Response to Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Real Jesus -- By: Walter Wink

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 07:1 (NA 1997)
Article: Response to Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Real Jesus
Author: Walter Wink

Response to Luke Timothy Johnson’s
The Real Jesus

Walter Wink

Auburn Theological Seminary

Since the whole quest discussion has overflowed into the media, I have rummaged around for some catchy way to get my response onto prime time television and the evening news. I have hit upon the brilliant idea to score this fight between the Questers and their Questioners as a boxing match. This is especially appropriate in that, as the referee, I will be pretending to be objective, as most biblical scholars do, when I very clearly am on the side of the Questers. So, let the fight begin.

ROUND ONE: Johnson comes out swinging haymakers right and left, and enough land that the Questers are in danger of a TKO. Johnson’s opening salvo of punches are mostly below the belt, and the referee has to warn him repeatedly that characterizing his opponents’ scholarship as “second-rate,” “stuff,” “fulminations,” “academic self promotion,” “a strange combination of grandiosity and hucksterism,” “narcissistic self-referentiality,” “pure flimflam,” “a paper chase, pure and simple,” “a house of cards,” “a certain kind of madness,” and media “manipulation” is scarcely civil, despite Johnson’s pious disclaimer, on the heels of three such insults, that “I hope that my language is courteous” (p. vi). The crowd loves this stuff, and clamors for more; they prefer a street brawl to the more disciplined boxing of the masters. Johnson continues to lodge low blows in later rounds, and even an occasional knee to the groin that has left some Questers in acute pain. When he settles down, however, Johnson scores some solid points by attacking the Questers at their weakest spot: the Jesus Seminar. He lands the following blows:

1. The Jesus Seminar is a self-selected and far from representative group of scholars from “relatively undistinguished academic positions”—none of them from the faculties of Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Duke, Union, Emory, or Chicago.1 The Jesus Seminar is stocked

with clearly marginal scholars; some have no academic appointment at all, Some are even engaged, for God’s sake, in continuing education! Jesus Seminar participants cry foul, but the referee, being overawed by the reference to Harvard and Yale, ignores them. Apparently we are not to look to the margins, but only to the center, for truth. Never mind that this argument excludes places like Marburg, or Nazareth.

2. The Jesus Seminar votes with colored beads on the authenticity of Jesus’ sayings and deeds. While the Seminar has never agreed that the burden of proof is on the text to prove its ...

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