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Jesus Seminar comes to UND this week

For the seventh year, the Jesus Seminar on the Road is bringing its brand of controversial biblical scholarship to UND's campus, in "the Politics of the Real Jesus," on Friday night and Saturday.

For the seventh year, the Jesus Seminar on the Road is bringing its brand of controversial biblical scholarship to UND's campus, in "the Politics of the Real Jesus," on Friday night and Saturday.

The Rev. Jarmo Tarkki and Joanna Dewey will lecture 7:30 to 9 p.m. Friday in Gamble Hall, 293 Centennial Drive, and lead workshops 9:30 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 3:15 p.m. Saturday in Christus Rex Lutheran Campus Center, 3012 University Ave.

Tarkki, a Lutheran pastor in Solvang, Calif., and adjunct professor of theology at California Lutheran University, was a sailor, prison chaplain and TV host in Finland before becoming vice chairman of the Jesus Seminar.

Dewey, professor emerita of biblical studies at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass., is a specialist in the Gospel of Mark and in feminist approaches to the New Testament.

On Friday evening, Tarkki will look at the Jesus of the Gospels versus the Jesus of the Constantinian world and church three centuries later, and whether Jesus was a pacifist, a socialist, or "green."


Dewey will talk about what the world would be like if God were in charge.

On Saturday, Dewey will focus on the politics of Jesus' time, and Tarkki will talk about "Jesus and the Politics of Today."

This is the 25th anniversary of the Jesus Seminar, a California-based loose fellowship of nearly 200 biblical scholars whose meetings two decades ago at which scholars voted with colors to decide which Gospel quotes really came from Jesus drew acclaim and brickbats.

Conservatives say the Jesus Seminar was just the latest and a more militant collection of liberal scholars intent on gutting traditional beliefs of Christians.

The Jesus Seminar leaders have said the point was to bring attention to the biblical scholarship that too often remained in libraries and conferences. Much of the seminar's content had been part of biblical scholarship for a century and more, many pointed out.

Founder Robert Funk, who died in 2005, was clear that his intentions in forming the seminar were to dispel many of the beliefs regular church-going Christians had about Jesus, say those who knew Funk.

The upshot of the Jesus Seminar's work is that Jesus actually said few of the things attributed to him in the four Gospels and didn't think of himself as God.

The fellows of the seminar include those who say they are believing Christians and those, such as moviemaker Paul Verhoeven -- known for controversial sex and violence in his films such as "Robocop," "Basic Instinct" and "Showgirls," -- who say they are non-Christians and want to counter Christian beliefs.


Some critics of the seminar have said it seems a little convenient that the Jesus they found resembles so much a late-20th-century leftist political activist who would feel at home in California.

Supporters say its work shines light on the best and brightest of biblical scholarship for even non-scholars.

There are some key local connections to the Jesus Seminar.

Marcus Borg, perhaps the best known of the Jesus Seminar fellows and nearly a founder of it, grew up in Park River, N.D., and attended Concordia College in Moorhead. His 11 books include some best-sellers, including "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time" and "Reading the Bible Again for the First Time." Borg is a religion professor at Oregon State University.

Shelly Matthews, a former Grand Forks-area Methodist pastor and UND religion lecturer from 1987 to 1990 and again in 1996, became a fellow of the Jesus Seminar in 2006, according to the group's website. Matthews is religion professor at Furman University in Greenville, S.C.

The Rev. Gretchen Graf, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, has been the main organizer of bringing the Jesus Seminar on the Road to Grand Forks.

"We started when some university students went to an "On the Road" in Rochester, Minn.," Graf said this week. "The students were inspired to bring them here."

She has attended the main Jesus Seminar sessions in Santa Rosa, Calif., Graf said. "It was wonderful."


"Their focus has always been on making their scholarship available to the general public and the 'On the Road' helps them do that," Graf said.

Most years, the attendance has not been large, "in the 30s," for the Grand Forks sessions, Graf said.

"We have about 20 registered so far," she said Wednesday. "So, we have plenty of room."

The cost is $75 for the whole seminar, or $20 for the Friday session and $30 each for the morning and afternoon workshops Saturday. Scholarships are available for students, and walk-in registration is welcomed.

For more information, call First Presbyterian at (701) 775-5545 or Christus Rex at (701) 775-5581; or go online to www.westarinstitute.org .

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com

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