Bible Review 13:2, April 1997
Battling Over the Jesus Seminar

Why the Ugly Attacks?

Scholars know some sayings are inauthentic

By Robert J. Miller

The Jesus Seminar has received a good deal of attention from scholars, most of it negative. The polemical rhetoric of some of the seminar’s critics is, in all honesty, the ugliest I have ever encountered in scholarly writing.

The reason for this may have a lot to do with the fact that the seminar communicates its results to the public directly and without equivocation. The controversy this has sparked has put some other biblical scholars on the spot. A number of them have protested loudly that the approximately 50 active members of the Jesus Seminar do not speak on behalf of most New Testament scholars.

But this objection dodges a very basic question because it does not address the seminar’s fundamental views about the Gospels: that the Gospels are not historically true in all their details, that some of the words attributed to Jesus were not actually spoken by him, and that the Gospels contain historical memory from before Calvary and religious interpretation from after it—to put it bluntly, that they are a complex blend of fact and fiction. To discover the historical Jesus, the members of the seminar believe, we need a critical sifting of evidence rather than theological assurances.

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