock" on which Jesus builds his church .

  • Theological Agenda: Do the verses support an opinion or outlook that is unique to the gospel, possibly indicating redactor bias
    Redaction criticism
    Redaction criticism, also called Redaktionsgeschichte, Kompositionsgeschichte, or Redaktionstheologie, is a critical method for the study of Bible texts. Redaction criticism regards the author of the text as editor of his or her source material...

    ? For example, the prophecy of the sheep and the goats
    The Sheep and the Goats
    The Sheep and the Goats or "The Judgment of the Nations" was a discourse of Jesus recorded in the New Testament. It is sometimes characterized as a parable, although unlike most parables it does not purport to relate a story of events happening to other characters.One explanation is that it tells...

      was voted black because the fellows saw it as representing Matthew's agenda of speaking out against unworthy members of the Christian community.

Authentic sayings, as determined by the seminar


The Red sayings (with % indicating the weighted average of those in agreement), given in the Seminar's own "Scholar's Version" translation, are:
1. Turn the other cheek (92%): Mt
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

 5:39, Lk
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels. This synoptic gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It details his story from the events of his birth to his Ascension.The...

6:29a
2. Coat & shirt: Mt5:40 (92%), Lk6:29b (90%)
3. Blessed are the poor
Beatitudes
In Christianity, the Beatitudes are a set of teachings by Jesus that appear in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The term Beatitude comes from the Latin adjective beatus which means happy, fortunate, or blissful....

: Lk6:20b (91%), Th
Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel According to Thomas, commonly shortened to the Gospel of Thomas, is a well preserved early Christian, non-canonical sayings-gospel discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945, in one of a group of books known as the Nag Hammadi library...

54 (90%), Mt5:3 (63%)
4. Second mile (90%): Mt5:41
5. Love your enemies:
Lk6:27b (84%), Mt5:44b (77%), Lk6:32,35a (56%) (compare to black rated "Pray for your enemies": POxy
Oxyrhynchus Gospels
The Oxyrhynchus Gospels are two fragmentary manuscripts , discovered among the rich finds of discarded papyri at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt...

1224 6:1a; Didache
Didache
The Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars to the late first or early 2nd century...

 1:3; Poly-Phil
Polycarp
Saint Polycarp was a 2nd century Christian bishop of Smyrna. According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him...

 12:3; and "Love one another"
The New Commandment
The New Commandment refers to the admonition given by Jesus to His Twelve Apostles at the Last Supper, as recorded in the Gospel of John :According to the Synoptic Gospels, a similar thought was expressed by Jesus two days previously when He spoke at the Temple in Jerusalem and quoted what is...

: , ,
6. Leaven
Parable of the Leaven
The Parable of the Leaven is one of the shorter parables of Jesus. It appears in two of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament. The differences between Gospels of Matthew and Luke are minor...

: Lk13:20–21 (83%), Mt13:33 (83%), Th96:1–2 (65%)
7. Render unto Caesar...
Render unto Caesar...
"Render unto Caesar…" is the beginning of a phrase attributed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels, which reads in full, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" ....

 (82%): Th100:2b–3, Mk
Gospel of Mark
The Gospel According to Mark , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Mark or simply Mark, is the second book of the New Testament. This canonical account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the three synoptic gospels. It was thought to be an epitome, which accounts for its place as the second...

12:17b, Lk20:25b, Mt22:21c (also Egerton Gospel
Egerton Gospel
The Egerton Gospel refers to a group of papyrus fragments of a codex of a previously unknown gospel, found in Egypt and sold to the British Museum in 1934; the physical fragments are now dated to the very end of the 2nd century AD, although the date of composition is less clear – perhaps 50-100 AD...

 3:1-6)
8. Give to beggars (81%): Lk6:30a, Mt5:42a, Didache1:5a
9. Good Samaritan (81%): Lk10:30–35
10. Blessed are the hungry
Beatitudes
In Christianity, the Beatitudes are a set of teachings by Jesus that appear in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The term Beatitude comes from the Latin adjective beatus which means happy, fortunate, or blissful....

