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5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Overview of a Most Valuable Enterprise, July 23, 2003
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This review is from: The Jesus Seminar and Its Critics (Paperback)
Dr. Miller provides a fairly detailed explanation of what the Jesus Seminar is and how it works, and then answers two of its most prominent critics, Luke Timothy Johnson and Ben Witherington. Johnson appears to be somewhere near mainstream Christian and Witherington Fundamentalist (neither is identified by denomination). Dr. Miller is Roman Catholic.

Fellowship in the Jesus Seminar is open to anyone with an accredited earned doctorate in Religion, Theology, etc. The Seminar has published numerous books, including "The Five Gospels," in which the words attributed to Jesus are printed in (in decreasing order of perceived authenticity) red, pink, grey, or black. Red means the consensus of fellows of the Seminar is that these words are authentically a close English equivalent of what Jesus actually said (in Aramaic or possibly Greek) Black means the consensus of the fellows is that these are not authentic words of Jesus, OR that they are something that most any Jew of Jesus time probably said on occasion; that is, not distinctively of Jesus. Pink and grey are lesser degrees of certainty than red, but more than black.

One common criticism of the four-color schema is that any particular saying either WAS or WASN'T said by Jesus, there can be no in-between. This is, of course, true, but there ARE varying degrees of certainty as to whether particular sayings are authentic. Pink does NOT mean that the saying is, say, 66% authentic (that is an absurdity) but that the fellows, looking at the available evidence from nearly 2000 years ago, averaged to be about 66% convinced that Jesus actually said it (or 34% convinced that the didn't).

One small change that I think would be beneficial would be to show some distinction between those words which are in black because Jesus very likely did not say them, and those which are black because most Jews of jesus' time said them on occasion. I suppose the distinction is so obvious to professional new testament scholars as not to require a difference in print, but it would be helpful to us lay persons. They could use italics for the words not distinctively of Jesus, but which he probably did say. Also, it might blunt some criticism.

In any book that criticizes another, or responds to criticism, one may wonder whether the objects of criticism or the arguments of the critic(s) are presented fairly. To be certain, one must read the work(s) in question, in this case The Real Jesus : The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels by Luke Timothy Johnson and The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth by Ben Witherington.

However, I trust Miller's integrity enough to believe that he has presented the criticisms of Johnson and Witherington honestly, not in a watered-down, easy-to-refute version.

I recommend this book highly. It is not only interesting and informative, but lucid and well-written.

watziznaym@gmail.com
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 8, 2012 7:44:12 AM PDT
trini says:
watzizname,

You say: "I trust Miller's integrity enough to believe that he has presented the criticisms of Johnson and Witherington honestly, not in a watered-down, easy-to-refute version."

May I say (I haven't read Witherington, but I have read a lot of biblical scholarship, including Luke Timothy Johnson) that "I trust Johnson's integrity, (and my own scholarship) enough to believe that Johnson has presented the criticisms of the Jesus Seminar's work honestly, not in a watered-down, easy-to-refute version".

May I comment that for the Jesus Seminar to include the Gospel of Thomas on an equal footing with the four canonical gospels is very, very, poor scholarship. The dating of Thomas does not deserve such a ranking. Furthermore, the often curious content of Thomas does not match the way that every verse of the canonical gospels is sourced in the Old Testament and reflected in the intertestamental Jewish history and literature between 200 BC and 135 AD.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 10, 2012 7:59:46 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 10, 2012 8:01:24 PM PDT
watzizname says:
@trini: Thank you for your comment. You wrote "I trust Johnson's integrity, (and my own scholarship) enough to believe that Johnson has presented the criticisms of the Jesus Seminar's work honestly, not in a watered-down, easy-to-refute version". I am not qualified to comment on your scholarship one way or the other, but I agree as to Johnson's integrity, as well as to Miller's. But one doesn't have to lack integrity to be wrong, and I would be very surprised if each is not wrong on some opinions and right on others. Where they disagree with each other, they can't both be 100% right, but from that it does NOT follow that either is dishonest or evil.

