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Friday, September 05, 2008

The Star Shines on Jesus Seminar

By Greg Miller
Star Staff

First Presbyterian Church, Elizabethton, will host a Jesus Seminar on the Road on Friday, Sept. 12, and Saturday, Sept. 13.

On Friday, Hal Taussig and Arthur J. Dewey will present a lecture, "Canon and History: Re-thinking Early Christianity," from 7:30-9 p.m.

Saturday's sessions will begin at 9:30 a.m. and will end at 4 p.m. From 9:30-10:30 a.m., Dewey will speak about the Gospel of Thomas. From 11 a.m.-12 p.m., Taussig will speak about Thunder, Perfect Mind and the Gospel of Mary. From 1:30-2:30 p.m., Dewey will talk about the Gospel of Peter. Taussig will speak about the Secret Book of John: "An early Christian attack on the Roman Empire and its oppression." From 3-4 p.m., Dewey and Taussig will present "A New Picture of How Christianity Began."

"The Jesus Seminar is an organization of scholars," said Shuck. "They were formed in 1985. Scholar Robert Funk convened them together. They are New Testament Scholars or Early Christian Origin Scholars. They use critical methods, methods that you would find in secular criticism, they are not confessional, they are critical methods, to determine what they might know about the New Testament and what we might look for in the historical person of Jesus."

In 1995, Shuck says, the scholars produced a book that they called the Five Gospels in which they talked about what they felt was the historical person of Jesus. "The scholars found that a collection of texts was discovered in 1945 in Nagamati, Egypt, which had never been seen before," remarked Shuck, who says these texts were apparently buried in the Fourth Century.

"We knew before that there were many documents that didn't make it into the Bible," Shuck said. "That process of making the New Testament was over a span of hundreds of years."

The Secret Book of John, Shuck says, is like the book of Revelation to John. "It has a lot of imagery of going up to special realms of heaven and getting visions about what was happening on earth," Shuck said. "It was possibly being used as a story to show that the Roman Empire was coming to its end."

The Gospel of Thomas is a "sayings gospel," Shuck said. "It has 70-some sayings of Jesus. Many of the things he says sound a great deal like what we have in the New Testament. Some of the things are different, are new. Some of them are very strange to us.

"The Thunder Perfect Mind was also a text found in the Nagamati Library," Shuck said. "It's a poem, and at first it sounds a lot like wisdom in Proverbs...It's a female voice, but it speaks about 'I am the first, I am the last.' It's a reconciliation of opposites. It's a whole poem."

Other texts include the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Peter.

Shuck says he finds these texts interesting. "I find it fun that Christianity was so diverse," he said. "And it's similar to the great diversity we have today."

Taussig is the co-pastor of Chestnut Hill United Methodist Church. He is the author of several books, including "Jesus Before God" and "A New Spiritual Home."

Dewey is Professor of Theology, Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and co-founder of the Healing Deadly Memories Program, a unique project that conducts workshops on how to deal with the question of anti-Semitism in the New Testament.

Shuck serves on the Liturgy and Literacy Seminar of the Jesus Seminar.

For more information, call 543-7737, e-mail johnashuck@embarqmail.com, or visit the Web site, www.1stpres-eliz.org.

Clarifications:
  • The Gospel of Thomas has 114 sayings.
  • The correct spelling is Nag Hammadi, Egypt.
  • The Five Gospels didn't focus on the Nag Hammadi collection (except for Thomas). The Five Gospels was an analysis of the Jesus tradition to determine what sayings and deeds put on his lips in all of this lore (canonical as well as non-canonical) might have gone back to Jesus.
  • This particular Jesus Seminar on the Road will look at the canonization process of the New Testament and discuss some of these other Christian texts that didn't make the team or as I used to say when I was a disc jockey, these texts are like songs that were too good for commercial radio.




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