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Evidently the Jesus Seminar is too Religious

The Christian Post reports on a new effort to study the historical Jesus, known as the Jesus Project. Since I don’t always trust the objectivity of the Christian Post (or anyone else including myself, for that matter), I looked for additional information.

According to both that source (and others):

. . . Dr. R. Joseph Hoffmann, chair of the Project and the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, said that the “The Jesus Seminar had difficulty separating itself from the faith commitments of its members. Its agenda was not exclusively, but in large measure theologically driven. Its conclusions and methods raised more questions than they answered.”

Many people questioned whether the members of the Jesus Seminar actually had faith commitments, though I know personally that many did and do. Nonetheless, the Seminar remains a relatively radical consensus when the whole of historical Jesus scholarship is examined.

The new effort is sponsored by the Center for the Scientific Examination of Religion, a “a research division of the Center for Inquiry” [source].

Simply from the list of names, this looks pretty radical in nature, and the sponsorship is largely skeptical. I have no problem with such a project, though I think that any relatively narrow inquiry is going to, to paraphrase Dr. Hoffmann, “. . .raise more questions than it answers.”

Note the following as well:

During the closing conference round-table, Tabor was quick to emphasize that “the Jesus Project repudiates any theological agendas, special pleading, or dogmatic presuppositions.” All members of the project share a common commitment to the importance of applying scientific methodologies to the sources used to construct the Jesus tradition.

[found in both sources cited]

I personally am very skeptical of the possibility of repudiating “all theological agendas, special pleading, or dogmatic presuppositions.” In fact, the very claim generates more questions than answers in my case.

I wish any scholarly group that studies the historical Jesus well, but I’m not setting my expectations very high for this one.

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  1. Personally, I don’t understand why this is even being considered. Studying the historical Jesus and the methodologies that go along with that make sense in the context of studying Christianity as the Jesus Seminar tried to do.

    I don’t understand though, what applying scientific methodologies to the sources of tradition has to do with studying Christianity in a way that would illuminate a historical understanding of Jesus. I might misunderstand historical methodologies, but I thought it involved using the known historical evidence to build a picture of what the person might have been. Are they just saying that the Jesus Seminar’s historical evidence was flawed because it wasn’t tested by scientific methodologies? How do you even test something like an historical account of Jewish Traditions for example?

    It sounds suspicious to me.

  2. Re: the Historical Jesus I personally kinda like Sanders” The Historical Figure of Jesus & John P. Meier’s ongoing A Marginal Jew project. I do tend to be more conservative than they are. I like what N. T. Wright and Richard Baukham are saying. I like what Ben Witherington has been saying. But, I give Sanders and Meier credit for honestly attempting to give a purely historical account. (And, actually Bart Ehrman is not as radical as he pretends to be, either.) The Jesus Seminar was strongly influenced by a particular interpretive agenda — to remove the apocalyptic element from Jesus teaching & present a more Gnostic and social activist Jesus. In that regard, I think criticizing the “faith commitment of it’s members” is in order. Read Funk sometime. His goal was “a new Reformation.” While being anti-Christian-orthodoxy, they still had strong faith commitments. The Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas seemed to them more congenial to their faith commitments than the Jesus of traditional Christianity. This is also why the Jesus Seminars conclusions have not found wide acceptance.

    Tabor’s ready embrace of “The Jesus Tomb” has destroyed his credibility for me.

    Yes, Meier’s books are long. But, he’s not hard to read. He lays out his historical methodology in Volume One. It’s well worth reading.

  3. I have dialoged with members of the Center for Inquiry, and they are skeptics. A few of the ones I dialoged with are atheists in the dogmatic, Richard Dawson style. I don’t hold out much hope for this new effort.

    It will be interesting to see if they come to the conclusion that Jesus did not exist on the basis that only texts devoted to a particular religious view mention him.

  4. What’s an atheist in the Richard Dawson style? One who asks for answers by pitting teams of related theologians against each other in a rollicking Family Feud setting?

    “Name a major Christian holiday that was stolen wholesale from an earlier local pagan celebration. You said ‘Christmas.’ Survey SAID?! Show me Christmas?!”

    **Ding! Ding! Ding!**

    Don’t feel bad. I’m sure Prof. Dawkins has to deal with that all the time.

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