The Paula Gordon Show
Is there Room for Jesus in Christianity?

Robert W. Funk

      . . . distinguished biblical scholar, Guggenheim Fellow and former senior Fulbright Scholar. Dr. Funk was executive secretary, then president of the prestigious Society for Biblical Literature. He founded The Jesus Seminar in 1985. Until his death in September, 2005, Dr. Funk was Director of the Westar Institute. In addition to being a scholar, teacher, and gifted linguist, Dr. Funk has written more than a dozen books, including The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus and Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millennium.

Excerpts3:10 secs

      Jesus of Nazareth was an iconoclastic sage who rejected rules, focused on actions, had no myths and was not apocalyptic. This Jesus is a far cry from the icon created for a variety of theological and political reasons by the institutionalized Christian Church, according to Dr. Robert Funk, founder of The Jesus Seminar and author of Honest to Jesus.

      The Jesus Seminar which Dr. Funk founded in 1985 now includes 200 interdenominational, international scholars, writers, philosophers and theologians working to catalog Jesus‚ sayings and deeds, then present profiles of the Jesus they‚ve discovered. Before the Jesus Seminar could answer their fundamental questions about the historical Jesus -- "What did the historical Jesus say?" "What did he do?" "Who was he?" -- they had to do an entirely new translation of the Gospels (known as the "Scholars' Version"). For over a decade now, the Seminar's been engaged in linguist "detective work," doing their scholarly homework, going back to the ancient texts, examining every word.


      "We see our task as historians to 'bring Jesus near,' closer to our everyday world. We were forced to do a new translation to get back into an idiom which approximates what Jesus said rather than serving the Gospel's liturgical purposes, the church's theological and political ends.


     "Jesus was very demanding! He made up new stories, laughed at human foibles, saw us as we really are. He made people uncomfortable. We concluded the 'Golden Rule' is not appropriate on the lips of Jesus who reduced 'self-awareness' to zero. 'Neighbor' is the measure of all things, not 'self.' Jesus died for this principle," asserts Dr. Funk.

      Funk sees humans everywhere in the world transforming how we understand the Universe and our place in it.

      "The Judeo-Christian world is a special case of the basic mythic story people have lived by for four thousand years. The Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution collapsed that cosmic shelter. Science is revealing an open-ended universe with an oncoming future, unknown and unknowable, not fixed or predetermined. That‚s exciting! And challenging. We have internal compasses we can trust when we choose to be honest, give up lying and dissembling. That's hard. But we're not without moral anchors, from across the ages, guides to whom we can turn for guidance. The real Jesus is just such a person, a social critic, dissident and sage."

Conversation 1


Dr. Funk traces the roots of The Jesus Seminar. He founded it in 1985 when he discovered no inventory of the words of Jesus existed. The fifty original scholars (there are now over 200) realized they would also have to inventory Jesus' deeds. The work which Dr. Funk thought could be accomplished in two weekends has taken over a decade of rigorous work, scouring records which are thin, "but better than records for most individuals who lived in the Hellenistic world. Most of what the scholars found was 'propaganda.' It took a decade for us to learn to be honest with ourselves and others."

Conversation 2


Biblical studies academics want to be "tough minded but are careful not to tread on others' piety." Dr. Funk was always concerned for new students coming to terms with the collapse of the West‚s basic story of how we understand the Universe and our place in it. He describes the modern revolutionary transition sparked by the combination of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. "That mythical world has collapsed. We've lost our mythic shelter, our cosmic anchor. Academics are also adrift."


Dr. Funk describes the Jesus Seminar's work to "bring Jesus near, closer to our everyday world." They found the Parables and witticisms of Jesus were all about everyday life. No theology. No rules -- Jesus was absolutely against rules. The traces of the historic Jesus the scholars found were very revolutionary." Dr. Funk also talks about apostles who "marketed" Jesus, especially the apostle Paul. "Without Paul,we probably wouldn't know about Jesus."

Conversation 3


Dr. Funk describes the world wide transformation he says has been going on for several centuries as "deep, sweeping changes to cultural images and metaphors." Many people find the old stories not plausible. Those who hold to them feel a dissonance is so great we have to make adjustments.


Dr. Funk describes his own spiritual quest, living through this time of turmoil, looking for something he can endorse, making no promises for his results. He addresses the "tough questionš: Is there a role for Jesus in Christianity? Some scholars and theologian have told me they like their Christianity just as it is, they don't want me, or my Jesus, messing around with it."


Dr. Funk touches on the critical roles of language in coming to terms with both translations and cultural predicates affecting Jesus' "voice-print."

Conversation 4


The search for the historical Jesus stretches back into the late 18th century. Dr. Funk describes the waves of turmoil which accompanied increasing knowledge about the roots of the Gospels in particular. He reiterates the three phases of the Jesus Seminar's mission -- finding Jesus' "sayings" and "deeds," then using that database to create profiles of the historical Jesus. "You'll find sketches of my Jesus in Honest to Jesus. He was a sage, a wisdom teacher, in the old Jewish tradition, neither a lawyer, nor a prophet."


Dr. Funk and the scholars were surprised to discover, "Easter and the apocalypse have nothing to do with Jesus. They're aspects of the Christian myth we've encased him in, aspects which have locked us out of who Jesus really was." Dr. Funk gives a glimpse of the "whole vision required to begin to see the door through which Jesus invited people into an alternative view of life and realities. No myths, just observations on the world he knew."

Conversation 5


Dr. Funk describes Jesus as a "listener." Jesus confronted people in the everyday world, making up revealing stories. "For Jesus, 'religion' was determined entirely by one's relation with one's neighbor. We came to the conclusion the words of the Golden Rule are not appropriate on the lips of Jesus for whom neighbor, not self, is the measure of all things. He died for that principle."


Dr. Funk relates how visiting psychologists described Jesus' "open, secure personality." Here is a man committed to celebrations, actions, leading by example and laughing at human foibles. He was an iconoclast.

Conversation 6


Dr. Funk describes the open-ended universe he believes Jesus called his followers to embrace, a universe full of discomfort and excitement, where the future is unknown and unknowable. Dr. Funk names many sages available to modern humans, in addition to an internal compass he believes is trustworthy "when we choose to be honest, give up lying to ourselves and dissembling."


Working with the Jesus Seminar was a "religious experience" for Dr. Funk. "I think many of the scholars felt the same, though that's not proper for academics!"

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