|April 29, 2009
The Jesus Seminar under Fire — Again
Two essays have recently appeared in the News-Leader attacking the Jesus Seminar (Rev. Brian Baker 4/24/09 and Mr. David S. Awbrey 4/27/09). The essay of Rev. Baker is either uninformed or dishonest; I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his misunderstanding is due to a lack of reading. The essay of Mr. Awbrey is actually well informed reflecting more than a general acquaintance with the problems of Jesus studies. He apparently has spent considerable time studying the gospels and reading widely in the history of Jesus research. Bravo! We should have more inquisitive readers like Mr. Awbrey. But I am rather surprised at two things.
What follows addresses his original premise and his conclusion. His premise is that the Jesus Seminar has developed a figure called the “historical Jesus” to correct the canonical gospels. Sorry, but that is clearly what we have not done! The original purpose of the Jesus Seminar was to sift the early sayings of Jesus to determine which ones had the highest claim to having originated with the historical human being, Jesus of Nazareth. The results were published in The Five Gospels. What Did Jesus Say? We did not publish a “historical Jesus” to compete with the canonical gospels. The consensus of the group was that about 20% of everything attributed to Jesus most probably came from the historical figure presumed to lie behind the gospels. So the “historical Jesus” consists of discrete sayings, fragments of his idiom. Some of us later published a “profile”—sketching out individual views of the historical figure lying behind these fragments (Profiles of Jesus). In a sense that is what everyone does, even with the four gospels, since even the most naïve reader can see the differences.
Mr. Awbrey knows the canonical gospels are not consistent in their portrayals of Jesus of Nazareth, and it surprises me that he decides to “stick with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” He is less than forthcoming, however, about the extent of the disagreements. If Mark (the earliest gospel) had met up with John (the latest gospel) in a wine bar someplace in the Roman Empire, neither would have recognized the Jesus presented in the gospel of the other. Mark’s Jesus taught in parables; John’s Jesus taught in riddles. Mark’s Jesus was baptized by water and spirit; John’s Jesus only by spirit. Mark’s Jesus performed exorcisms; John’s Jesus did not. Mark’s Jesus announced the immediacy of the kingdom of God; John’s Jesus did not announce the kingdom. Mark’s Jesus celebrated Jewish Passover with his disciples before his death; John’s Jesus did not. Mark’s Jesus was crucified after the Passover; John’s Jesus was crucified before the Passover. The last intelligible utterance of Mark’s Jesus before he died was: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” The last utterance of John’s Jesus was: “It is finished.” Mr. Awbrey, how would you reconstruct the historical figure behind these two different interpretations?
Charles W. Hedrick
Posted by Charles Hedrick at 5:23pm
Charlie, I have finally been able to read it all, understand some and question some, but I note that you note, "I did not address the subject of "inspiration." I'd like for you to do that...thanks. Again, I am amazed at you!
I don’t know much about church history, Charlie, but I can’t help but wonder if the early Councils didn’t go through a process very similar to that followed by the Jesus Seminar when what we consider the Bible was assembled. There had to be hundreds of writings from which to choose. I know that most evangelicals will say they were inspired by God and so it really wasn’t the choice of men at all, but I wonder….