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Re: [XTalk] Peter Jennings Special

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  • Mahlon H. Smith
    Dear John et al: My advice is simply to ignore the pre-broadcast reviews until one sees the show & judges for oneself. Richard Ostling hardly qualifies as a
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 25, 2000
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      Dear John et al:

      My advice is simply to ignore the pre-broadcast reviews until one sees
      the show & judges for oneself. Richard Ostling hardly qualifies as a
      neutral objective reporter. The tone of snide condescension &
      scandal-mongering in service of uneducated piety is typical of many of
      his pieces, the most noteworthy of which was his 1988 article "Who Was
      Jesus?" (Time, Aug 15, 1988) that called the world's attention to the JS
      that was responsible from much of the alarm & misinformation that fed
      conservative anti-JS polemic for years. Here are a few choice excerpts
      from the conclusion of his survey of modern Jesus scholarship up to

      "Church struggles aside, what does the work of liberal biblical scholars
      mean to the ordinary believer, the average person in the pew? So far, no
      much. Most of the discussions have taken place within the confines of
      the academic world. And when New Testament experts publish their
      theories, they tend to turn out highly technical tomes that only a few
      specialists could, or would want to, read...

      "The workaday Christian who does make the effort to delve into the
      findings of the citics will probably be furstrated. After more than a
      century of immense effort, surprisingly little has been settled
      concerning the Gospels. A *riot of discord* persists over which passages
      might be trustworthy and over the criteria for deciding so, no to
      mention over the fundamental issue of who Jesus was... The theories are
      also *unstable.* Funk admits that the 'data base' of sayings being
      developed by his Jesus Seminar will no doubt have to be reworked by the
      next generation... In the end, does the search for the Jesus of history
      have *any* relevance for believers? [sic!!!]... Many such thinkers
      downplay the idea that Jesus was God, let alone a member of a complex
      theological partnership [sic!!!!] called the Trinity. They emphasize his
      human qualities, in the hope that believers might better identify with
      him. But will most people be inspired by this sort of Jesus, who is so
      different from the Christ of the New Testament, who has captivated
      artists and peasants alike over the centuries? Will they want to stake
      their lives on a person about whom so little is certain and who is only
      dimly divine?... They are not likely to be stirred by the
      *less-than-robust* Jesuses resulting from higher criticism. The piling
      up of sheer historical fact about the Galilean, however, is not
      sufficient. Even a clearer, more traditional Jesus of history is
      inadequate if he does not evoke spiritual awe... If Jesus is
      uninteresting, whether in a movie or a scholar's reconstruction of the
      Gospels, no one will follow him."

      Asterisks & brackets mine.

      In this piece Ostling seems to assume that only a mythical Jesus would
      be "interesting" to average people. He apparently thinks that no one
      would want to follow a real historical person until he has been
      divinized. In his current review of the Jennings special, I sense a bit
      of annoyance that he proved wrong in his earlier judgment & in his
      prediction that the Jesus Seminar & the historical quest would be
      ignored by average people because of it only produced a "riot of

      Ostling's anti-intellectualism is obvious in virtually every line that
      he writes as his review of the Jennings special shows. *Any* subscriber
      to this list -- even the lurkers -- could write a better & fairer review
      than this Tertullian of 20th century religious journalism. So, I invite
      all XTalkers to submit their post-mortems after tomorrow nite's show.
      I'll be taping it.



      P.S. Unless anyone thinks this is sour grapes: as I told Bob Funk, the
      JS owes a debt a gratitude to Ostling for having called our research to
      the attention of the world. Without the 1988 Time article & subsequent
      pieces in Newsweek & US News, Jennings would never have brought his
      camera crew to Santa Rosa to spend 4 days documenting our Oct. 1996
      session & interviewing us. Without this publicity, even negative, it is
      doubtful that Five Gospels & Acts of Jesus would have wound up on best
      seller lists. So, if that is not reason enough to love one's enemies, I
      don't know what is ;-)

