Monday, January 29, 2007

Introduction by Rev. Rodger Hunter Hall, STL

Why should Catholics be concerned about the Jesus Seminar, a small group of scholars who gather twice yearly in Sonoma Valley, California, to sip wine and vote on what they decide Jesus really said and did? Because, if these scholars succeed, Christianity would be completely disfigured. If that seems overstated, consider the following facts:
  • Fewer than 20 percent of the words of Jesus as contained in the Bible are deemed authentic.
  • Of the Lord’s Prayer, only the words “Our Father” are close to what Jesus said.
  • The Gospel of John does not contain a single saying that could be traced back to the historical Jesus.
  • The Jesus that emerges from the Seminar was not the Son of God. He was neither the Messiah nor considered Himself such. He was not born of a virgin, never performed miracles, and did not rise from the dead.
Only 30 to 40 scholars attend the sessions, and yet twice each year the media call on them for their latest findings, at those times when thoughts turn to Jesus—Christmas and Easter. Their findings are presented as possessing great authority, when in fact they are strongly criticized by mainstream scholarship, including the late Fr. Raymond Brown.

Now, a new missionary outreach program is under way, taking the Jesus Seminar “on the road,” visiting cities throughout the country and abroad. Those who attend these conferences often leave with their faith deeply shaken.

As if this was not a sufficient cause for concern, the Jesus Seminar is only the first installment in an ongoing revision of Christian thought and history. Promised sequels include:

The Paul Seminar. The authenticity and integrity of the Pauline letters will be examined according to the Jesus Seminar methodology. Will the Paul Seminar leave us with even 20 percent of the words of the apostle whose writings substantially contribute to the foundation of Christian thought?

The Canon Seminar. Its aim is to reconsider the New Testament. The scholars intend a clean sweep, overturning the work of the early Church councils. They will themselves decide which works should constitute a “New New Testament.” Considering they have already taken up the Gospel of Thomas as “the fifth Gospel,” their theological assumptions can only be deemed untrustworthy.

The Acts Seminar. The historical authenticity of the Acts of the Apostles will be evaluated, again using the same methodology. Since the Gospels have been declared historically unreliable, should we be surprised by what the findings of this seminar will be?

With this issue, Crisis begins to present some of the foremost minds in biblical scholarship to expose the Jesus Seminar and the fallacies it presents as scholarly truth. These articles result from Crisis Magazine’s “Response to The Jesus Seminar,” a well-received lecture series held in New York City at the end of 1999. The series was sponsored by Msgr. Michael Wrenn (pictured right), a prominent pastor in the Archdiocese of New York, a noted New Testament scholar, and a valiant defender of the integrity of the Gospels.

The Seminar’s attack on the faith the Church has handed down across the centuries presents Catholics with the opportunity, at the dawn of the third Christian millennium, to arrive at a deeper authentic understanding of the Person, words, and deeds of Jesus Christ by reacquainting ourselves with the writings of His first followers in the company of scholars whose thoughts are tuned to the mind of the Church and are in keeping with the immemorial faith of the apostles, the fathers of the Church, and the saints through the centuries.

[Acknowledgements: Rev. Rodger Hunter Hall's "Introduction" was first published in Crisis magazine (March 2000), 15, and is reproduced by kind permission of Crisis magazine, Morley Publishing Group, Inc., 1814 1/2 N Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036.]


Realist said...

Alright, you have seen the light of reviewing historical Jesus documentation and the

critical conclusions of said experts in the area.

Recommended references for your Jesus Seminar blog:

1. A list of Historical Jesus exegetes to include biographies and their books and


2. Adam, Eve, and the Serpent by Elaine Pagels

3. Conservative Jews reject Torah, allegedly in light of archaeology

4. Early Christian Writings, title and Date with description


5. Health and Healing in the Land of Israel By Joe Zias

6. Historical Jesus Studies :

7. 7. The Gnostic Jesus
(Part One in a Two-Part Series on Ancient and Modern Gnosticism)
by Douglas Groothuis:

8. The interpretation of the Bible in the Church,
Pontifical Biblical Commission
Presented on March 18, 1994

9. The Jesus Database :

10. The Jesus Database- newer site:

11. Jesus Database with the example of Supper and Eucharist:

12. Josephus on Jesus by Paul Maier:

13. The Journal of Higher Criticism with links to articles on the Historical Jesus:

14. The Greek New Testament:

15. Diseases in the Bible:


16. Religion on Line (6000 articles on the history of religion, churches, theologies,

theologians, ethics, etc.

