Birger A. Pearson

7. Concluding Observations

The Jesus of the Jesus Seminar is a non-Jewish Jesus. To put it metaphorically, the Seminar has performed a forcible epispasm on the historical Jesus, a surgical procedure removing the marks of his circumcision. The result might arouse some disquiet in the minds of people who know the history of the 30's and 40's of our century. But the Jesus of the Jesus Seminar is much too banal to cause us to think that the ideology producing him is like that which produced the "Aryan Jesus" of the 1930's. [72]
Scholars of religion have rightly come to be suspicious of theologically driven scholarship. We should be equally suspicious of atheologically driven scholarship, or any ideologically driven scholarship, political or otherwise. The "hidden agenda" in the work of the Jesus Seminar is clearly an ideology that drives it. So what is this ideology? An important clue is found in the frequency with which the word "secular" appears in The Five Gospels. E.g.: Jesus was not interested in "fine points of the Law"; his responses to his contemporaries "were more secular than legal in character" (p. 201). When Jesus illustrates a point with reference to the intrusion by a burglar into a homeowner's dwelling (Luke 12:39, colored gray), this root metaphor "would have been understood on his lips in a secular sense" (p. 342). Jesus was, simply, "a secular sage" (p. 287). This obvious anachronism requires explanation, and we find it in the celebration by the Jesus Seminar of the removal of the quest of the historical Jesus from "the church, seminaries, and isolated theological enclaves" (p. 4) to more secular institutional settings. The ideology driving the Jesus Seminar is, I would argue, one of "secularization." Of course, one should expect that, in secular academic settings (such as a state university in the U.S.), a non-theological approach to historical evidence, including religious evidence, is standard. In my view, it ought to be the starting point even for theological historical research. This is not what we have in the case of the Jesus Seminar. What we have, instead, is an approach driven by an ideology of secularization, and a process of coloring the historical evidence to fit a secular ideal. Thus, in robbing Jesus of his Jewishness, the Jesus Seminar has finally robbed him of his religion.
"Seek--you'll find." This is one of the "authentic" sayings of Jesus (Matthew 7:7 // Luke ll:9 // Thomas 92:1, colored pink) in The Five Gospels. A group of secularized theologians and secular academics went seeking a secular Jesus, and they found him! They think they found him, but, in fact, they created him. Jesus the "party animal," whose zany wit and caustic humor would enliven an otherwise dull cocktail party --this is the product of the Jesus Seminar's six years' research. In a sense the Jesus Seminar, with its ideology of secularization, represents a "shadow image" of the old "New Quest," with its neo-orthodox theology -- and its ultimate bankruptcy.


72. Probably the most notorious example is Walter Grundmann, Jesus der Galiläer und das Judentum, in the series "Veröffentlichungen des Instituts zur Erforschung des Jüdischen Einflusses auf das Deutsche Kirchliche Leben" (Leipzig: G. Wigand, 1940). Grundmann argues that Galilee was predominantly gentile, and Jesus' ancestry was Aryan; Jesus drew on his ancestral Aryan traditions for his anti-Jewish message. Grundmann's career as a churchman and prominent New Testament scholar lasted into the 1970's. For a useful discussion see Marshall Johnson, Journal of Ecumenical Studies 23 (1986) 1-24, esp. 4-12.