Jesus Seminar

Re: the Jesus Seminar, I too am not a member, though a NT specialist.  I
have had frequent misgivings about the group's aims and methods, and have
occasionally exchanged impressions with those not in the group and few who
are, a few of whom are also on this list and so should respond as they
feel disposed.
	In one sense, the Jesus Seminar is simply a particular expression
of the standard historical-critical aim I share, of trying to interrogate
ancient textual witnesses carefully for modern historiographical purposes.
 In this case, the general aim of hist.crit. is to sift the Jesus
tradition to see which bits seem to have higher probability as deriving
from Jesus of Nazareth, as best we are presently able to judge such things
(and there are real limits to our abilities here).
	But it should be noted that we didn't need a Jesus Seminar
privately organized and financed and administered to pursue this aim.  It
had already been underway for a couple of hundred years, and prof.
societies such as the SBL include hundreds of scholars interested and
working away on such questions, and NT journals regularly feature articles
on this sort of question.  Why then did Westar Foundation (mysterious
group that it is) and Bob Funk et al. form the Jesus Seminar.  Well, I
received the original publicity/invitation and declined in part because I
thought it redundant and in part because I thought it a bit naive (we will
finally settle matters, was the sort of message proclaimed), and in part
because it was clear that the aims were in fact considerably more
theological and church-polemics than I thought appropriate for an academic
group.  It was then expressed, and I have been told repeatedly by Jesus
Seminar members since, that the rationale for the group and for the
scholarship-by-press-release style of the group was the need to combat
those damn fundamentalists & television evangelists etc. who were
threatening to take over the world.  (Well, some of the nervous types may
have thought that back when Reagan was elected and Moral Majority was in
the news, etc., but the fears have proven a bit paranoid.)
	That is, the motivation and justification for what distinguishes
the Jesus Seminar--getting groups of scholars toggether to make a one-time
decision and then rush out to the press with what "scholars have
decided"--is the perceived need to take headlines away from the fundies. 
Well, I think there is a place for scholars giving of their expertise to
public discourse (I do it often myself), but in the case of the Jesus
Seminar I fear that some of the precious features of academia have been
sacrificed and unwisely and unnecessarily so.  ALL academic judgments are
to be presented as in pricniple falsifiable and corrigible in the light of
further discussion/debate/evidence.  The manifestos from the Jesus Seminar
do not do this, however.  They do not say "a self-selected group meeting
on this occasion by a (perhaps small) majority vote happens to have voted
as follows". Instead, the impression given (and intended, I suggest) is
that the public should listen up because "scholars" (as a united front)
have decided something.
	And these "decisions" are released to the press without first
being sent through the normal hazing process for scholarly
judgments--refereed journals and monograph series.  In fact prominent
members of the Jesus Seminar have begun to rrelease their pet theories in
books commercially published and without the appratus of detailed
interaction with other scholars, which I have difficulty taking as
anything other than a (1) disdain for scholarly procedure and for other
scholars (2) a commercially-driven crass motive (you don't get royalties
for journals and monograph series! and it is in fact much harder to get
articles published in journals or academic books published than it is to
publish more "general reader" and sensationalized books that commercial
publishers will publish essentially because they will sell).  
	So there you have my misgivings, which are not about criteria for
judging the Jesus tradition, or anything of that nature (though I have my
own views on how best to employ criteria).  My misgivings about the Jesus
Seminar are to do with the style and motivations ofthe group (I hasten to
add importantly that the style and motivations I object to cannot and
should not be attributed to every member of the Seminar, many of whom may
well share my misgivings).
Selah!  Larry Hurtado, Religion, Univ.of Manitoba