Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Jesus SeM&Minar

Today in my historical Jesus class we conducted our very own Jesus SeM&Minar.  Now I must admit, I got this brilliant idea from James McGrath of Exploring our Matrix fame as I used his syllabus as the template for my own course this year as I was teaching it for the first time.  I thoroughly modified his syllabus to my own needs, but I had to keep the Jesus SeM&Minar.  

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 thing
Brown 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.

Beelzebul: 8 Red, 7 Orange, 1 Green, 0 Brown
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.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Leaving the SBL

Well, another year, another SBL. Great weather in Chicago this year. The highlight for me: the biblioblogger's gathering last night. Even though I don't blog much anymore, and i felt a little like a poser last night, those bibliobloggers are just the most fun.

A parting pic down Michigan ave as I waited for the airport shuttle.

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Location:S Michigan Ave,Chicago,United States