Monday, August 27, 2007

How the Jesus Seminar Works

One of my favorite columnists over at R&S forums for UPI wrote a wonderful, concise explanation of the Jesus Seminar and how it works. If you have only a vague familiarity with it (or believe that the members are the spawn of Satan), I commend the reading of it to you.

18 Percent Jesus, Richard Hooper


carrie said...

I understand (mainly from you ;-)) how the Jesus Seminar worked. I simply disagree with some of their a priori assumptions. I found Scot McKnight's treatment of the Historical Jesus on his blog, Jesus Creed, to be most helpful.

julieunplugged said...

Oh yeah, I know many people disagree. :)

Lauren said...

Unfortunately, the author of this piece, though an "associate member" doesn't quite understand how the data are to be interpreted. The JS used fairly well known criteria of authenticity (though inconsistently) which in the nature of the case cannot disprove authenticity but can only serve to affirm it. Thus, the claim of an 18% Jesus is altogether misleading. My sense from reading the piece is that the author is not especially up to speed on gospel criticism (or he is deliberately misleading, but I think it is more a case of innocent ignorance). Sadly, though, this sort of claim is one of those almost "urban legends" that becomes true in the retelling.

julieunplugged said...

Lauren, what is your status with the Jesus Seminar?

I've studied with a JS fellow for four years and what he would say is that the 18% Jesus is what they could affirm as authentic (in their collective, voted upon opinion). How is that different than what you think Hooper is saying?

Have you participated in the Seminar?

Lauren said...

I would agree with the way your JS fellow teacher articulates the results of the JS. (I also studied with a JS seminar fellow in grad school.) But my reading of Hooper's article is justified by his concluding comments, I think.

As to the vote on Jesus' authentic words, it was not good news for biblical literalists: The Jesus Seminar determined through its long and arduous process that only 18 percent of all the sayings attributed to Jesus in the canonical Gospels actually originated with him. Eighteen percent! If you are very nice to me, some day I might just reveal who the 18 percent Jesus was.

The summary lacks any nuance, to say the least. The words "long and arduous" suggest a methodological rigor which many would dispute. And his use of the 18 percent figure seems to misunderstand the point that your teacher is making.

Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

I followed the Jesus Seminar and the writings of some of it's members like Crossan and Borg for a number of years and came to the conclusion that there is a significant amount of mis-information regarding the Seminar's methodology and what they actually do, which I believe is an effort to marginalize their efforts. I obviously don't have time to explain here but do recommend three books for anyone interested in looking into the matter. For historical context I would recommend Robert Funk, the founders book, Honest to Jesus....For a detailed description and response regarding the various controversies regarding the Jesus Seminar and their work I would recommend The Jesus Seminar and its Critics: Robert Miller....and...For a historical context of the ongoing search of the historical Jesus I would recommend, The Historical Jesus Quest: Landmarks in the Search for the Jesus of History, Editor Gregory Dawes

Elleann said...

This article helped me understand how the JS worked, too, so thanks for the link, Julie. :-)

Random thought: if today's highly educated and deeply sincere scholars and church leaders are in such disagreement over the findings of the JS, I wonder what it was like back in the day when the scholars, church leaders and whoever else was involved got together to decide which of the multiple gospels, books, letters and other writings doing the rounds should be combined to create God's Official Holy Inerrant Word ... ie the Bible that many of us grew up accepting unquestioningly as true!

Steve said...


Shameless plug for a book I have not yet read, but trust the author completely, he stood up for me at my wedding: