The Jesus Seminar


I've noticed something very common that takes place when individuals like Marcus Borg or Dominic Crossan are brought up in online discussions. It seems that very often someone will respond, not by referring to either of those individuals as independent scholars and theologians in their own right, but rather by making sweeping statements about the Jesus Seminar, as if somehow the Jesus Seminar were a homogeneous school of thought, of which the likes of Borg and Crossan were merely a pair of interchangeable representatives.

I think that this mischaracterizes the Jesus Seminar, and it also reduces the individuals who participate in it to stereotypes rather than independent thinkers in their own right. The people who happen to participate in the Jesus Seminar don't all agree with one another--for one thing, if they did, all those notorious votes that they take on the authenticity of Biblical passages would have unanimous outcomes. And when Marcus Borg writes a book, it is clear that he generally isn't doing so specifically as a representative of the Jesus Seminar, but rather as a representative of himself.

Whenever someone responds to what Borg or Crossan has to say on a topic with one of those, "Oh, those Jesus Seminar folk," it is really a way of pigeonholing them while avoiding the points that either of these authors raises. If someone disagrees with Borg or Crossan, it is frustrating when he or she doesn't address what those authors have to say on their own terms.


jon zebedee said...

very well said. these guys have given me language for ideas i have been unable to express. cheers.

OneSmallStep said...

This is excellent timing, because I've noticed it as well. I was involved in a discussion on another blog, on the nature of "Sheol" in the Tanakh, and how it related to the Christian concept of hell. It was pointed out that a place of torment coincided with the introduction of Greek thought, so I pointed out that it would be difficult to say that the Greek thought "contexualized" Sheol as a place of torment.

I was told I was making an assumption like the Jesus Seminar, which makes academics cringe. Isn't that then dismissing any valid points I might raise?

OneSmallStep said...

Gah. Sorry, wasn't done.

If you look at Marcus Borg or John Dominic Cross, they clearly do a great deal of research into their positions, and don't just say something based on assumptions. They try very hard to tie their ideas back to a historical Jesus. So to speak of the Jesus Seminar in a condescending way really belittles their scholarship.

Mystical Seeker said...

Jon, Thanks for visiting my blog.

One Small Step,

I agree with you on all counts. It is absolutely a shorthand way of dismissing anything you have to say. That is why it I find it so objectionable. It is an example of the logical fallacy of "poisoning the well".

Jan said...

By hearing Borg and Crossan in person and in "Living the Questions" dvd's, I found new respect for the Jesus Seminar. Sure, they're a group of different theologians, but they were sincere in their task. I am grateful that Borg and Crossan have brought some of their ideas more into popular thought and awareness.

Mystical Seeker said...

Jan, I agree with you on the "Living the Questions" DVDs. Both Crossan and Borg come across on the DVDs as erudite, funny, and intelligent.

JP said...

I have nothing to add because you guys and girls are talking about those darn Jesus Seminar folks!!

Mystical Seeker said...