‘Real Jesus’ Author to Give Phi Beta Kappa Lecture

Luke Timothy JohnsonLuke Timothy Johnson, whose book “The Real Jesus” became a rallying point for scholars rejecting the Jesus Seminar’s portrayal of Christ, takes on another difficult subject Monday, Sept. 8, at Wake Forest University.

Johnson, the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, will explore pagan influences on the early church in the Phi Beta Kappa Lecture, “Threskeia: The Influence of Greco-Roman Religion in Early Christianity.”

The lecture is at 8 p.m. in Room 102 of the Scales Fine Arts Center. A reception follows the lecture. Both are open to the public and are part of Wake Forest’s Year of Religion in American life.

The Real Jesus Book Cover“Very often, discussions of the Greco-Roman environment surrounding the early church have been affected by bias or too narrowly defined,” Johnson said. “Part of what I am trying to do is open up the question in a broader and perhaps more sympathetic way.

“To put it sharply, if the pagan world was so bad, as the New Testament consistently portrays it, why does Paul at the end of the Acts of the Apostles declare so confidently, ‘This word of salvation has been sent to the Gentiles and they will listen?'”

Johnson is visiting Wake Forest as part of the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar program, which sends 11 scholars to college campuses in the United States each year for two days to lecture, teach and engage faculty and students in discussions.

While at Wake Forest, Johnson will participate in “New Testament Greek” and “Introduction to Bible” classes and have breakfast with campus ministry leaders.

A 1967 graduate of Notre Dame Seminary, Johnson has a master’s degree in divinity from Saint Meinrad School of Theology and a doctorate from Yale University. Before becoming a Biblical scholar, Johnson was a Benedictine monk and priest. He taught at Yale Divinity School from 1976 to 1982 and at Indiana University from 1982 until his appointment at Emory in 1992.

He is a member of the Society for Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, and the Societas Novi Testamenti Studiorum.

His published works include, “The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation” (1986), the Anchor Bible commentary’s “Letter of James” (1995), and “The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (1996),” in which he argued that Christian faith is not based upon an historical Jesus but on the resurrected Jesus of the New Testament. The book challenged the claims made by the controversial group of Jesus Seminar scholars, who argue that Jesus only said 18 percent of what is attributed to him by the New Testament.

“Christianity, as a religious movement that continues to our own day, centers on the life and power that comes from the resurrected Jesus,” Johnson said, “and it is in the light of that resurrection that Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing are portrayed in the Gospels. The attempt to isolate a ‘historical Jesus’ apart from that resurrection perspective is not only problematic in terms of historical method, but it misses the religious point when it proposes that historical reconstruction in place of traditional Christian belief.”

For more information about the Phi Beta Kappa lecture, contact Mary Pendergraft, associate professor of classical languages, at 910-759-5331 or via e-mail: pender@nullwfu.edu.

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