You further write: " May I comment that for the Jesus Seminar to include the Gospel of Thomas on an equal footing with the four canonical gospels is very, very, poor scholarship." Of course you may, and of course I may (and do) differ with that opinion. To accuse the Jesus Seminal with less than an excellent level of scholarship is very dubious, even bizarre. And of the "Jewish history and literature between 200 BC and 135 AD." that you cite, what possible relevance can the more than 2/3 of that period, from 200 B.C.E. to circa 30 C.E. have?
It can hardly be doubted that between 30 and 300 C.E. some people didn't like the Gospel of Thomas (else why was it lost for almost 2000 years?) But the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas are even more in character with Jesus' message than much that is found in the Synoptic Gospels, and are far more likely authentic than the words attributed to Jesus in the fourth canonical gospel (John).

So ok, maybe Thomas does not belong "on an EQUAL footing" (emphasis mine): in descending order of authenticity, the most likely ranking seems to be Thomas, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 11, 2012 10:16:02 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 14, 2012 11:55:12 AM PDT
trini says:
watzizname,

I am working with an unfamiliar computer, and away from my personal library, so I am having trouble finalizing this comment. Please bear with me if I need to come back to amend this later.

You say: "To accuse the Jesus Seminar with less than an excellent level of scholarship is very dubious, even bizarre. And of the "Jewish history and literature between 200 BC and 135 AD." that you cite, what possible relevance can the more than 2/3 of that period, from 200 B.C.E. to circa 30 C.E. have?". A quick first comment: 'To accuse the Jesus Seminar with less than an excellent level of scholarship' is the very, very common opinion of the majority of scholars, and not at all 'dubious' or 'bizarre'. See Luke T Johnson's 'The Real Jesus' for an analysis of the numbers of scholars who back the Jesus Seminar - a small minority of practising biblical scholars.

As regards my competence to assess (and disagree with) the views of the Jesus Seminar, I attach a list of many of the books which I have read (and often reviewed on amazon) which show precisely how and why it is necessary to consider
what went on in the Jewish world between 200 BC and 30 AD and then from AD 30 on to AD 135 (the final Roman destrucrtion of Jerusalem and Jewish Palestinian independence). In one word, the four canonical gospels closely reflect this world, especially as recorded in the history and the writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls community at Qumran (say 150 BC to 68 AD, exactly enclosing the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth and the birth of Christianity - and of the Church) and then the spread of the Church and the gradual split from Judaism, from 30 AD to 135 AD.

All of this predates (according to the overwhelming majority of scholars) the composition and the ideas of the Gospel of Thomas, which is not more 'authentic' than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as you so surprisingly claim in the last sentence of your last comment.

BOOKS CONCERNING CHRISTIAN ORIGINS. THEY ALL, IN SOME WAY, DISPROVE THE POSITION OF THE JESUS SEMINAR.

[[[ I point out that the titles of some of the books are deceptive. It is the subtitle which usually gives a much clearer idea of what the book is about. ]]]]]

1. Putting Jesus in His Place - the Case for the Deity of Christ, 2007, Bowman/Komoszewski,
2. Fabricating Jesus - How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospel, Evans, 2007
3. Reinventing Jesus - How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture, Komoszewski/Sawyer/Wallace, 2006
4. The Jesus Legend - A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, Eddy/Boyd, 2007
5. Did Jesus Know He Was God? (Francois Dreyfus, Franciscan Herald Press - from the French, 1989, pp. 154)
6. One God, One Lord - Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (Larry W Hurtado, SCM Press, 1988, pp. 178)
7. How On Earth Did Jesus Become a God? - Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Larry W Hurtado, Eerdmans, 2005, pp. 234
8. The Real Jesus - The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (Luke Timothy Johnson, HarperCollins 1997, pp. 182) excellent
9. An Introduction to the New Testament (Raymond E Brown, Yale Anchor Bible, 1997, pp. 944)
10. An Introduction to New Testament Christology (R E Brown, Geoffrey Chapman, 1994, pp. 224)
11. Jesus as God - The New Testament Use of `Theos' in reference to Jesus (Murray J Harris, Baker Bookls, 1992, pp. 380)
12. What the Bible Really Teaches - A Challenge for Fundamentalists (Keith Ward, SPCK, 2004, pp. 186) - not wholly trustworthy

