I could not rest until I had settled this issue. I dropped out of Jerome Howard Junior College and began my quest with only the clothes on my back and $36,000 in bearer bonds. I had been taught about the Jesus Seminar from the age of 8, traditionally considered the age of reason by sources who have never spoken with the average 8-year-old. I had been taught about the great "scholars" who had assembled to search for the "real" Jesus, to discover which of his "sayings" in the "institutional" church's "Gospels" were really spoken by him and which were "inserted" into the texts by men with big hats who didn't believe in French kissing. Their methodology was revolutionary in that it was democratic and not elitist--the Jesus Seminar scholars would vote on truth, unlike those fascists in chemistry and physics who performed "tests." The Seminarians cast their votes on the truth or falsehood of a Jesus saying with the use of different colored cards. Some people laughed at such a method. But they laughed at Jack Benny, too.
But what if...it never happened. What if there was no Seminar? Did they literally meet in a room somewhere on a given date to discuss and debate these matters? If so, what was the shape of the table? Were there snacks? I mean, I'd never actually spoken with anyone who had participated--or anyone who even knew anyone who had participated. Had the Seminar's claims ever been investigated to verify the validity of its method?
So I began my quest on the internet, where I managed to log on to a web conference that featured none other than the eminent Bible scholar the Reverend Dr. John Henry Eck, an Episcopal bishop and author of "You Say Messiah, I Say a Liar," "God, Shmod," and "The Bible: Hah?"--all seminal works in the field of nihilistic theism.
I entered the e-fray: "Dr. Eck, what do you think of the Jesus Seminar findings?"
Dr. Eck: "What seminar? Where did you hear this? They stole everything from me! Twenty years ago, I proved conclusively that not only did Jesus never say anything found in the New Testament, but he never existed. A complete invention by a Roman Stoic and rug dealer."
Me: "But if you really believe that, why are you an ordained Christian minister? I mean, if there was no Christ, how can there be a Christianity?"
Dr. Eck: "Well, I'm not a fanatic."
The exchange proved worse than useless. I made a phone call to Professor Ignatius Caliper, dean of the religious studies department at an Ivy League college that shall remain nameless. I cut to the chase. "Did it happen? Or is it all a myth."
"Frankly, I have my doubts. It sounds like a thousand seminars I've attended. For example, back in the '60s, a group of historians held a formal inquiry into why Hitler allowed the British to escape at Dunkirk, when he could have won the war by squashing the entire British army at the Channel.
The attendees were asked to vote on the likelihood of a certain proposition by pitching variously colored jelly beans into a hat. The seminar then proposed publishing the result as definitive. There were 12 red jelly beans, by the way."
"What did a red jelly bean mean?"
I pocketed the rancid pearls of hardened confection. "So, as far as the Jesus Seminar is concerned--"
"In my opinion--never happened."
My last hope was Dr. Humphrey Frogwash, instructor of paranoid ideations at Leo Gorcey Community College on Long Island, author of "I Know They Hate Me" and "Get Outta Here Before I Throw Something." There have been rumors for years that he sat in on the Seminar as an observer but had refused to talk about the experience for mysterious reasons. But at age 94, I guess he figured he had nothing left to lose.
"I was afraid to come forward. You know, they're all out to get me, ever since I published that paper, "Dairy Products and the Origins of War." You know what they do to...heretics. One slip, and you're eating in the student cafeteria, waiting on line for week-old meatloaf and Yoo-Hoo. Like I need that?
"But let me tell you, those results they published--hogwash. It's been proved with Carbon 14 dating that Jesus said the exact opposite of what he says in the Gospels. "Kill your neighbor if he gets on your nerves," is what he said. "Blessed are the rich and disgusting." "If you have two coats and your neighbor has none, then so much the better for you." Now that's history!"
"But why would anyone start a religion on the basis of such terrible expressions?"
"Who am I, the Amazing Kreskin? Look, look at this--I can't get the lining back into my London Fog nice trench coat."
"I don't understand."
"Let me ask you something, sonny boy, if you were going to hold such a groundbreaking, myth-destroying, earth-shattering gathering of religious scholars and thinkers, wouldn't you at least put out some Cheez Doodles or Mallomars?"
"So you were there--"
"It's a rhetorical question. I only said I was there. Academia is ruthless! I had to lie to survive! Perjure or perish! It gave me cachet. I was a man to be reckoned with. I decided who was God. I got invited to all the best parties. I was on talk shows and game shows and had my own cable special, "The Wonders of Me"--
"Wait a minute, when was this?"
"Okay, so I lied again. See how insidious it is. Once you start, you can't stop. But the historical Jesus said just that: "If you even look at a woman with lust in your heart, she's obviously not your wife."
My faith had been shattered for good. I was left to start over, on my own. So I bought a Bible from Amazon.com and began to read. But first, I threw out the red jelly beans.