17. The Jesus Seminarians and their search for NT authenticity:

18. The New Testament Gateway - Internet NT sources :

19. Writing the New Testament- existing copies, oral tradition etc.

20. The Search for the Historic Jesus by the Jesus Seminarians:

21. Jesus Decoded by Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco (Da Vinci Code


22. JD Crossan's scriptural references for his book the Historical Jesus separted

into time periods:

23. JD Crossan's conclusions about the authencity of most of the NT based on the

above plus the conclusions of other NT exegetes in the last 200 years:

24. Common Sayings from Thomas's Gospel and the Q Gospel:

25. Early Jewish Writings- Josephus and his books by title with the complete

translated work in English :

26. Luke and Josephus- was there a connection?

27. NT and beyond time line:

28. St. Paul's Time line with discussion of important events:

29. See for a list of JD Crossan's books and those of the other

Jesus Seminarians: Reviews of said books are included and selected pages can now

be read on line with no purchase necessary

Realist said...


Make that for reference 6, Historic Jesus Studies

Realist said...

Father Hunter fails to give references for his facts about the Jesus Seminar. I trust Part II will contain the necessary references.

One glaring problem is his statement: "The Gospel of John does not contain a single saying that could be traced back to the historical Jesus."

All of these passages in John are as per JD Crossan from his book, The Historical Jesus:

51+. Into the Desert: (1) Gos. Thom. 78; (2) 2Q: Luke 7:24-27 = Matt 11:7-10; (3) Mark 1: 2-3 = Matt 3:3 = Luke 3:4-6 =(?) John 1:19-23.

58+. John Baptizes Jesus: (1) Gos. Heb. 2; (2a) Mark 1:9-11 = Matt 3:13-17 = Luke 3:21-22; (2b) Gos. Naz. 2; (2c) Gos. Eb. 4; (2d) John 1:32-34; (2e) Ign. Smyrn. 1:1c; (3) Ign. Eph. 18:2d

115+. John's Message: (1a) 2Q: Luke 3:15-18= Matt 3:11-12; (1b) Acts 13:24-25; (1c) John 1:24-31; (2) Mark 1:7-8.

Those are from John 1: You can locate the rest on your own at the site using the Edit Menu and then Find: (e.g.) John 2: (
Authentic passages as per Crossan and the Jesus Seminar are marked with a plus sign. i.e. 49+. Temple and Jesus: (1) Gos. Thom. 71; (2a) Mark 14:55-59 = Matt 26:59-61; (2b) Mark 15:29-32a = Matt 27:39-43 =(!) Luke 23:35-37; (2c) Acts 6:11-14; (3) John 2:18-22.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Realist, you point out a difficulty in Father Hunter's omission of references for his facts about the Jesus Seminar, though I do not see this as inordinate given the nature of his brief piece as an introduction the a series for a general audience. The critical scholarly work is to follow in the subsequent articles.

You also point out what you call a "glaring problem" in his statement that the Gospel of John doesn't contain a single saying capable of being traced back to the historical Jesus, pointing out as evidence to the contrary several references from JD Crossan's The Historical Jesus. This seems fair enough; however, with due respect, it seems to me that it's hard to hold Fr. Hunter accountable for the details of a scholarly tome by Crossan when he's summarizing statements made elsewhere evidently in the name of the Jesus Seminar. The proof, however, will be in the pudding; but thanks for your continuing interest, which is -- as always -- appreciated.

Realist formerly Convergent said...


So Father Hunter is simply "Googling" the issues and has not read any of the books written by the Jesus Seminarians to include any of the 14 books written by Professor Crossan??

Pertinacious Papist said...

So Father Hunter is simply "Googling" the issues and has not read any of the books written by the Jesus Seminarians . . .

Why RFC, I didn't know you knew the good Fr. Hunter! So you did ask him about this, of course, knowing that he has three post-graduate degrees from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome and specializes in the Johannine corpus, among other things?

