The idea is to, Jesus Seminar style, vote on various sayings and/or deeds of Jesus as to their historical probability, but instead of using colored stones, one uses M&Ms. More fun, and hey, you get to eat your vote after you are finished.
Here is how I set up the voting for our class.
Red M&M = He said/did such a thing
Orange M&M = He said/did something like this, but not exactly as the text(s) present it
Green M&M = He probably did not say/do such a thingBrown M&M = He almost certainly said/did no such thing
These colors more or less correspond to the Jesus Seminar's Red, Pink, Gray, and Black.
I was a little nervous going into the class because my student makeup is to a great extent on the conservative evangelical end of the spectrum and I was afraid of vote after vote of all red M&Ms, because for many conservatives, if it is in the Bible, it has to be historically factual.
I chose 6 sayings/deeds that we were to vote on. They are:
1. The Beelzebul Controversy (Mark 3:20-22, Matt 12:24, Luke 11:15)
2. The cleansing of the Temple (Mark 11:15-16, Matt 21:12, Luke 19:45, John 2:13-16)
3. Jesus walking on water (Mark 6:47-52, Matt 14:24-33, John 6:16-21)
4. The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-32, Matthew 13:31-32, Luke 13:18-19, Gos Thomas 20)
5. Let the dead bury their own dead (Luke 9:59-60, Matthew 8:21-22)
6. Church Discipline (Matthew 18:15-20)
After voting, I had the students defend their positions based on various Jesus criteria (multiple attestation, dissimilarity, embarrassment, coherence, historical plausibility, etc.).
I stacked the deck in my selection of deeds/sayings, choosing some that Jesus scholars clearly think are historical and others that are clearly on the non-historical side. Out of 15 students, plus my vote, here are the results.
Temple Cleansing: 9 Red, 7 Orange, 0 Green, 0 Brown
Water Walking: 6 Red, 2 Orange, 8 Green, 0 Brown
Mustard Seed: 10 Red, 6 Orange, 0 Green, 0 Brown
Dead bury own dead: 9 Red, 5 Orange, 1 Green, 1 Brown
Church Discipline: 4 Red, 6 Orange, 4 Green, 1 Brown
Looking at these vote counts, it was not as I feared. Obviously there was some conservative tilt with a lot of red and orange. The biggest red light issue for me was the walking on water with 8 votes going toward historical authenticity, or at least close to authentic. But, miracles are a touchy issue and I understand the vote, even though I tried to get the students to disengage their belief and try to act under the confines of historical research only.
The other shock for me was perhaps #6, Matthew's exposition on church discipline. This is a largely anachronistic use of the ekklesia, portraying Matthew's Sitz im Leben, not that of Jesus. Yet, this vote was actually the most interesting, because the verses that I had included in the vote really can be broken down into two sections: vv. 15-18 which is talking about church discipline proper, and vv. 19-20, which talk about binding and loosing and where two or more are gathered. I called a re-vote, this time just on vv. 15-18 and the results were fascinating. 1 Red, 2 Orange, 5 Green, and 8 Brown. Wow, 13 people in my class were skeptical or outright dismissive that these words belonged to the historical Jesus. I believe I have succeeded in communicating that the gospels do indeed often represent not just the brute facts of history, but also the concerns of the evangelists themselves.
It has been a really fun class this semester. I have learned a lot, I think my students have learned a lot, and this Jesus SeM&Minar was a great way to bring many themes from throughout the semester into one discussion here at the end of the semester. Thanks again to McGrath for the idea.