: Lk6:21a (79%), Mt5:6 (59%), Th69:2 (53%)
11. Blessed are the sad
Beatitudes
In Christianity, the Beatitudes are a set of teachings by Jesus that appear in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The term Beatitude comes from the Latin adjective beatus which means happy, fortunate, or blissful....

: Lk6:21b (79%), Mt5:4 (73%)
12. Shrewd manager
The Unjust Steward
The Parable of the Unjust Steward is a parable of Jesus which appears in only one of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament...

 (77%): Lk16:1–8a
13. Vineyard laborers
Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard is a parable of Jesus which appears in only one of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament....

 (77%): Mt20:1–15
14. Abba, Father (77%): Mt6:9b, Lk11:2c
15. The Mustard Seed
The Mustard Seed
The Mustard Seed can refer to:* The Parable of the Mustard Seed, a parable told by Jesus* The Buddhist parable about Kisa Gotami and mustard seeds...

 : Th20:2–4 (76%), Mk4:30–32 (74%), Lk13:18–19 (69%), Mt13:31–32 (67%)

Some 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
Parable of the Lost Coin
The Parable of the Lost Coin is one of the parables of Jesus. It appears in only one of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament. According to Luke , a woman searches for a lost coin...

 (75%): Lk15:8–9
18. Foxes have dens: Lk9:58 (74%), Mt8:20 (74%), Th86 (67%)
19. No respect at home
Rejection of Jesus
The Canonical Gospels of the New Testament include some accounts of the rejection of Jesus in the course of his ministry. Judaism's view of Jesus, Jesus in Islam, and the view of the Historical Jesus all differ from Christian views of Jesus.-Hometown rejection:...

: Th31:1 (74%), Lk4:24(71%), Jn
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

4:44 (67%), Mt13:57 (60%), Mk6:4 (58%)
20. Friend at midnight
The Friend at Night
The Parable of the Friend at Night , is a parable of Jesus, which appears in only one of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament. According to the Luke , a friend eventually agrees to help his neighbor due to his persistent demands.This parable demonstrates the need to pray and never give up...

 (72%): Lk11:5–8
21. Two masters : Lk16:13a, Mt6:24a (72%); Th47:2 (65%)
22. Treasure
Parable of the Hidden Treasure
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure is a well known parable of Jesus, which appears in only one of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament. According to Matthew the parable illustrates the great value of the Kingdom of Heaven. It immediately precedes the Parable of the Pearl, which has a...

: Mt13:44 (71%), Th109 (54%)
23. Lost sheep
Parable of the Lost Sheep
The Parable of the Lost Sheep is one of the parables of Jesus. It appears in two of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament, as well as in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas....

: 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
The Unjust Judge
The Parable of the Unjust Judge , is one of the parables of Jesus which appears in only one of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament...

 (70%): Lk18:2–5
26. Prodigal son (70%): Lk15:11–32
27. Leave the dead (see also But to bring a sword
But to bring a sword
"I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword" , part of the Lesser Commission, is one of the controversial statements reported of Jesus in the Bible. The saying has been interpreted in several ways...

, Nazirite
Nazirite
In the Hebrew Bible, a nazirite or nazarite, , refers to one who voluntarily took a vow described in . The term "nazirite" comes from the Hebrew word nazir meaning "consecrated" or "separated"...

): Mt8:22 (70%), Lk9:59–60 (69%)
28. Castration
Castration
Castration is any action, surgical, chemical, or otherwise, by which a male loses the functions of the testicles or a female loses the functions of the ovaries.-Humans:...

 for Heaven (see also Origen
Origen
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

, Antithesis of the Law) (70%): Mt19:12a
29. By their fruit (69%) (see Antinomianism
Antinomianism
Antinomianism is defined as holding that, under the gospel dispensation of grace, moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation....

): 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 John
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

 fared worse than the synoptic gospels
Synoptic Gospels
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and sometimes exactly the same wording. This degree of parallelism in content, narrative arrangement, language, and sentence structures can only be...

, with nearly all its passages attributed to Jesus being judged inauthentic. The Gospel of Thomas
Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel According to Thomas, commonly shortened to the Gospel of Thomas, is a well preserved early Christian, non-canonical sayings-gospel discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945, in one of a group of books known as the Nag Hammadi library...

 includes just two unique sayings that the seminar attributes to Jesus: the empty jar
Parable of the empty jar
The Parable of the Empty Jar , is a parable attributed to Jesus. However, it appears in none of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament but only in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas...

