1926 - 2005
Robert Walter Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar and one of the most influential New Testament scholars of his generation, died on Saturday, September 3, at his home in Santa Rosa, California, following a brief illness. He was 79.
A distinguished teacher, writer, translator and publisher in the field of religious studies, Robert Funk retired from the University of Montana in 1986 to found the Westar Institute, a non-profit research and educational institute dedicated to the advancement of religious literacy. Westar's first project, the Jesus Seminar, renewed the quest for the historical Jesus begun by David Friedrich Strauss in the nineteenth century and later taken up by Albert Schweitzer at the beginning of the twentieth. At the opening session of the Jesus Seminar in 1985, Funk defined its mission as follows: "We are going to inquire simply, rigorously after the voice of Jesus, after what he really said." The Jesus of Nazareth discovered by the Jesus Seminar was a wisdom teacher whose parables proclaimed the arrival of God's kingdom. He was not, in the judgment of the Seminar, the messiah of the end-times. These and other findings of the Seminar drew widespread attention throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Funk further influenced the course of biblical scholarship by insisting that Fellows of the Jesus Seminar communicate the results of biblical scholarship directly to the literate public.
A Guggenheim Fellow and Senior Fulbright Scholar, Robert Funk served as Annual Professor of the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, as chair of the Graduate Department of Religion at Vanderbilt University, and as Executive Secretary of the Society of Biblical Literature, the learned society of bible scholars. His many books include Language, Hermeneutic, and Word of God (1966), Jesus as Precursor (1975), Parables and Presence (1982), The Poetics of Biblical Narrative (1988), The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (1993) and The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds (1998) (both with the Jesus Seminar), Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millennium (1996), and A Credible Jesus (2002), as well as two Greek grammars.
Robert Funk was born July 18, 1926, in Evansville, Indiana, the eldest son of Robert Joseph and Ada Funk. He was educated at Butler University (AB 1947) and its affiliated Christian Theological Seminary (BD 1950; MA 1951) and at Vanderbilt University (PhD 1953). He also pursued special studies at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland (1947), the University of Tübingen, Germany (1965–1966), and the University of Toronto, Canada (1973–1974). Funk served on the faculties of Texas Christian University (1953–1956), Harvard Divinity School (1956–1957), Emory University (1958–1959), Drew University (1959–1966), Vanderbilt Divinity School (1966–1969), and the University of Montana (1969–1986), where he and colleague Ray Hart founded the Department of Religious Studies. In May 2005, he was honored with a Doctorate in Humane Letters by his alma mater, Butler University.
Robert Funk is survived by his wife Charlene Matejovsky of Santa Rosa, California, daughters Andrea Ray of Eugene, Oregon, and Stephanie McFarland of Portland, Oregon, three grandchildren Alyson, Katie, and Jake McFarland, and a brother Charles Anthony Foster of Tampa, Florida. Another brother John Gilbert Funk died in 2003. Donations may be sent to the Robert W. Funk Memorial Fund at Westar Institute, P.O. Box 7268, Santa Rosa, California 95407.