Robert W. Funk, 1926-2005
September 26, 2005 11:44 AM   Subscribe

We are going to inquire simply, rigorously after the voice of Jesus, after what he really said.
Robert Walter Funk, who died September 3, was the founder of the Jesus Seminar and one of the most influential New Testament scholars of his generation. The Jesus of Nazareth discovered by the Jesus Seminar was a wisdom teacher whose parables proclaimed the arrival of God's kingdom. He was not, in the judgment of the Seminar, the messiah of the end-times (.pdf file, go to page 5 and 6). Also: Funk's 21 theses.
posted by matteo (34 comments total)

Previous historical Jesus thread
posted by matteo at 11:51 AM on September 26, 2005

He was not, in the judgment of the Seminar, the messiah of the end-times

I believe that legacy belongs to George Bush...
posted by any major dude at 11:56 AM on September 26, 2005

It's excellent to think we can take God out of the hands of illiterate fanatics and religious bureaucrats and make Him into the humanist we always wanted Him to be.

The only problem that we face is, ironically, the same one that the children of Abraham also face:

God is beyond understanding. Therefore, predicators need not apply.
posted by ewkpates at 11:58 AM on September 26, 2005

Thanks for posting this, matteo. It's something I've been giving a lot of thought to recently. I used to be very strongly Christian, and largely stopped identifying as such because of what Christianity has come to mean in our culture (i.e., the total antithesis of virtually every single thing that Christianity actually espouses). I've read Funk's work before, and I can't help but mourn the increasing irrelevance of scholars like him to "religion" as it's currently understood. Here's hoping the trend is reversed. Soon.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 12:01 PM on September 26, 2005

A very nice post matteo, thanks. I like the 21 Theses, and I wish that they were a bit more mainstream for Xianity. Funk's palpable belief, and desire for a just religion, are refreshing. I also think that the site on theories of early Christianity is excellent, and a resource I'll go back to again.

The doctrine of special creation of the species died with the advent of Darwinism and the new understanding of the age of the earth and magnitude of the physical universe. Special creation goes together with the notion that the earth and human beings are at the center of the galaxy (the galaxy is anthropocentric). The demise of a geocentric universe took the doctrine of special creation with it.


(I hope this thread doesn't devolve.)
posted by OmieWise at 12:05 PM on September 26, 2005

I'm still befuddled as to why so many Christians think God and Evolution are mutually exclusive. Would it really be that big of a deal if God just made a planet and seeded it with the potential for life compared to creating people out of dust?

I understand the need to feel special and superior compared to everything else, but I thought hubris was a sin too. Meh.

ps. Not that I'm endorsing any particular world view, just analyzing one in particular.
posted by Talanvor at 12:27 PM on September 26, 2005

Amen to the 21 theses!

Our Grand Inquisitors should be by any minute now, I'm afraid.
posted by dyaseen at 12:27 PM on September 26, 2005

This is good. Thanks matteo.
posted by caddis at 12:36 PM on September 26, 2005

Great post Matteo! Thanks!

Finished reading "Stealing Jesus, How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity" by Bawer last week and many of the points made by Funk and others form the basis of the book. Recommended reading for folks interested in this stuff.

Taking back the faith from is gonna be a real challenge. Just ask Jesus what happens when you challenge power hungry establishments of religion.

Very good point Talanvor.
Pride is very sinful.
As in "I'm going to Heaven and you're not!" or "God loves me best and you're going to Hell!"
posted by nofundy at 12:37 PM on September 26, 2005

I tend to lean more toward Bishop Spong's 12 issues (in "A Call for a New Reformation") ....

12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.
posted by grabbingsand at 12:51 PM on September 26, 2005

good stuff here. The 21 theses seem to be completely compatible with atheism and agnosticism, as their overarching theme seems to be what most rational thinkers already know: our fate is entirely in our own hands.
posted by pmbuko at 12:56 PM on September 26, 2005

May Dr. Funk rest in peace in the great beyond, whatever he believed it may have been.

I have to say, the Jesus Seminar is an amazingly revolutionary and intriguing approach to culture and history, and its wildly popular success is something I would like to see duplicated in other fields of research.

On that note, I propose a new scientific endeavor to be undertaken: the Jupiter Seminar.

NASA will invite like-minded scientists, professors, and philosophers from all around the globe to meet at the American Indian Museum in Washington, DC, to critique each other's astronomical works and discuss various assertions about the nature of the planet Jupiter. For each assertion discussed, (e.g. "Jupiter is a gas giant consisting mostly of hydrogen and helium," "Jupiter is circled by a tenuous ring of dust and gas," "By Deus, it is full of stars," "the Jovian moon Amalthea is of a reddish tinge.") each scientist will drop a marble into a jar that is passed around the table. As the marbles gather, they will define for the rest of us the real facts about True Jupiter, dismissing the superstitions of a prior age which valued probes, telescopes, and spectrometers over the consensus of this elite group of philosophers. I look forward to this Seminar, and I am eager to learn what they have to say about True Jupiter.
posted by brownpau at 1:20 PM on September 26, 2005


Heh. Funny, although you'd need to read the Jesus Seminar's New Testament to understand it.
posted by unreason at 1:29 PM on September 26, 2005

What a literal-minded clod this Funk was. His revelations about the "historical Jesus" are about as shocking as the discovery that Beethoven's symphonies are nothing more than vibrating air molecules, or that Hamlet is really just an actor pretending to be Hamlet. And those things you read called "words?" You fools! They're only marks on paper, or pixels on a screen.
posted by Faze at 1:42 PM on September 26, 2005

