Re: Jesus Seminar
Just a note from a member of the Jesus Seminar about part of Larry Hurtado's
posting today (excerpt below). Though people will naturally disagree about how
and when to interact with the broader public, and esp. how to employ the popular
media in that effort, it is not quite fair to say that the publications of the
group are the result of a one-time decision then rushed into print and without
the apparatus necessary to receive informed criticism from one's peers.
Certainly there have been popularizing presentations, including via the
broadcast media (some by individuals as such, as Larry notes) but there has also
been a considerable amount of more traditional publication. The "votes"
themselves are released to the press, to be sure, but this does not mean that
appropriate scholarly vetting has not also occurred.
In fact the Westar Institute's scholarly journal FORUM (which I currently edit)
has been publishing articles since 1985 with full discussion of the arguments
for and against the historicity of particular sayings (and now deeds too)
ascribed to Jesus. Starting in vol. 6 (1990, publ. 1992) and continuing through
vol. 7,1-2 (1991, publ. 1993) all the resultant votes of the Seminar (some
reconsidered, not just "one-timers") are laid out in various categories, e.g.,
sorted by gospel, chapter and verse; sorted by weighted average (of agreed
probability of authenticty); etc.
> 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
Classical & Near Eastern Studies voicemail: 612-625-2026
University of Minnesota FAX: 612-624-4894