 (97) and the assassin
Parable of the assassin
The Parable of the Assassin , is a parable attributed to Jesus. However, it appears in none of the Canonical gospels of the New Testament but only in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas...

 (98). Every other authentic or probably authentic saying has parallels in the synoptics.

Gehenna and Hades


The gospels use the terms gehenna
Gehenna
Gehenna , Gehinnom and Yiddish Gehinnam, are terms derived from a place outside ancient Jerusalem known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom ; one of the two principal valleys surrounding the Old City.In the Hebrew Bible, the site was initially where apostate Israelites and...

 and hades
Hades in Christianity
According to various Christian faiths, Hades is "the place or state of departed spirits".-Hades in the Old Testament:In the Septuagint , the Greek term "ᾅδης" is used to translate the Hebrew term "שׁאול" in, for example,...

 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
Lazarus and Dives
The Parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a well known parable of Jesus which appears in one of the Four Gospels of the New Testament....

) 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
Beatitudes
In Christianity, the Beatitudes are a set of teachings by Jesus that appear in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The term Beatitude comes from the Latin adjective beatus which means happy, fortunate, or blissful....

, 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. To create the material for this book, they voted on the individual acts of Jesus as recorded in the gospels, much as they'd previously voted on the individual sayings attributed to him.

According to the Jesus Seminar:
  • Jesus of Nazareth was born
    Nativity of Jesus
    The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

     during the reign of Herod the Great
    Herod the Great
    Herod , also known as Herod the Great , was a Roman client king of Judea. His epithet of "the Great" is widely disputed as he is described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis." He is also known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and elsewhere, including his...

    .
  • His mother's name was Mary, and he had a human father whose name may not have been Joseph
    Saint Joseph
    Saint Joseph is a figure in the Gospels, the husband of the Virgin Mary and the earthly father of Jesus Christ ....

    .
  • Jesus was born in Nazareth
    Nazareth
    Nazareth is the largest city in the North District of Israel. Known as "the Arab capital of Israel," the population is made up predominantly of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel...

    , not in Bethlehem
    Bethlehem
    Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank of the Jordan River, near Israel and approximately south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism...

    .
  • Jesus was an itinerant sage
    Wise old man
    The wise old man is an archetype as described by Carl Jung, as well as a classic literary figure, and may be seen as a stock character...

     who shared meals with social outcasts.
  • Jesus practiced faith healing
    Faith healing
    Faith healing is healing through spiritual means. The healing of a person is brought about by religious faith through prayer and/or rituals that, according to adherents, stimulate a divine presence and power toward correcting disease and disability. Belief in divine intervention in illness or...

     without the use of ancient medicine or magic, relieving afflictions we now consider psychosomatic.
  • He did not walk on water
    Walking on water
    Jesus' walks on water, or Jesus walking on water, is one of the miracles of Jesus in the Gospels. Accounts of the miracle appear in three Gospels: Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52 and...

    , feed the multitude with loaves and fishes
    Feeding the multitude
    Feeding the multitude is the combined term used to refer to two separate miracles of Jesus in the Gospels.The First Miracle, "The Feeding of the 5,000" is the only miracle which is present in all four canonical Gospels...

    , change water into wine
    Marriage at Cana
    In Christianity, the transformation of water into wine at the Marriage at Cana or Wedding at Cana is the first miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of John....

     or raise Lazarus from the dead
    Raising of Lazarus
    The Raising of Lazarus or the Resurrection of Lazarus is one of the miracles of Jesus in the Gospels in which Jesus brings Lazarus of Bethany back to life four days after his burial....

    .
  • Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem
    Arrest of Jesus
    The arrest of Jesus is a pivotal event recorded in the Canonical gospels. The event ultimately leads, in the Gospel accounts, to Jesus' crucifixion...

     and crucified by the Romans.
  • He was executed as a public nuisance, not for claiming to be the Son of God
    Son of God
    "Son of God" is a phrase which according to most Christian denominations, Trinitarian in belief, refers to the relationship between Jesus and God, specifically as "God the Son"...

