Jesus Seminar failure

The Jesus Seminar was a group of about 150 critical Biblical scholars founded in 1985 by Robert Funk (1926-2005).  Although never formally disbanded, the seminar effectively ceased functioning in 2006.  Their goal was to reconstruct the historical Jesus and find out what exactly Jesus said.  The result was that they portrayed Jesus as an itinerant Hellenistic Jewish sage, a faith-healer, who preached a gospel of liberation from injustice.  However, they believed that Jesus did not hold an apocalyptic worldview, as indicated in the canonical writings.  The methods and conclusions of the Jesus Seminar came under very harsh criticism by some biblical scholars, historians, and clergy.  However, this Jesus Seminar produced a significant number of publications for over 20 years, especially articles about the Gospel of Thomas.

The unjust ones (Am 5:7-5:7)

“O!

You turn justice

To wormwood!

You bring righteousness

To the ground!”

Amos said that justice was sweet, not like the bitterness of wormwood, a prominent tree in Israel. The wicked ones wanted to bring the righteous ones down to the ground. They wanted the bitterness of injustice rather than justice.

The unjust king and his house (Jer 22:13-22:14)

“Woe to him

Who builds his house

With unrighteousness!

Woe to him

Who builds his upper rooms

With injustice!

Woe to him

Who makes his neighbors

Work for nothing!

Woe to him

Who does not give them

Their wages!

Woe to him

Who says

‘I will build myself

A spacious house

With large upper rooms.’

He cuts out windows for it.

He panels it with cedar.

He paints it with vermilion.”

This seems to be a swipe at King Jehoiakim or King Eliakim (609-598 BCE) who was put in charge by the Egyptian king. Apparently, he decided to expand the palace using Egyptian styles, like large upper rooms, lots of windows, paneled cedar, and vermilion paint. Jeremiah seems to censure him for building this great palace with injustice and unrighteousness, since he did not correctly pay the people who did the work.

The importance of good relationships (Isa 58:6-58:9)

“Is not this the fast that I choose?

You must loose the bonds of injustice!

You must undo the thongs of the yoke!

Let the oppressed go free!

Break every yoke!

Is it not to share your bread

With the hungry?

Is it not to bring the homeless poor

Into your house?

When you see the naked,

Cover them!

Do not hide yourself

From your own relatives!

Then your light shall break forth

Like the dawn.

Your healing shall spring up quickly.

Your vindicator shall go before you.

The glory of Yahweh

Shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call.

Now Yahweh will answer.

You shall cry for help.

He will say.

‘Here I am.’”

Third Isaiah has Yahweh explain what kind of relationships that they should have while fasting. They should try to do away with injustice. They should try to lift the yoke of those who are oppressed. They should share their bread with the hungry. They should provide housing for the homeless. They should clothe the naked. In some sense, this sounds like the later Christian beatitudes in the gospel stories. They should take care of their relatives or next of kin. If they did all these things, then their light would be like the dawning of a new day. They would heal quickly. Their vindicator would lead them, while the glory of God would be behind them. If they called him, obviously the Lord, Yahweh, would answer their cry for help with a simple saying that he was here.  How you treat others has an impact on how you treat God.

False justice (Isa 10:1-10:4)

“Woe to you

Who make iniquitous decrees!

Woe to you

Who write oppressive statutes!

You turn aside

The needy from justice!

You rob the poor of my people

Of their right!

Widows may be your spoil!

You make the orphans your prey!

What will you do

On the day of punishment?

What will you do

In the calamity

That will come from afar?

To whom will you flee for help?

Where will you leave your wealth?

Will you crouch among the prisoners?

Will you fall among the slain?

For all this

His anger has not turned away.

His hand is still stretched out.”

Isaiah then curses those who practice injustice, those who make evil decrees and oppressive statutes. He was against those who took away justice and robbed the poor people of their rights. These unjust people took stuff from the widows and the orphans as if they were taking spoil after a war or prey for an animal. What were they going to do on the punishment day? In troubles, who would help them? Where were they going to leave their wealth? They might end up as a prisoner or get killed. Once again, this little section ends with the refrain that the angry hand of Yahweh has not turned away, since it is still stretched out today.

A reproach against bribery (Isa 5:23-5:24)

“Woe to you

Who acquit the guilty

For a bribe!

Woe to you

Who deprive the innocent

Of their rights!

Therefore,

As the tongue of fire

Devours the stubble,

So their roots will become rotten.

As dry grass sinks down

In the flame,

So their blossoms will go up

Like dust.

They have rejected

The instruction of Yahweh of hosts.

They have despised

The word of the Holy One of Israel.”

However, the real scolding comes when judges acquit a guilty person because of a bribe. They thus deprive the innocent ones of their rights. They are going to end up like stubble and dry grass devoured by a fire. Their roots will become rotten. Their blossoms will be blown off like dust. They have rejected Yahweh. They have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Injustice is a real big deal.

Some proverbs (Sir 40:12-40:17)

“All bribery

Will be blotted out.

All injustice

Will be blotted out.

But good faith

Will last forever.

The wealth of the unjust

Will dry up like a river.

The wealth of the unjust

Will crash like a loud clap

Of thunder in a storm.

A generous person

Has cause to rejoice.

Lawbreakers

Will utterly fail.

The children of the ungodly

Put out few branches.

They are unhealthy roots

On sheer rock.

The reeds by any water

Or river bank

Are plucked up

Before any grass.

Kindness is

Like a garden of blessings.

Almsgiving endures forever.”

Sirach utters some proverbs or sayings about injustice and life. Bribery and injustice will be blotted out, but good faith will last forever. The wealth of the unjust will disappear like a dried up river or thunder in a storm, here today, but gone tomorrow. Generous people should rejoice, while the lawbreakers will fail. The children of the ungodly will have few branches because their unhealthy roots are on solid rocks so they will have no yield. They are like reeds near water that is plucked before the grass. Kindness, on the other hand, grows into a garden of blessings. Then too almsgiving endures forever.