The Spring 2007 meeting of Westar Institute is going to be February 28-March 3 in Miami. It is going to be a good one. James Veitch's presentation is entitled "Killing for God." Here is a summary:
September 11 is a critical defining moment for all of us who live in the English speaking Western world. It has brought into sharp relief the possibility of an ongoing 'clash of civilizations.' Killing for God and in the name of God have become trademarks of the conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere. This presentation reconstructs the important milestones in the pathway to September 11 and the response that created the 'war on terror.' It will address questions like: who are the 'terrorists,' what do they want, and why do they act in the ways that they do? And it will ask whether religious faith can be harnessed to empower the peace process instead of empowering terror.
L. Michael White will speak about Christian origins with his presentation: "Rediscovering the Earliest Jesus Movement." He has written a helpful book on Christian origins and places each New Testament writing as well as extra-canonical works in their historical setting.
His book is entitled, "From Jesus to Christianity."
It has become a commonplace these days to recognize the Jewishness of Jesus and his first followers. But it still comes as a surprise to some to hear that the earliest Jesus Movement remained a thoroughly Jewish sect throughout its first and even second generations, down to at least the end of the first century ce. This series will look at the evidence and patterns of development in the Jesus sect during the first and second generation with special focus on the form of the sect located in and around the Galilee, specifically that associated with the Gospel of Matthew, and will include discussions of the cultural history of the region in light of historical and archaeological evidence and how such information may illuminate the text.
Joanna Dewey will speak about the importance of oral tradition in reconstructing early Christian history. Her presentation is entitled "Oral Communication and Manuscripts."
In antiquity, only about five per cent of the population were literate and, except among the elite, manuscripts were few and far between. Yet most of our scholarly reconstruction of Christian history has been based on our own experience of print media, that is, on assumptions that early Christians relied on fixed texts that were readily available. In fact most knowledge was transmitted orally and manuscripts mostly served as an aid to oral memory. Knowledge of the first-century media world both helps us to understand early Christianity and complicates our quest for certainty. This lecture will explore some implications for reconstructing early Christianity.
In addition to the presentations, the various seminars will deliberate including the new Jesus Seminar on Christian Origins. At the Spring 2006 meeting, they made some interesting conclusions. The latest issue of The Fourth R reported on this seminar and the Acts Seminar. Here are some of the "red letter" and "black letter" (red is a 'yes' consensus among the fellows and black is a 'no' consensus) statements about early Christian origins and the Acts of the Apostles:
Did Christianity begin with the Resurrection?
(again black bullet statements=no,
red bullet statements=yes)
- Christianity began with the resurrection of Jesus.
- In Christian theology the resurrection has functioned to authorize Christian faith and practice by connecting it to the transcendent world, not as an account of how Christianity began.
- Christianity began with the event of Pentecost described in Acts 2.
- Christianity began as a movement within Judaism; it would not become recognizable as a distinct new religion until many years later, after the first generation of Jesus' followers had passed from the scene.
Did Christianity begin with Paul?
- Paul was the founder of Christianity.
- Christianity began as a movement among Jews. I would not become recognizable as a distinct new religion until many years later, after the first generation of Jesus' followers had passed from the scene.
Did Christianity begin with Jesus?
- Christianity began with Jesus.
- Jesus of Nazareth should be included in the discussion of Christian origins.
So not Resurrection, not Pentecost, not Paul, not Jesus. The work continues. Here are some conclusions regarding the Acts of the Apostles:
- The Acts of the Apostles is best understood as a myth of Christian origins.
- The Acts of the Apostles should not be employed as the basis for a historical study of Christian origins.
- The Acts of the Apostles is not a primary source for Pauline biography or Pauline chronology.
- The Acts of the Apostles is more valuable for second-century Christianity than for first.
I belong to the Literacy and Liturgy Seminar. Here is its description:
The Literacy and Liturgy Seminar is composed of both individual Fellows of the Jesus Seminar and religious professionals, clergy and lay, who are interested in disseminating the work of the Jesus Seminar. This seminar serves as a bridge between the work of the Jesus Seminar and faith communities, study groups and individuals who want to use the scholars' research to raise the level of religious literacy, both in the churches and in the wider culture. This seminar will seek to make the knowledge and insights generated by the Jesus Seminar more widely known among both religious communities and others who are concerned with the role of religion in modern society and culture.
Considering the results of scholarly research can help people of faith and their communities examine and reflect on their received traditions and find new ways of expressing religious meaning. In light of that recognition this seminar will seek to foster new forms of religious language, education, music, and ritual in light of contemporary scholarship on the historical Jesus, Christian origins, and on the Christian tradition throughout its long history.
More on what that seminar will be doing in a future post. Here are various testimonies from scholars on Why Westar Institute is important. I highlight this one from Dominic Crossan:
An extremely literalist and fundamentalist understanding of the Christian Bible is presently dominant … in matters from medicine through education to foreign policy. Bob [Funk's] vision of a laity schooled in biblical scholarship—schooled, that is, in an alternative understanding of the Bible based on historical context—is even more desperately needed right now than when Bob created the Jesus Seminar in 1985.
—John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, DePaul University, Chicago
Right on, brother Dom.