    .
  • The empty tomb
    Empty tomb
    Empty tomb most often refers to the tomb of Jesus which was found to be empty by the women who were present at Jesus’ crucifixion. They had come to his tomb to anoint his body with spices...

     is a fiction – Jesus was not raised bodily from the dead
    Resurrection of the dead
    Resurrection of the Dead is a belief found in a number of eschatologies, most commonly in Christian, Islamic, Jewish and Zoroastrian. In general, the phrase refers to a specific event in the future; multiple prophesies in the histories of these religions assert that the dead will be brought back to...

    .
  • Belief in the resurrection
    Death and Resurrection of Jesus
    The Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus states that Jesus returned to bodily life on the third day following his death by crucifixion. It is a key element of Christian faith and theology and part of the Nicene Creed: "On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures"...

     is based on the visionary experiences
    Vision hypothesis
    The vision hypothesis is a term used to cover a range of theories that question the physical resurrection of Jesus, and suggest that sightings of a risen Jesus were visionary experiences. As the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus is a cornerstone of Christian belief, the vision hypothesis is...

     of Paul, Peter and Mary Magdalene
    Mary Magdalene
    Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus' most celebrated disciples, and the most important woman disciple in the movement of Jesus. Jesus cleansed her of "seven demons", conventionally interpreted as referring to complex illnesses...

    .


The 10 authentic ("red") acts of Jesus are:
  1. The Beelzebul controversy:
  2. A voice in the wilderness
    John the Baptist
    John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

    : , , , Gospel of the Ebionites
    Gospel of the Ebionites
    Gospel of the Ebionites is the conventional name given to the description by Epiphanius of Salamis of a gospel used by the Ebionites. All that is known of the gospel text consists of seven brief quotations found in Chapter 30 of a heresiology written by Epiphanius known as the Panarion...

     1
  3. John baptizes Jesus
    Baptism of Jesus
    The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Jesus Christ's public ministry. This event is recorded in the Canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In John 1:29-33 rather than a direct narrative, the Baptist bears witness to the episode...

    : , , , Gospel of the Ebionites 4
  4. Jesus proclaims the good news
    Gospel
    A gospel is an account, often written, that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In a more general sense the term "gospel" may refer to the good news message of the New Testament. It is primarily used in reference to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...

    :
  5. Dining with sinners: , , Oxyrhynchus Gospels 1224 5:1-2
  6. Herod beheads John: , ,
  7. Crucifixion
    Crucifixion
    Crucifixion is an ancient method of painful execution in which the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead...

    : core event considered authentic but all gospel reports are "improbable or fictive" ("black")
  8. The Death of Jesus
    Death and Resurrection of Jesus
    The Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus states that Jesus returned to bodily life on the third day following his death by crucifixion. It is a key element of Christian faith and theology and part of the Nicene Creed: "On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures"...

    : core event considered authentic but all gospel reports are "improbable or fictive" ("black")
  9. The first list of appearances
    Resurrection appearances of Jesus
    The major Resurrection appearances of Jesus in the Canonical gospels are reported to have occurred after his death, burial and resurrection, but prior to his Ascension. Among these primary sources, most scholars believe First Corinthians was written first, authored by Paul of Tarsus along with...

    : Jesus appeared to Cephas:
  10. Birth of Jesus
    Nativity of Jesus
    The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

    : Jesus's parents were named Joseph and Mary: parts of and


The 19 "pink" acts ("a close approximation of what Jesus did") are:
  1. Peter's mother-in-law: , ,
  2. The leper: , , , Egerton Gospel
    Egerton Gospel
    The Egerton Gospel refers to a group of papyrus fragments of a codex of a previously unknown gospel, found in Egypt and sold to the British Museum in 1934; the physical fragments are now dated to the very end of the 2nd century AD, although the date of composition is less clear – perhaps 50-100 AD...

     2:1-4
  3. Paralytic and four: , ,
  4. Call of Levi: , , , Gospel of the Ebionites 2:4
  5. Sabbath observance: , ,
  6. Jesus' relatives come to get him:
  7. True relatives: , , Thomas 99:1-3
  8. Woman with a vaginal hemorrhage
    Mark 5
    Mark 5 is the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It relates the story of three miracles of Jesus; an exorcism, a healing, and a possible resurrection.- Healing of the Gerasene Demoniac :...

