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NEWS STORY: JESUS SEMINAR SHIFTS FOCUS: Jesus seminar changes focus, taking aim at Paul and Nicene C

c. 1996 Religion News Service SANTA ROSA, Calif. _ Having completed an ambitious and controversial decade of work on the sayings and deeds of”the historical Jesus,”the maverick scholars of the Jesus Seminar have changed course, with a plan to write their own version of the New Testament. They also plan to focus on the history […]

c. 1996 Religion News Service

SANTA ROSA, Calif. _ Having completed an ambitious and controversial decade of work on the sayings and deeds of”the historical Jesus,”the maverick scholars of the Jesus Seminar have changed course, with a plan to write their own version of the New Testament.

They also plan to focus on the history of the Apostle Paul and to scrutinize the way the early Christian church developed its statements of belief, beginning with the Nicene Creed.

That’s the upshot of the latest meeting of the Westar Institute, the Santa Rosa-based sponsor of the Jesus Seminar, whose semi-annual meeting ended here Sunday (Oct. 20).

The scholars are moving on to the next phase of their work: writing profiles of the historical Jesus, based on the findings of the past 10 years of research. In addition Westar founder Robert Funk, 70, announced that three scholars would assume some of his duties.

Funk, former president of the Society of Biblical Literature and a scholar whose career has taken him from Harvard Divinity School to Emory University and Vanderbilt University before he founded the biblical studies think tank here in 1985, announced three new associate directors who will steer Westar into the next millennium.

_ Roy Hoover, retired professor of biblical literature at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., will replace Funk as head of the Jesus Seminar.

_ Karen King, professor of religious studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles will head seminars on the Christian canon and the creeds.

_ Lane McGaughy, professor of religious and ethical studies at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., will steer seminars on the Apostle Paul and on the study of apocalyptic thought in the early church.”Transitions, as you all can appreciate, are both necessary and high-risk maneuvers,”Hoover said.

The Jesus Seminar has come under fire over the years for its work of determining the authentic sayings and acts of Jesus, principally because much of its work challenges traditional interpretations that are the bedrock of authority for most Christian churches.

The work of new Westar seminars on the New Testament canon and the Christian creeds are bound to continue that history of controversy.”The goal of the Canon Seminar is going to be to produce a new New Testament by the end of 1999,”King said.

She noted that the legitimacy of the canon has”clearly been undermined by historical criticism over the last couple of centuries.” Similarly, King said, the Creed Seminar will examine how the Christian church’s early statements of belief, known as creeds, were formed. First on the Seminar’s agenda is the Nicene Creed, a statement of belief developed at the first ecumenical council of the Christian church at Nicea in 325. In addition to studying the origin and evolution of the statement, King said, the scholars intend to”… write counter-creeds, if you will”that will consider”other possibilities that could have come into being.” King insisted Westar has no interest in creating a new religion or sect. Instead, the aim is to use scholarship to promote discussion, both inside and outside the churches, about the formation of Christianity.”The point is not to produce some new tool for authoritative worship and belief,”King said.”Instead, the idea is to (create) a more accurate portrayal or portrait of what the early church was like, something that will allow a better tool for understanding the historical Jesus (and) the formation of the early church.” Hoover said he plans a series of projects to disseminate the fruits of the Jesus Seminar to the general public.

In its first two phases, the Jesus Seminar reviewed the sayings traditionally attributed to Jesus and in 1993 produced a color-coded edition of the four canonical Gospels and the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas called”The Five Gospels.”Its second phase produced a work _ slated for publication in 1997 _ called the”Acts of Jesus,”in which the scholars attempt to discern what events in the life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels actually happened.

In the current phase, which was the subject of this weekend’s conference, Jesus Seminar members attempted to draw a profile of the historical Jesus. Results of those deliberations will be released in about two weeks, they said.

Hoover said the Jesus Seminar envisions publishing a series of short,”red-letter”paperback books on Jesus’ birth, crucifixion and resurrection, in which the authenticated events of Jesus’ life are printed in red ink. Among the events under study are healings and exorcisms; nature miracles, such as walking on water; and parables and aphorisms told by Jesus.

Besides passing the scholarly baton from the study of Jesus to the study of Paul, the creeds and the canon, the Westar scholars considered the future of the institute.

At the plenary session Friday night, Funk openly mused about whether he would”be around”in the year 1999, when Westar plans a millennial celebration and conference. He said his own health issues and waning energies required that new leaders be brought in so that Westar may continue”after I’m gone.”He also expressed a desire to finish other writing projects.”I’m ready to play the role of John the Baptist,”Funk said,”and fade into the background and let new messiahs arise to take my place.” Joked one seminar member,”Can I have your head?” Responded Funk:”It’s already been spoken for by a number of people.”

MJP END AQUINO