A controversial group of biblical scholars is coming to Coeur d’Alene this week to share their work with the public.
Three members of the Jesus Seminar - which three years ago concluded Jesus didn’t say most of what the Gospels attribute to him - will lecture Friday night and conduct two workshops Saturday at the Lake City Senior Center.
This weekend is only the second time members of the Jesus Seminar, a Californiabased think tank, have taken to the road.
“We want to attempt to communicate the kind of scholarship that has been going on for 2,000 years,” said Roy Hoover, one of the Jesus Seminar fellows and a retired professor of biblical literature at Whitman College in Walla Walla. “We want to make it understandable.”
Part of founder Robert Funk’s philosophy is to share the results of his work with people outside of academic circles.
The scholars, who consider themselves Christians, have cast doubt on many of the foundations of the Christian faith, including the virgin birth and many of the miracles attributed to Jesus Christ.
To reach their conclusions, the scholars conduct historical studies on the text of the Bible and other ancient documents. Among other things, they examine the language, the syntax and even the paper of some early documents to determine authenticity.
This week, they are making their final conclusions about the resurrection and are sure to share their results at the Coeur d’Alene workshop.
The workshop is sponsored by the Unity Church of North Idaho.
Ed Muehlbach, a church member and husband of the Unity Church pastor, is the driving force behind bringing the Jesus Seminar to Coeur d’Alene.
Rather than undermining faith, a frequent criticism of the Jesus Seminar, Muehlbach said he thinks critical examination of the Bible enhances his beliefs.
“We can identify what Jesus said and did, and this is significant in determining how we live as Christians,” Muehlbach said. “Does it change anything? I don’t really think it changes anything. It kind of enhances our understanding of what it is all about.”
Muehlbach expects the audience to be thick with ministers and other church leaders from around the Northwest.
The lectors all have strong ties to the Northwest.
Funk founded the Jesus Seminar in the mid-1980s. A retired University of Montana professor, he has a doctorate in New Testament studies from Vanderbilt University. He is a Guggenheim fellow and a Fulbright scholar.
Hoover is a retired professor of biblical literature from Whitman College. He has a doctorate in theology from Harvard and is an ordained minister.
Together, Funk and Hoover wrote “The Five Gospels,” an account of the research by the nearly 100 scholars associated with the Jesus Seminar. It was that book that attracted much of the criticism.
Joining Funk and Hoover for the weekend workshop is Ron Large, an associate professor in the religious studies department at Gonzaga University. He formerly taught at the University of Montana with Funk. He has a doctorate in theology.
Although he is not a biblical scholar, Large has been a fellow of the Jesus Seminar since its inception. His interest is in religion and popular culture.
Mostly because of their aggressive public relations push, the Jesus Seminar scholars have offended people across a wide variety of faiths, from evangelical to Catholic.
“It appears quite illogical that we should be more skeptical about the Bible than we are about other ancient documents,” said James Bibza, an associate professor of religion at Grove City College, a Presbyterian college in Pennsylvania. “The Jesus Seminar provides no convincing evidence for its conclusions.”
Hoover said such critics confuse faith and scholarly pursuits.
“Our emphasis is on honest treatment of the New Testament, not conditioned by prior religious beliefs,” he said. “We take the evidence at face value.”
The members of the Jesus Seminar believe an honest examination of the Bible and other religious texts enhances faith.
Many religious critics disagree.
“What it really boils down to is their word against the word of the Gospels,” said Joy Thompson, a religious writer from Long Beach, Calif. “Outside of faith, the Gospels have no spiritual value.”
xxxx Lecture, workshops Robert Funk and Roy Hoover, authors of “The Five Gospels, What Did Jesus Really Say?” will present a public lecture at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Lake City Senior Center, 1916 Lakewood Drive, Coeur d’Alene. Cost is $5. Funk, Hoover and Gonzaga University Assistant Professor Ron Large will present two workshops Saturday at the senior center. At 1:30 p.m., the three will discuss “The Gospel of Jesus.” At 7 p.m. they will discuss “The Jesus of the Gospels.” The workshops cost $25 each. For more information about registration for the Jesus Seminar, call the Unity Church of North Idaho at (208) 664-1125.