    : , ,
  9. No respect at home: ,
  10. Eating with defiled hands: ,
  11. Demand for a sign
    Typology (theology)
    Typology in Christian theology and Biblical exegesis is a doctrine or theory concerning the relationship between the Old and New Testaments...

    :
  12. The blind man of Bethsaida
    Mark 8
    Mark 8 is the eighth chapter of the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It contains two miracles of Jesus, Peter's confession that he believes Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus' first prediction of his own death and resurrection...

    :
  13. Blind Bartimaeus
    Mark 10
    Mark 10 is the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament of the Christian Bible.- Divorce :Jesus begins his trip to Jerusalem. Mark says that Jesus traveled into Judea across the Jordan river. After condemning sin just before in Mark 9 Jesus condemns divorce. He is teaching a...

    : ,
  14. Temple incident
    Jesus and the Money Changers
    The narrative of Jesus and the money changers, commonly referred to as the cleansing of the Temple, occurs in all four canonical gospels of the New Testament....

    : , ,
  15. Emperor & God
    Render unto Caesar...
    "Render unto Caesar…" is the beginning of a phrase attributed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels, which reads in full, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" ....

    : , , , Thomas 100:1-4, Egerton 3:1-6
  16. The arrest
    Arrest of Jesus
    The arrest of Jesus is a pivotal event recorded in the Canonical gospels. The event ultimately leads, in the Gospel accounts, to Jesus' crucifixion...

    : core event not accurately recorded
  17. Before the high priest
    Caiaphas
    Joseph, son of Caiaphas, Hebrew יוסף בַּר קַיָּפָא or Yosef Bar Kayafa, commonly known simply as Caiaphas in the New Testament, was the Roman-appointed Jewish high priest who is said to have organized the plot to kill Jesus...

    : core event not accurately recorded
  18. Before the Council
    Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus
    The Sanhedrin trial of Jesus refers to the Canonical Gospel accounts of the trial of Jesus before the Jewish Council, or Sanhedrin, following his arrest and prior to his trial before Pontius Pilate...

    : core event not accurately recorded
  19. Before Pilate: core event not accurately recorded


Also 1 red "summary and setting" (not a saying or action): Women companions of Jesus
Female disciples of Jesus
The New Testament identifies a number of women as followers of Jesus. The four gospels differ in the number, names, and roles of such female disciples...

: .

Criticism


The Jesus Seminar has come under criticism regarding its method, assumptions and conclusions from a wide array of scholars and laymen. Scholars who have expressed concerns with the work of the Jesus Seminar include Richard Hays
Richard B. Hays
Richard B. Hays is Dean and George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. His service as dean is for an intentional interim period while a national search is conducted. Hays received his B.A in English literature from Yale College and Master...

, Ben Witherington, Greg Boyd, N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig
William Lane Craig
William Lane Craig is an American analytic philosopher, philosophical theologian, and Christian apologist. He is known for his work on the philosophy of time and the philosophy of religion, specifically the existence of God and the defense of Christian theism...

, Luke Timothy Johnson
Luke Timothy Johnson
Luke Timothy Johnson is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Candler School of Theology and a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University...

, Craig A. Evans
Craig A. Evans
Craig Alan Evans is a biblical scholar and author.He earned his Bachelor of Arts in history and philosophy from Claremont McKenna College, a Master of Divinity from Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon, and his Master of Arts and Ph.D...

, Craig Blomberg
Craig Blomberg
Craig L. Blomberg is an American New Testament scholar. Since 1986 he has been Distinguished Professor of the New Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado.-Life:...

, Darrell Bock
Darrell Bock
Darrell L. Bock is a New Testament scholar and research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, United States...

, and Edwin Yamauchi.
The specific criticisms leveled against the Jesus Seminar are:

1. Divorcing Jesus from his cultural context and followers


The Seminar places much value on the criterion of dissimilarity. For the Seminar, a saying will only be held as authentic if it does not match the beliefs of Judaism or those held by the early Christians. Critics such as Gregory Boyd have noted that the effect of this is that the Jesus of the Seminar shows no continuity with his Jewish context nor his disciples. 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". The same criticism has been made by Craig Evans.

