April DeConick is sticking it to the Jesus Seminar on her blog, The Forbidden Gospels. She is running a series with critiques of the methodology of the Jesus Seminar entitled The Jesus Seminar Jesus is Bankrupt, parts one, two, and three. Jim West has linked to her series with the clever title, Why the Jesus Seminar Needs a Bailout.
It is a bit of risk for me to post about this as any of these scholars can clean my clock (including the Jesus Seminar folks). I am a simple country preacher with an interest in these things. I am an associate member of Westar (the Jesus Seminar) and I have spoken of them favorably on this blog including this silly post Why I Heart the Jesus Seminar.
I have benefited from reading their books and attending and hosting their events. I have defended them against the fundies who claim that the bodily resurrection of Jesus, his ascension, and the resuscitation of Matthew's zombies are as historical as the inauguration of Barack Obama.
My quibble with April is the title of her series. I think she shows quite adequately that the methods themselves when pushed beyond their limits implode. The search for a hero always leads to the self. In the end historical Jesus scholars may have constructed a myth for our time, a Jesus that may be a model as we resist the forces of empire. If we must have a hero, that Jesus may fit our need.
Jesus was a god (and for many still is). Every story that we have about Jesus presents him as some kind of divine hero. We have little if any independent evidence that he even existed. The new Jesus Project will tackle this very question.
All stories and creeds of gods and other divine or partially divine figures are fiction. Whenever we speak about gods and "God" we enter the realm of myth. We can discuss whether myths are true or not and whether they resonate with us or not. That is a whole other topic. To situate myself, A Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell has been helpful.
The question since the Enlightenment is whether or not Jesus was more than a god. Was he a human being as well? The quest of historical Jesus research has been to transform Jesus from the wooden god of creed into as Geppetto would say "a real live boy."
It is that assumption that is under question more than any method. The methods have included simple scissors--a la Thomas Jefferson--to cut out the fantastic parts and find a moral teacher. They have included redaction criticism, form criticism, inventing/discovering "Q", as well as those methods April has been talking about so far: multiple attestation, dissimilarity, and coherence. More methods may yet be invented all in the quest to find a real live boy.
I am beginning to doubt the assumption that there was a human behind the myth. I don't think Jesus was ever more than a god. Yet searching for him has been a fun and educational quest. The Jesus Seminar accomplished the needed deconstruction of the tradition itself. They showed us that the Jesus that is bankrupt is the Jesus of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.
Those myths came from a universe that no longer exists. Those myths haven't served many of us for a long time. There was some hope that the "historical Jesus" could do it. To some extent, he does. The clever non-violent poet on the side of the outcast is a helpful model for some problems. I enjoy preaching about him. Yet I wonder if this hero, too, is fading and will eventually go the way of Hercules, out of place in a world too large for him to master.
Turning to theology, if Jesus was a god and always will be a god of some sort, what form will he take? Jesus of creed is an incredible god, too puny and dated. Jesus as the heroic human never existed. With what are we left? What god, myth, and metaphor will be large enough to guide us through not only the immediate problems we face but the vastness of the Universe that simply makes us dizzy?
That question might be interesting.