Yeah well, good luck with all that.
posted by Justin Case at 1:43 PM on September 26, 2005

brownpau -- funny, yeah. but the JS scholars have a pretty good knowledge of the telescope/spectrometer stuff. I mean, we're discussing Funk, a guy who wrote his dissertation on Greek syntax and who could cut a Greek sentence with a knife. say what you want about Crossan, his work on strata and attestation and his emphasis on archaeological studies (see his latest book on Paul) make him a very scientific scholar. and so on -- the Jesus Seminar is hardly made of incompetent scholar.
if the beef against them is, they're "liberals" (a very vague word, I'd much rather use, say, "Bultmannian"), OK. but de-mythologization of Christianity is by and large accepted by a wide variety of scholars.
I mean, we have a very conservative pope who nonetheless has no problem accepting Markan priority and the Q hypothesis.
posted by matteo at 1:50 PM on September 26, 2005

and by the way, yes, Faze has a -- however Faze-esque -- point here. I really like Meier's distinction between the historical Jesus and the real, unknowable Jesus.
we simply lack the necessary documents. and anyway, see the effect that this very flawed, myth-imbued tradition had for hundreds of millions of people, for twenty centuries

posted by matteo at 1:53 PM on September 26, 2005

the Jesus Seminar is hardly made of incompetent scholar.

True, but if you read their New Testament, it's pretty clear that they went beyond scholarship and began to select versus based on personal opinion, which makes the work little more rigourous than their opponents.
posted by unreason at 2:00 PM on September 26, 2005

I always prefered the sermon on the mount Jesus to the fightin' Jesus.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:08 PM on September 26, 2005

unreason: it's pretty clear? To who? You? Why?
posted by Sparx at 2:36 PM on September 26, 2005

Interesting post. Does sort of go hand in hand with Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth. Judaism has not accepted most of what Funk referred to for rather different, philosophical reasons, though.
posted by Adamchik at 2:50 PM on September 26, 2005

Thanks for posting this, Matteo. I have only a cursory experience with Funk's writings but this post gives me an opportunity to explore further. Some other's have already commented that Funk's assertions did not reveal anything special but I completely disagree. It's dependent upon what a person's current perspective is on Jesus before it can be determined how much the Seminar's statements can influence their interpretation.
posted by quadog at 2:54 PM on September 26, 2005

Jesus for a New Millennium.

Jesus, like we haven't had enough of him in the last one.
posted by cleardawn at 3:00 PM on September 26, 2005

When's the Paul Bunyan seminar?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 3:40 PM on September 26, 2005

1. The God of the metaphysical age is dead. There is not a personal god out there external to human beings and the material world. We must reckon with a deep crisis in god talk and replace it with talk about whether the universe has meaning and whether human life has purpose.

i thought that was the job of philosophy ... i think if they're going to profess atheism or agnosticism, they should call it that ... and realize, at the least, jesus and his followers had different views on these matters ... (and please, this is not a defence of fundamentalism)

4. The notion that God interferes with the order of nature from time to time in order to aid or punish is no longer credible,

then why study a man who said the kingdom of god was within you? ... again, i hardly think any interpretation of the new testament or gnostic texts could possibly argue what his 21 theses does

there's some real contradictions here
posted by pyramid termite at 8:36 PM on September 26, 2005

The problem with discussing Jesus - including the approach of the Jesus Seminar, which basically decided that there was a historical Jesus and went about accepting what they liked and rejecting what they didn't - is that Jesus primarily functions as a mirror for the person talking. The entire literature about Jesus tells us nothing whatever about an actual person, whether human or divine, and quite a lot about the many and different people who like to write about Jesus. The Jesus Seminar, in the face of this, pretty much made up a Jesus they liked better than the one of the fundamentalists.
posted by graymouser at 5:42 AM on September 27, 2005

graymouser, that's been my impression, too. The best evidence I've read gives some credence to the existence of James (who may have been the leader of a Zealot cell), but I'm unaware of any historical references to Jesus. (That haven't been discredited, that is.)

Disclaimer: I regard myself as an atheist. That said, I don't think Christians do themselves any favors by insisting on a literal Jesus -- either his historical being, or the literal reality of his miracles, what have you. Christians could[/can] totally sidestep all of us non-believers by making it all about metaphor. They don't typically do that. I think that's a really interesting thing.

In recent years, I've constructed a narrative for myself of what a historical Jesus might have been like, based on the idea that James was a Zealot leader. I imagined him as Jame's made (perhaps schizophrenic or BP-1) brother, kept around for his ability to inspire followers, and then perhaps disposed of when he became inconveniently popular -- and then, re-interpreted by every mystically-minded, disaffected visionary in Palestine. That would help to explain why the ideas known to have been attributed to Jesus in the first few centuries CE are so widely scattered.
posted by lodurr at 6:32 AM on September 27, 2005

"made ... brother" >> "mad ... brother". No, not a "Mafia Christ."
posted by lodurr at 6:35 AM on September 27, 2005

No, not a "Mafia Christ."

you have a very interesting screenplay there, you know that?

posted by matteo at 8:56 AM on September 27, 2005

I'm just going back to worshipping Bacchus. More wine, less fuss.
posted by maxsparber at 9:24 AM on September 27, 2005

you have a very interesting screenplay there, you know that?

Curse you. Now I have to have that idea stuck in my head, eating cycles I could be using to look for a job....

posted by lodurr at 4:02 PM on September 27, 2005

lodurr, be careful with that cursing! Atheist or not, there is good scientific evidence (easy to reproduce through simple experiment) that blessing is healthier than cursing.

Radiant rainbow blessings upon all atheists, Bachus-worshippers, and unemployed screenplay writers. Oh, all right, and everybody else too.
posted by cleardawn at 7:47 PM on September 27, 2005

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