2. Use of a flawed voting system


The voting system has been criticized by, among others, N. T. 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.'

3. Ignoring evidence for eschatological teachings of Jesus


Dale Allison
Dale Allison
Dale C. Allison is a Christian theologian who currently serves as Errett M. Grable Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Early Christianity at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Prior to joining Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1997, Allison served on the faculties of Texas Christian University...

 of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, founded in 1794, is a graduate theological institution associated with the Presbyterian Church USA. It is located in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA and houses one of the largest theological libraries in the nation...

, in his 1999 book Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet, cited what he felt were problems with the work of (particularly) John Dominic Crossan
John Dominic Crossan
John Dominic Crossan is an Irish-American religious scholar and former Catholic priest known for co-founding the Jesus Seminar. Crossan is a major figure in the fields of biblical archaeology, anthropology and New Testament textual and higher criticism. He is also a lecturer who has appeared in...

 and Marcus Borg
Marcus Borg
Marcus J. Borg is an American Biblical scholar and author. He is a fellow of the Jesus Seminar, holds a DPhil degree from Oxford University and is Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture, an endowed chair, at Oregon State University, from which he retired in 2007...

, 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. Some scholars have reasserted Albert Schweitzer's eschatological view of Jesus.

4. Creating a Jesus based on the presuppositions of the members


Luke Timothy Johnson
Luke Timothy Johnson
Luke Timothy Johnson is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Candler School of Theology and a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University...

 of the Candler School of Theology
Candler School of Theology
Candler School of Theology, Emory University, is one of 13 seminaries of the United Methodist Church. Founded in 1914, the school was named after Warren Akin Candler, a former President and Chancellor of Emory University and a Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South...

 at Emory University
Emory University
Emory University is a private research university in metropolitan Atlanta, located in the Druid Hills section of unincorporated DeKalb County, Georgia, United States. The university was founded as Emory College in 1836 in Oxford, Georgia by a small group of Methodists and was named in honor of...

, 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."

5. Bias against canonical sources and for non-canonical sources


Craig Blomberg
Craig Blomberg
Craig L. Blomberg is an American New Testament scholar. Since 1986 he has been Distinguished Professor of the New Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado.-Life:...

 notes 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
Craig A. Evans
Craig Alan Evans is a biblical scholar and author.He earned his Bachelor of Arts in history and philosophy from Claremont McKenna College, a Master of Divinity from Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon, and his Master of Arts and Ph.D...

 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.

6. Composition of the Seminar and qualifications of the members


Luke Timothy Johnson
Luke Timothy Johnson
Luke Timothy Johnson is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Candler School of Theology and a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University...

 argued that while some 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 no Ph.D. but a M.Sc. in mathematics and physics, 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 News
ABC News
ABC News is the news gathering and broadcasting division of American broadcast television network ABC, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company...

 program "The Search for Jesus" hosted by news anchor Peter Jennings
Peter Jennings
Peter Charles Archibald Ewart Jennings, CM was a Canadian American journalist and news anchor. He was the sole anchor of ABC's World News Tonight from 1983 until his death in 2005 of complications from lung cancer...

.

Seminar critic William Lane Craig has argued that the self-selected members of the group do not represent the consensus of New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 scholars. 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.
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
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

, Claremont
Claremont Graduate University
Claremont Graduate University is a private, all-graduate research university located in Claremont, California, a city east of downtown Los Angeles...

, or Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt University
Vanderbilt University is a private research university located in Nashville, Tennessee, United States. Founded in 1873, the university is named for shipping and rail magnate "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, who provided Vanderbilt its initial $1 million endowment despite having never been to the...

: all considered to favor "liberal
Liberal Christianity
Liberal Christianity, sometimes called liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically and biblically informed religious movements and ideas within Christianity from the late 18th century and onward...

" interpretations of the New Testament.

According to Greg Boyd, a prominent evangelical
Evangelism
Evangelism refers to the practice of relaying information about a particular set of beliefs to others who do not hold those beliefs. The term is often used in reference to Christianity....

 pastor and theologian:

The Jesus Seminar represents an extremely small number of radical-fringe scholars who are on the far, far left wing of New Testament thinking. It does not represent mainstream scholarship.