      > John Whatley wrote:
      > I'm a lurker on this list. I'm no scholar, but enjoy reading these
      > discussions. I haven't seen any comment here lately about the
      > upcoming Peter Jennings special, "The Search for Jesus" tomorrow night
      > (Monday June 26) at 8pm est on ABC. I see that the A.P. writer below
      > is not a fan of the JS, or the show. Here are some of his comments
      > from his pre-broadcast review.
      > Full article is here:
      > http://www.kcstar.com/item/pages/fyi.pat?file=fyi/37748de5.622
      > By RICHARD N. OSTLING - The Associated Press
      > Date: 06/24/00 22:15
      > New York
      > One pitfall is that "Search" indiscriminately mingles folkways (did
      > Mary really sit on this rock?) with essentials (did Jesus have a Last
      > Supper and what did it mean?).
      > More importantly, ABC's implicit plot line pits the touching faith in
      > the Gospels among common folk in Bethlehem, Nazareth or Alexandria,
      > La., against the experts, who supposedly know better. That's a hugely
      > distorted picture.
      > But, as the old saying goes, a reporter is only as good as his
      > sources. In Jennings' lopsided lineup, the key talking heads consist
      > of five American liberals, a middle-roader in Israel and a lone
      > traditionalist from England.
      > Jennings seems to have discovered none of the estimable moderate and
      > conservative scholars in America. And even on the liberal side, the
      > show doesn't visit the blueblood campuses where biblical history is
      > being undermined, nor does it hear from some prime figures in the
      > debate.
      > Although viewers aren't told this, four of the five Americans
      > on-screen come from the "Jesus Seminar." As fundamentalists scowled
      > and scholars smirked, this group organized to take votes on whether
      > each passage in the Gospels is true or false. Given the group's
      > methods, skeptical presuppositions and special ideologies, falsity was
      > bound to win most of the ballots.
      > In just the same way ABC's conclusions are predictable, given its
      > sources:
      > "It is pretty much agreed" that the Gospel writers "were not
      > eyewitnesses" and that the texts "were probably written 40 to 100
      > years after Jesus' death." (Actually, the question is not whether the
      > writers were eyewitnesses but whether they drew upon eyewitness
      > material. Only radicals push the writings more than 70 years after
      > Jesus.)
      > "The only things we can say with some certainty" about Jesus' birth
      > are that he was Jewish and there was political tension at the time.
      > "Most scholars we talked to" think that Jesus' nature miracles "were
      > invented by the Gospel writers as advertisements for Christianity."
      > "Jesus was executed, not for blasphemy as the Gospels indicate, but as
      > a political revolutionary."
      > Jennings reports that "some eminent scholars" believe Jesus rose from
      > the grave. And although the show doesn't make the best use of its
      > conservative, Canon Theologian N.T. Wright of Westminster Abbey, he
      > gets in one zinger: If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, Wright asks,
      > how do we explain the explosive growth of early Christianity?
      > Wright's presence makes ABC's program more balanced than "From Jesus
      > to Christ," a PBS effort two years ago that excluded conservative
      > thinkers.
      > The Jennings program is being praised by an Orthodox Jewish educator,
      > Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of the National Jewish Center for Learning and
      > Leadership.
      > "I was extremely impressed and moved," he says. "It made a great
      > religious leader very available."
      > By contrast, traditional Christians probably will loathe the show,
      > which will only reinforce their already profound distrust of
      > establishment media empires. The Southern Baptist Convention even
      > supports a boycott of ABC's parent Disney company, to little effect.
      > So, what does newsman Jennings conclude? He says Jesus "had a vision
      > for a just world which was so vivid, and which moved him so
      > powerfully, that he was willing to die for it. And after his death,
      > his vision somehow transformed the world. Miraculous."
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      Mahlon H. Smith, http://religion.rutgers.edu/mh_smith.html
      Associate Professor
      Department of Religion Virtual Religion Index
      Rutgers University http://religion.rutgers.edu/vri/
      New Brunswick NJ

      Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus

      A Synoptic Gospels Primer

      Jesus Seminar Forum
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