Robert W. Funk, the New Testament scholar who founded the controversial Jesus Seminar, died September 3 at his home in Santa Rosa, California, of lung failure. He was 79. After academic stints that included the chairmanship of Vanderbilt University’s religion department and the position of executive secretary of the Society of Biblical Literature, Funk organized in 1985 a group of 75-100 scholars who assessed which sayings in the canonical and apocryphal Gospels most likely came from the historical Jesus. Jesus was not the self-proclaimed messiah of end times, the group said, but “a wisdom teacher whose parables proclaimed the arrival of God’s kingdom,” according to the Web site of the seminar’s Westar Institute. Voting with colored balls (black for no) and making its conclusions public, the group welcomed press coverage, partly in an effort to counter claims about the Bible by fundamentalist preachers.


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