Garry Wills
Garry Wills
Garry Wills is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and prolific author, journalist, and historian, specializing in American politics, American political history and ideology and the Roman Catholic Church. Classically trained at a Jesuit high school and two universities, he is proficient in Greek and Latin...

, a vocal proponent of liberal Catholicism, nonetheless strongly critiques the Seminar:
This is the new fundamentalism. It believes in the literal sense of the Bible—it just reduces to what it can take as literal quotation from Jesus. Though some have called the Jesus Seminarists radical, they are actually very conservative. They tame the real radical, Jesus, cutting him down to their own size...the sayings that meet with the Seminar's approval were preserved by the Christian communities whose contribution is discounted. Jesus as a person does not exist outside of the gospels, and the only reason he exists there is because of their authors' faith in the Resurrection. Trying to find a construct, "the historical Jesus," is not like finding diamonds in a dunghill, but like finding New York City at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

Popular critiques


In addition to scholarly critiques, a number of conservative Christian organisations were critical of the Jesus Seminar. Both the The Watchman Expositor and The Christian Arsenal identify the Jesus Seminar as yet another attempt by Satan
Satan
Satan , "the opposer", is the title of various entities, both human and divine, who challenge the faith of humans in the Hebrew Bible...

 to twist the meaning of Scripture, founded in the liberalism, modernism, and neo-orthodoxy that are current in academia and mainline seminaries.

Counter-criticism


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


Notable fellows of the Jesus Seminar include Marcus Borg
Marcus Borg
Marcus J. Borg is an American Biblical scholar and author. He is a fellow of the Jesus Seminar, holds a DPhil degree from Oxford University and is Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture, an endowed chair, at Oregon State University, from which he retired in 2007...

, John Dominic Crossan
John Dominic Crossan
John Dominic Crossan is an Irish-American religious scholar and former Catholic priest known for co-founding the Jesus Seminar. Crossan is a major figure in the fields of biblical archaeology, anthropology and New Testament textual and higher criticism. He is also a lecturer who has appeared in...

, Robert Funk, Stephen L. Harris, and Burton Mack. Borg is a liberal Christian
Liberal Christianity
Liberal Christianity, sometimes called liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically and biblically informed religious movements and ideas within Christianity from the late 18th century and onward...

 who articulates the vision hypothesis
Vision hypothesis
The vision hypothesis is a term used to cover a range of theories that question the physical resurrection of Jesus, and suggest that sightings of a risen Jesus were visionary experiences. As the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus is a cornerstone of Christian belief, the vision hypothesis is...

 to explain Jesus' resurrection. Crossan is an important voice in contemporary historical Jesus research, promoting the idea of a non-apocalyptic Jesus who preaches a sapiential eschatology. Funk was one of the most important representatives of recent American research into Jesus' parables. Harris is the author of several books on religion, including university-level textbooks. Mack describes Jesus as a Galilean Cynic, based on the elements of the Q document that he considers to be earliest.

See also


  • Jesusism
    Jesusism
    Jesuism is the personal philosophy encompassing the moral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and commitment or adherence to those teachings. Jesuism is distinct from and sometimes opposed to mainstream Christianity. In particular, the term is often contrasted with the theology attributed to Paul of...

  • Liberal Christianity
    Liberal Christianity
    Liberal Christianity, sometimes called liberal theology, is an umbrella term covering diverse, philosophically and biblically informed religious movements and ideas within Christianity from the late 18th century and onward...

  • Liberal religion
    Liberal religion
    Liberal religion is a religious tradition which embraces the theological diversity of a congregation rather than a single creed, authority, or writing...

  • Two-source hypothesis
    Two-source hypothesis
    The Two-Source Hypothesis is an explanation for the synoptic problem, the pattern of similarities and differences between the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It posits that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke were based on the Gospel of Mark and a lost, hypothetical sayings...

  • Jesus Project
    Jesus Project
    The Jesus Project, announced in December 2007, was intended as a five-year investigation to examine whether Jesus existed as an historical figure...


External links