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Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus

Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus

by Robert Walter Funk, Jesus, the Seminar, The Jesus Seminar Staff
Robert W. Funk is founder of the Jesus Seminar and Director of the Westar Institute in Santa Rosa, California. He has been a distinguished leader in biblical scholorship for more than thirty years. A Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright Senior Scholar, he is the author of a dozen books, including Honest to Jesus and The Five Gospels.

In their groundbreaking bestseller,


Robert W. Funk is founder of the Jesus Seminar and Director of the Westar Institute in Santa Rosa, California. He has been a distinguished leader in biblical scholorship for more than thirty years. A Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright Senior Scholar, he is the author of a dozen books, including Honest to Jesus and The Five Gospels.

In their groundbreaking bestseller, The Five Gospels, Robert Funk and The Jesus Seminar offered their controversial analysis of what Jesus really said. Now, in The Acts of Jesus, these distinguished scholars reveal their startling assessment of what Jesus really did — and didn't — do. For over a decade, the Jesus Seminar, a group of more than 75 internationally recognized biblical scholars—experts in such diverse fields as Greco-Roman history, archaeology, and linguistics — has met twice yearly to conduct a painstaking search for the authentic Jesus. Through rigorous research and debate, they have combed the gospels for evidence of the man behind the myths. The figure they have discovered is very different from the icon of traditional Christianity. According to The Jesus Seminar: Jesus of Nazareth was born during the reign of Herod the Great. His mother's name was Mary, and he had a human father whose name may not have been Joseph. Jesus was born in Nazareth, not in Bethlehem. Jesus was an itinerant sage who shared meals with social outcasts. Jesus practiced healing without the use of ancient medicine or magic, relieving afflictions we now consider psychosomatic. He did not walk on water, feed the multitude with loaves and fishes, change water into wine or raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem and crucified by the Romans. He was executed as a public nuisance, not for claiming to be the Son of God. The empty tomb is a fiction — Jesus did not raise bodily from the dead. Belief in the resurrection is based on the visionary experiences of Paul, Peter and Mary. An Easy-to-Use Guide to the Historical Jesus, The Acts of Jesus presents its findings by color-coding the gospel texts, providing a visual guide to the historical authenticity of the accounts of Jesus' life and deeds. Red: The authentic acts of Jesus; Pink: A close approximation of what Jesus did; Gray: Stories that show minimal historical traces; Black: Stories that are improbable or fiction. In lucid, engaging prose, The Acts of Jesus presents and illuminates the historical and literary evidence that led to the Seminar's often controversial conclusions. It provides the reader with immediate access to the latest scholarship in historical Jesus research today.

Editorial Reviews

U.S. News & World Rep
It's Funk's evangelistic zeal, as much as his unorthodox views, that has placed him and his California-based seminar at the forefront of the modern historical Jesus quest. -- U.S. News & World Report

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
7.63(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.71(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


The followers of Jesus no doubt began to repeat his witticisms and parables during his lifetime. They soon began to recount stories about him, perhaps about his encounters with critics or about his amazing way with the sick and demon-possessed. As time went by, the words were gathered into compounds and clusters suggested by common themes or by catchwords to make them easier to remember and quote. His parables were retold and adapted to new audiences with each performance. The stories were likewise repeated by individual storytellers, who retold them in their own words, sometimes adding or omitting details as imagination or memory dictated. The gospel tradition was a living, breathing body of lore whose outside dimensions continued to grow.Since the gospels consist of individual tales that were formed and circulated within this highly fluid body of lore, scholars find it necessary to analyze the structure of the simple anecdote.A story or anecdote is the verbal representation of an event. To tell a story the narrator must bring two or more persons together in the same time and space and allow something to happen. That something is an event. In the gospels, the report of an event nearly always involves Jesus as the central character, although some anecdotes feature John the Baptist, Simon Peter, or Judas.Storytellers sometimes report events on their own authority: they insert themselves between the event and the listener as though to say, "This is what happened; take my word for it." When storytellers frame their stories this way, literary critics call it "recounting." As an alternative,storytellers may take their listeners to the time and place of the event and allow them to see and hear what went on-all by means of words, of course. In that case, critics say the storyteller is "enacting" the scene. Because enactment seems more realisticthe words of participants in the story are quoted and their actions are described, sometimes in graphic detail-it is often assumed to be more historically reliable. That assumption is misleading: writers of fiction know how to narrate realistically by enactment, and when they do a good job of it, readers willingly accept as true what they are being told. To be convincing, writers of fiction must of course achieve a high level of plausibility. Recounting, on the other hand, appears less convincing because it seems to depend on the reliability of the narrator. If an evangelist assures us that something happened, and we are inclined to think the evangelist is reliable, we conclude that the evangelist was telling the historical truth. That conclusion can also be deceptive. In determining whether a story depicts fact or fiction, plausibility and the distinction between enactment and recounting are not trustworthy guides. In historical reconstruction, caution and skepticism are always in order.How do we know when a storyteller is telling the historical truth? How do we know whether the narrator is recording a legend or myth or simply embellishing a tale with imaginative touches? How can we tell when a storyteller is concocting a composite "typical" event out of bits and pieces of historical lore? While scholars rarely achieve absolute certainty about historical facts, they are guided in the sorting process by their knowledge of how human beings acquire and record information.

Knowledge of the real world

The foundation of our knowledge of the real world is the face-to-face encounter. We get to know people and things through contact with them. The level of our knowledge improves if we have repeated contact with the same persons or events. It is difficult to determine what actually happened during an automobile accident, for example, because the event is fleeting and not repeatable. It is less difficult for a scientist to make an accurate measurement during an experiment that can be reenacted numerous times, or for one person to form a firm estimate of another through extended contact. Much of the reliable information human beings acquire about each other and the physical world comes to them through repeated direct observations.In the everyday world, however, human beings interpret their encounters with persons as well as with things largely in terms of typifications they have previously acquired from their family, society, or culture. When crystallized, typifications become stereotypes. Many judgments people make about each other, especially when one party views another from a distance, are based on stereotypes. The more removed people are from personal encounters, the more their knowledge of others becomes generalized, the more their knowledge depends on shared typifications that neither originate with nor are corrected by face-to-face contact. It is for this reason that someone has said that all enemies are faceless: it is more difficult to hate someone who has a real face. And it is for the same reason that Jesus' admonition "love your enemies" is often a paradox: one cannot love someone who is faceless. The ultimate form of remote, anonymous knowledge is information that is mostly or wholly dependent on "they say. . . "or "it is said. . . ." Information derived from what nameless or unnamed people say is called "hearsay."

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