ARISTOTELICO-THOMIST REFUTATIONS OF ATHEISM
1. New Proofs for the Existence of God - Contributions of contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Robert J Spitzer, Eerdmans, 2010, pp. 320)
2. Aquinas - A Beginner's Guide (Edward Feser, Oneworld Publications, 2009, pp. 206)
3. The Last Superstition - A Refutation of the New Atheists (Edward Feser, St Augustine's Press, 2008, pp. 300)
4. Who Made God? - Searching for a Theology of Everything (Edgar Andrews, EP Books, 2009, pp.304)
5. God's Undertaker - Has Science Buried God? (John C Lennox, Lion Hudson, 2007, pp. 192)
6. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (Brian Davies, OUP, various editions - 1982, 1993, 2003, later?, pp.?)
7. The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Scepticism (Timothy Keller, Hodder, 208, pp. 296)
8. Philosophy in the Modern World - Volume 4 of A New History of Western Philosophy (Anthony Kenny, Clarendon Press, pb 2008, pp. 350)
9. The Big Questions in Science and Religion (Keith Ward, Templeton Press, 2008, pp. 282)
10. Theology After Wittgenstein (Fergus Kerr, SPCK, 2nd ed 1997, pp.226)

BOOKS MOSTLY BASED ON THE FINDINGS OF MODERN SCIENCE ITSELF, CONTRADICTING THE JESUS SEMINAR'S ATHEISTIC POSITION
1. Questions of Truth - Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science and Belief (John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, pp. 186)
2. Real Scientists Real Faith [18 `believing' scientists tell their stories] (R J Berry ed., Monarch Books, 2009, pp. 288)
3. The Science Before Science - A Guide to Thinking in the 21st Century (Anthony Rizzi, IAP Press, 2004, pp. 390)
4. A Sceptic's Guide to Atheism - God is NOT Dead! (Peter S Williams, Paternoster, 2009, pp. 300)
5. Atheist Delusions - The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (David Bentley Hart, Yale UP, 2009, pp. 254)
6. The Future of Atheism - Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue (Robert B Stewart ed., SPCK, 2008, pp. 212)
7. What I Believe (Anthony Kenny, Continuum, 2006, pp. 174)
8. Against Atheism - Why Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris Are fundamentally Wrong (Ian S Markham, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, pp. 162)
9. Dawkins' God - Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Alister McGrath, Blackwell, 2005, pp. 202)
10. The Language of God - A Scientist presents Evidence for Belief (Francis Collins, Pocket Books/Simon.
11. Billions of Missing Links, by Geoffrey Simmons
12. What Darwin Didn't Know, by Geoffery Simmons

I ADD SOME VERY IMPORTANT BOOKS WHICH TRY TO DISPROVE THAT JESUS IS THE MESSIAH. THEY TAKE SERIOUSLY THE CHRISTIAN CLAIMS AS FOUND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, YET DO NOT ACCEPT THE CHRISTIAN POSITION, BUT CERTAINLY DO NOT SUPPORT THE POSITION OF THE JESUS SEMINAR. THIS LIST CAN BE MUCH EXPANDED.
1. The Messiah Before Jesus - The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls, by Israel Knohl;
2. The First Messiah - Investigating the Saviour Before Chjrist, by
Michael O Wise;
3. The Changing Faces of Jesus, by Geza Vermes