Pertinacious Papist said...


This same bibliographical list was pasted verbatim in two other comboxes already. Please refrain from 'dumping', as this will wear out your welcome among other readers rather quickly (cf. Da Rulz).

JaniceKraus said...

The problem I have initially with Crossan is this statement: "Because there is only reconstruction. For a believing Christian both the life of the Word of God and the text of the Word of God are alike a process of ... historical reconstruction... . If you cannot believe in something produced by reconstruction, you may have nothing left to believe in."

Crossan is tendentious here. He assumes that because one uses the historical-critical method to inquire more deeply into both the life of the incarnate Son of God as well as circumstances surrounding the human aspect of the Scriptures that that is all there is.

The rest of it is the usual. So Jesus may have used the Cynic tradition? So he preached on behalf of the poor and marginalized? Crossan's idea that Jesus used "magical" healing derives from Morton Smith's book, Jesus the Magician, which has long been discredited. The idea that Jesus accepted John's notions and then developed his own is not backed up by Biblical testimony or by archaeological or extra-canonical testimony. Crossan grants the canonical Gospels NO credibility, yet gives a pass to all other documents. For example, Crossan gives all "gospels" equal credibility. Canonicity isn't even the first problem here (at least for me) because, in the case of so-called "gnostic" gospels, most of them are not of the gospel genre in the first place. So he's comparing unlike genres. The Gospel of the Egyptians is a creation myth. The Valentinian Gospel of Truth is for those initiated into the mysteries, not an account of the words and deeds of Christ. The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of logia, the date and provenance of which is heatedly contested and about which there is no consensus, even among its proponents. The Gospel of Peter (2nd century) is docetic/gnostic. The Epistle of Barnasbas is not an epistle, but a theological treatise, the locus classicus of types.

His notion of linguistic and textual criticism would not pass muster in any literary or ancient studies department. One must allow for a certain amount of fluidity when one is discussing documents, especially in antiquity. To employ a concept reminiscent of geologic stratification involves an overly rigid approach. Even his criterion of "attestation" is not necessarily a guarantee of reliability. A document can be early and not be attested. Many of the non-canonical documents, like the Shepherd of Hermas, were fully attested and did not make it into the canon. This is the same mentality that "canonizes" the notion that the simpler a document is, the earlier it MUST be, when the reality may all too often be different.

Finally, Crossan's method is singularly tendentious. It is as if he went about with the idea of bracketing anything that bespoke a departure from the "natural" realm. He immediately declares all supernatural events as immediately false or at least capable of a more amenable interpretation (where Crossan thinks the "Resurrection" was really a 5-10 year hiatus while the disciples tried to get their act today escapes me; orthodox Biblical scholars couldn't get away with bald, unattested assertions, such as this). Crossan comes up with the singular idea that the Gospels are "theology." This is not exactly breaking news. Of course, they're theology.

This is de-mythologizing at its best. Well, not really. Bultmann was the best and a much better exegete than Crossan will ever be. Crossan had created a Jesus that looks exactly like him.

JaniceKraus said...

I should also say that a number of Jesus Seminar members are also proponents of gnosticism. Here are their assumptions about nascent Christianity:

1) it is pluriform
2) there is no locus of authority
3) there are varying views of Jesus, all of which are equivalent
4) there are varying documents, which express differing views
5) selected Christians (“polemicists” in their terms), in league with the emperor chose certain documents to proffer a certain view of Jesus and the Church and “made up” what we have received as the conventional Christian faith. Their thesis is that events “forming orthodoxy” were extrinsic rather than intrinsic to the Christian faith and occurred during the second and third centuries, culminating in the fourth century, with state imposition of the orthodox faith, which suppressed other manifestations of Christianity.
6) so-called “gnostic Christianity” is actually complementary to “conventional” Christianity, rather than representing an antithesis to it

The problem with this view lies in its very assertions. The facts of Biblical and Early Christianity are well-known to each of these scholars. Yet, they have chosen to adduce a paradigm that ignores the facts to present an “alternative.” Here are the facts.

