* Did Jesus claim to be the Messiah? * Did he promise to return and usher in a new age? * How did Jesus envision the kingdom of God? * Did he commission his disciples to convert the world and establish a church? "The Five Gospels" answers these questions in a bold, dynamic work that will startle traditional readers of the Bible and rekindle interest in it among secular skeptics. In 1985 the Jesus Seminar, a distinguished group of biblical scholars led by Robert W. Funk and John Dominic Crossan (co-chairs), embarked on a new assessment of the gospels, including the recently discovered Gospel of Thomas. In pursuit of the historical Jesus, they used their collective expertise to determine the authenticity of the more than 1,500 sayings attributed to him. Their remarkable findings appear in this book. Each saying attributed to Jesus is color-coded and presented in a completely new translation of the Greek and Coptic texts. In the judgment of the Jesus Seminar: * only thosesayings that appear in red type are considered by the Seminar to be close to what Jesus actually said; * the words in pink less certainly originated with Jesus; * the words in gray are not his, though they contain ideas that are close to his own; * the sayings that appear in black have been embellished or created by his followers, or borrowed from common lore. According to the Seminar, no more than 20 percent of the sayings attributed to Jesus were uttered
Unfortunately, it is the nature of scholars to disagree: each scholar must make a name for himself by promoting his own ideas. This obscures the historical consensus built by years of work.
This work was a valuable experiment in getting scholars to agree. It was a shock to many readers because it was deliberately not shrouded by jargon or presented only in a seminar for fellow specialists. (Scholars have realized that their conclusions upset people and many now hesitate to write in a way or forum where they might be overheard and understood.)
This book explains what New Testament scholars think is historical in the New Testament gospels (and Thomas, which is the only surviving non-canonical relative of the sayings lists and isolated miracle stories used as sources by the four gospel writers), to what degree, and why. After a century of meticulous work, very few scholars think the gospels were eyewitness accounts (for why read [[Throckmorton]]'s [Gospel Parallels]) or that ancient historians (and the gospel writers were biographers and theologians, not historians) wrote history without any addition of legend, hearsay, or ways of telling the story that made for a better tale than the original. (These were oral cultures where only epic poems, memorable prose stories, witty quips, and unusually wise teachings survived.)
It is a deliberate attempt to explain and to be clear about what Biblical scholars do and how they think. It was an attempt to summarize what 100 years of work has learned. The textual archaeology at the basis of these conclusions is the foundation of any training in Biblical scholarship and history: those who object wholesale have either missed 40 years of German scholarship or are afraid of making someone mad.
This book is a bit of a time capsule: since its publication there have been new archaeological and textual discoveries, further research, new academic trends, and the inevitable development of conclusions that come from further study and consideration. This book is helpful because it is intended for ordinary readers and it is unusually honest -- and the reaction to it seems to have frightened many scholars into other kinds of work or back into jargon. (Part of that is our fault for not being more public about our work as decades passed.)
Notice there is no equivalent for the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.
It may be a long time before a body of scholars tries being this honest, again, and for that reason alone this book is worth reading.
Note: the scholars who participated in this project are listed in the back of the book (they do not represent one place or one point of view) and the best way to judge the method of voting is to read the description, here, rather than take secondary accounts at their word.
Second Note: this book was followed by a companion work the [Acts of Jesus]. Scholars affiliated with this effort have published a readable collection of all the gospels that survived antiquity, [The Complete Gospels] and a translation which follows how the letters of Paul read to a historian's eye, [The Authentic Letters of Paul]. (Again, the idea that Paul did not write some of the Biblical letters under his name will startle many, but is old news to New Testament scholars.)
Much is made of the voting procedures applied by the Seminar. However, people forget that a very similar method was used to compose the Nicene Creed, as well as actually form the Bible canon itself. That is, a vote was held and it was assumed that God's guidance would penetrate that voting procedure.
This is a must for anyone interested in serious Bible study. I might even go so far as to suggest it be required reading for all Christians. However, many Christians view their faith as such a fragile thing that books such as this one are considered dangerous to consider, lest one's faith be broken by too much thought and questions.