Funk, Robert W. 1926–2005

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Funk, Robert W. 1926–2005

(Robert Walter Funk)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born July 18, 1926, in Evansville, IL; died of lung failure, September 3, 2005, in Santa Rosa, CA. Minister, educator, and author. Funk was best known as the founder of the Westar Institute and its controversial Jesus Seminar, a biannual meeting in which religious scholars debated the historicity of Jesus Christ's life, actions, and words as recorded in the Bible. After studying divinity at Butler University, he completed a B.A. in 1947, B.D. in 1950, and M.A. in 1951; he then went on to earn a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1953. Ordained a minister in the Disciples of Christ, Funk served as an associate minister in Indianapolis in the late 1940s, and as a minister in Crawfordsville, Indiana from 1949 to 1951. He also worked as a lecturer in the Bible at Butler from 1947 to 1949. During the 1950s, he taught at several universities, including Vanderbilt, Texas Christian, Harvard, and Emory.

From 1959 to 1966, Funk was an associate professor of the New Testament at Drew University in New Jersey. He then returned to Vanderbilt to teach and chaired the department of religion there from 1967 to 1969. The last chapter of Funk's academic career was spent at the University of Montana, where he was a professor of religious studies from 1969 to 1986; he also chaired the department in the mid-1970s, and was associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for a year. Funk tried his hand at publishing by founding Polebridge Press in 1981, but in 1985 he went on to found the nonprofit Westar Institute for the purpose of promoting biblical literacy through the funding of education and research. In keeping with this mission, Funk created the Jesus Seminar to establish which passages in the Gospels could be verified as historically accurate. Naturally, such examinations drew fire from other Christian leaders, especially when the Jesus Seminar published The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus: New Translation and Commentary (1993) and The Gospel of Jesus: According to the Jesus Seminar. Funk helped to edit both books, and they use color coding to rate how verifiable certain accounts are. Over his lifetime, Funk published numerous other texts about Jesus, the Bible, and other religious topics. Among these are Jesus as Precursor (1975) and The Poetics of Biblical Narrative (1988).

OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Los Angeles Times, September 7, 2005, p. B10.

New York Times, September 10, 2005, p. A15.

Washington Post, September 13, 2005, p. B6.