Jesus Seminar Criteria


  First, I never said anyone in the Jesus Seminar was stupid.  I might
accuse the founders of it of extreme arrogance for pretending to have
the clarvoyance 1900 years after the fact to discern which individual
words in documents which seem to imply they are meanto to be taken
as history are "authentic" in the absence of anything to compare them
to from that period that has a real claim to be from the same
source.  I think the use of these criteria relae more to one's
presuppositions about the nature of the Gospels than actual
historical research.  Futhermore, a comparison to the authorship
of Shakespeare's plays in not an appropriate analogy because that
relates to whole bodies of literature.  Here we are talking more about
something along the lines of analysing Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg
Address:  words 1-4 are black; 5-8 are pink; 9-10 are red; 11 is gray;
etc.  There's a world of difference between saying someone did or
did not write a document or did or did not on some occasion deliver
an oration, and nitpicking at it to find individual words or
phrases that are supposedly inauthentic and while I know this is
done to other Biblical books, I don't accept it as a valid procedure
and no, I don't think you'll find a Classics dept. doing that to
Epictetus or a German dept. doing that to Goethe, any more than
you'll find a Music dept. deciding which notes of the Brandenburg
Concerto are not from Bach.  As far as the authenticity of my
previous append. consider the "criteria" of dissimilarity
and coherence.  First, when it comes to coherence, given that 99.9% of
the email I send and receive as a computer programmer for IBM relates
to computer programming, there is clearly no place for an append
related to Jesus' original language.  That does not fit into the
tradition of the vocabulary I use or subjects I discuss at all.
The same argument, after all, is used to declare 1 Timothy or Ephesians
as inauthentic and if it's good enough for Paul, it's good enough for me!
As far as dissimilarity goes, only what is both firmly rooted in
my contemporary "culture" (here I suppose that would be NT Studies)
yet clearly "unique", but not too unique is authentic.  Well, let's see.
Other scholars, like C.F.D. Moule and I. Howard Marshall, have epxressed
the same negative view of the "criteria" that I have, though perhaps
not so baldly.  So my statements are not "unique" in any meaningful
sense and therefore fail the test of dissimilarity.  So I couldn't
have written the previous append!  The criterionof dissimilarity
is logically fallacious, created by someone who wanted to have
his cake and eat it too, but results, when rigorously applied,
by Perrin and R.H. Fuller, to name two, in throwing out the baby
with the bath water (to use two American colloquial expressions,
probably inauthentic since most of my daily conversations
figure around bit settings and pointers to data structures
in MVS and couldn't possibly include something so foreign).
Finally, based on the results of many scholars in applying and
creating their own "criteria", the picture of Jesus which emerges,
a few pages of insignificant sayings and a handful of parables,
completely fails to explain how the tradition about Jesus
came to its current form.  If Jesus said and did so little,
and what we have that is authentic is so unspectacular, why
would anyone bother recording it, let alone giving allegiance to
its supposed source at the cost of blood?  Nop.  Sorry.
The Jesus Seminar has to do better in coming up with a way for
judging the historicity of the content of the Gospels that scholars
in all disciplines where similar decisions are made, would consider
valid, instead of criteria that are contradictory (dissimilarity
by itself, let alone dissimilarity and coherence).  If Mark quoted
Jesus referring to a passage in Isaiah on CD-ROM, the dissimilarity
criterion would be meaningful, but the fact is that we don't begin to
have enough material from the first century CE to say exactly what
a Jew in Palestine might know or might not know, let alone what
tha Jew might present that is novel.  Sorry for being long-winded
but you wanted to see me prove my append was inauthentic.
I do want to emphasize, however, again, that I am not saying the
members of the Jesus Seminar are stupid.  I wouldn't even say
Rudolph Bultmann was stupid, though IMHO, he completely mangled
the NT.

Ken Litwak
IBM, San Jose, CA