Please look up my reviews of these books. They show the 'traditional' Jewish world wrestling with the very issues which the canonical New Testament takes up and solves in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, God-made-man. They do not pay any attention to the 'Jesus Seminar' view of Jesus.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 13, 2012 9:22:00 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Oct 13, 2012 9:23:09 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 17, 2012 1:29:53 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 17, 2012 1:39:41 PM PDT
watzizname says:
@trini: Thank you for your comment. Your list of 37 titles is somewhat overwhelming, and I doubt that I have enough time left to me to read all 37 (I am less than 2 weeks short of 77), but I found that I already have a book, Christian Apologetics Past and Present (Volume 2, From 1500): A Primary Source Reader,which contains an all too brief excerpt from The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, which I have now read, and as soon as I have the money, I will order that and some others from Amazon. I can't properly reply to your posting until I have read at least some of those books, which I want and intend to do, especially Collins' book.

I could give you an equally long list, but at least for now, only a few of the most important:
1. Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes, by John Shelby Spong
2. St. Paul versus St. Peter: A Tale of Two Missions, by Michael Goulder
3. Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth, by Burton Mack
4. When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs, by Charles Kimball
5. The Crucifixion of Mary Magdalene: The Historical Tradition of the First Apostle and the Ancient Church's Campaign to Suppress It, by Richard Hooper
. . And, on the lighter side, a trilogy by Kathleen McGowan that I'd like to believe, but don't: I believe Jesus well deserved the comfort of a loving wife, but I am not convinced that he had that comfort:
6. The Expected One: A Novel (Book One of the Magdalene Line)
7. The Book of Love: A Novel (The Magdalene Line)
8. The Poet Prince: A Novel (Magdalene Line)

Happy reading and best wishes!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 18, 2012 7:57:19 AM PDT
trini says:
watzizname,

Thank you for taking the trouble to reply to my comment and book-list.

It is generous of you to propose reading anything from my list.

I am sorry to say that (at least for now) I will not be returning the compliment.

My books are all dedicated, from one point of view or another, to disproving (I believe with complete success) the first 5 'serious' books (Spong? Mack?) in your list. and as regards fictional reconstructions (inventions) of New Testament origins, I have no patience with them.

Thank you for your interest, but I'm afraid that your authors all seriously misinterpret and falsify New Testament writings and Christian origins.

Best wishes.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 31, 2012 10:10:44 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 31, 2012 10:12:11 PM PDT
watzizname says:
@trini: Yesterday in the mail I received two of the books you recommended: The Real Jesus : The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels, by Luke Timothy Johnson, and The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Francis Collins. It will be a while before I finish reading them because I have other obligations which I must tend to as well, but I expect to start today and finish by the end of the year. I am most curious about what could possibly be misguided about trying to figure out the truth about what Jesus really said and did, and Johnson's book is shorter, so I think I'll tackle it first, but I am also eager to read the rest of Collins' book.

Again, thank you for your comments, and I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 1, 2012 2:33:45 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Nov 1, 2012 2:43:06 AM PDT
trini says:
watzizname,

Thank you for doing me the honour of going ahead and ordering two of the books I recommended. I am sure that you will appreciate the scholarly support they supply for the Christian point of view, which cannot be dismissed as mere unthinking closed-mindedness.

Merry Christmas to you too, and a Happy New Year.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 6, 2012 1:34:21 AM PST
watzizname says:
@trini: Thank you for doing me the honor of your comments. I thought of reading Johnson as something I should have done long ago, since I read Miller's reply to him, I should then have read the other side. In any case, that is now corrected, and I found Johnson both less and more than I expected, as you may gather from my review of The Real Jesus : The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels, now on Amazon. Having completed that task, I was then eager to begin on The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, which I have now done. It will probably be a few days until I finish Collins, and I have several other books waiting to be read, but I do expect to get to at least one or two more from your list by the end of the year. Again, thank you.
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