By the end of the first century, there was theological consensus about Jesus, the Church, authority, and the beginning of consensus about the canon. Of course, as the Catholic Church recognizes, in its definition of Tradition, she continues to draw out the consequences of the teachings of Jesus Christ (CCC #78, 83). But the nucleus was already there and shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In the case of the basic issue that Pagels, King, and Ehrman bring up, it is false that there was “pluriform” Christianity. Of course, Christianity manifested itself differently due to different geography, customs, language, etc. The components of the faith, however, were consistent, however the contingencies differed. What Pagels, King, and Ehrman are really saying, however, is this: nascent Christianity differed as to fundamentals. They claim that until the nexus between church and state occurred, there was no essential agreement among Christians as to doctrine or practice. This is code for their notion that gnosticism was one of the nascent Christian forms.

This can be contradicted by an examination of the Scriptures themselves. It is significant that 1 Timothy 1.3-4 (cf. 1 Tim. 6.3-4; 2 Tim. 2.14, 3.16), 4.4; Titus 1.14 refers to Jewish myths; 3.9; Heb. 13.9; 2 Pet. 1.16, 20, 2.1) cautions Timothy to: “instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine, and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith.” Myths and endless genealogies can only refer to the so-called gnostic permutations that were current in the empire then. And they were not new. They had been around since Pharaonic times (cf. The Egyptian Foundations of Gnostic Thought, by Daniel Richard McBride, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Toronto; Edwin Yamauchi, Pre-Christian Gnosticism: a Survey of the Proposed Evidences. Baker Pub. Group, 1983).

The Scriptural passages cited are significant, too. I Timothy and Titus are dated to the 80s or 90s; 2 Timothy to the end of the first century. Hebrews must date before 95, since it is quoted in 1 Clement. 2 Peter could be as early as the 90s or as late as 120s. It is the last written work of the New Testament.

If one compares the dates of any of the "gnostic" documents, one can see immediately the vast differences between this group and the canonical NT documents. Even the "gospel" of Thomas (which is really a series of logia), is only a series of meditations on an ALREADY-ESTABLISHED corpus of authoritative documents, i.e., the four canonical Gospels. The Valentinian Gospel of Truth is not a gospel at all, but a treatise for the gnostic initiate. It dates well into the 2nd century. The Gospel of Peter is a docetic/gnostic production of the 2nd half of the 2nd century. The Gospel of the Egyptians dates ca. mid-2nd century. The Gospel of Philip dates ca. 3rd century. The Apocryphon of John is from the 2nd century and is referred to by Irenaeus of Lyons. The Hypostasis of the Archons is probably 2nd century. The Pistis Sophia has been dated anywhere from the 2-3rd centuries. None of these works, therefore, are of the same era as the canonical Scriptures. Therefore, they do not express the views of nascent Christianity. Moreover, as to matters of the canon, which Pagels, King, and Ehrman are so eager to disassemble, there is irrefutable evidence that, as Bruce Metzger writes:

"Although the fringes of the emerging canon remained unsettled for generations, a high degree of unanimity concerning the greater part of the New Testament was attained among the very diverse and scattered congregations of believers not only throughout the Mediterranean world, but also over an area extending from Britain to Mesopotamia (Bruce Metzger)."

This represents the consensus of early and orthodox Christianity across geographical, linguistic and the divides of custom as to doctrine and discipline (both of which are represented in the NT documents).

Gnosticism is pre-Christian. It existed in Egypt for certain. It had adherents in some of the mystery cults. Anything with syzygies, ogdoads, genealogies, etc., is almost certainly of some kind of "gnostic" derivation. It is also parasitic. Many of the so-called Nag Hammadi documents are generic documents, with the name of Jesus or the name of Christ added at the beginning or the end of the text. As such, they are not "Christian" documents; they are not even syncretistic, since there is not even the desire to create a synthesis. They resemble, rather, the desire of the Emperor Alexander Severus, who had statues of every savior figure, including Jesus Christ, just to ensure his salvation.

But Pagels, King, and Ehrman really cannot prove that Early Christianity was variegated or without a theological focus. As the NT books themselves prove and as the Fathers go on to articulate, Christianity was "orthodox" from the very beginning. There was no "gnostic Christianity" either at the beginning or later. Gnosticism is just gnosticism.