Advancing religious literacy

Christianity Seminar (2013 - Present)

The Jesus Seminar uncovered the historical figure of Jesus behind the New Testament gospels. The next challenge is to uncover the history of Christianity behind the New Testament.

Launched in spring 2013, the Christianity Seminar will take the next step to reimagine how the movement that began around Jesus eventually became Christian orthodoxy and the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Just as the Jesus Seminar challenged the uncritical assumption that the gospels are reliable sources for the life of Jesus, so the Christianity Seminar will challenge the uncritical assumption that the New Testament is a reliable source for the history of the various groups that responded to the words and deeds of Jesus in the first two centuries C.E.

“While the New Testament presents itself as Christianity, it is instead simply the creation of the canon, the end result of the third-century attempt to standardize and unify Christianity,” said Brandon Scott, Westar Fellow and chair of the Christianity Seminar program committee. “The purpose for creating the canonical New Testament was as much to exclude divergent voices and to erase alternate readings as to include those writings endorsed by the proto-orthodox group,” he said.

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Goal

The Acts Seminar has already demonstrated that the account of Christian origins in the Acts of the Apostles is a second-century romantic and polemical narrative, not a reliable historical source. The goal of the Christianity Seminar will be to move from an understanding of Christianity that has been predetermined by the canon to a reconstruction that starts before its formation and does not assume the canon as an inevitable outcome.

With the aim of extending its reach and influence, the Christianity Seminar envisions producing various written products and plans to maintain a significant web presence. Two volumes and subsidiary articles are already envisioned for this seminar. Taken together, these volumes would serve as alternative New Testament introductory textbooks:

  • From Jesus to Irenaeus, a retelling of the story of early Christianity with individual chapters dedicated to and organized by topics adopted for the various sessions
  • Early Christian Documents, to provide a limited yet annotated supplement to the first volume.

Read The Whys and Wherefores of the New Christianity Seminar, by Nina E. Livesey
From the January-February, 2013 issue of The Fourth R.

Reports

The Christianity Seminar meets twice annually, with additional work conducted online. Reports from the seminar appear in Westar’s magazine for members, The Fourth R.