Monday, June 18, 2007

The Jesus Project according to CSER

In the second issue of the new review CSER (The Review of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion 1:2 [2006/2007]), The Jesus Project is officially announced. It is a Project spear headed by R. Joseph Hoffmann and Paul Kurtz. It will run for five years, with open meetings twice a year beginning in December 2007. The Project is limited to fifty invited scholars with credentials in biblical studies and cognate disciplines. The goal is to figure out if Jesus' life served as a basis for the beginning of Christianity, or if his story is a myth that led to the propagation of the religion.

I have had some initial involvement in this since I presented a paper on "Apocryphal Christianity" at the Scripture and Skepticism conference that launched this Project, but I must admit I have mixed feelings about the Project even though I am listed as a "Fellow." First it is a question that has aired before, and I'm not sure what "new" can be contributed to its rehearsal. Second, even though I am in favor of writing a history of early Christianity without a theological agenda or apologetic frames, I wonder if we are going to end up again with nothing more than a tradition so deconstructed as to be meaningless, like the 20 or so sayings the Jesus Seminar left us with. Can this Project become something more than just another exercise in our own skepticism?

At any rate, the proposal for the Project states: "The emphasis of the new project is to examine the shreds of tradition which bear on the historicity - the historical existence - of Jesus of Nazareth." The Jesus Project "is not an attempt to disprove the historical Jesus,...but rather to assess the nature and weight of the evidence itself...The proliferation of new theories of the nonhistoricity of Jesus, whatever their merits, and defenses of the historical Jesus, whatever their weaknesses, make this an important area of investigation in the new millennium." In one of the articles in CSER, James Robinson says, "The Jesus Project is not to launch into endless new, but ultimately unconvincing, arguments that Jesus never lived, but to understand better that oldest layer of tradition and how it can be made into a more influential force in our society today."


Jim Deardorff said...

Your doubts seem well founded. But regarding "I wonder if we are going to end up again with nothing more than a tradition so deconstructed as to be meaningless, like the 20 or so sayings the Jesus Seminar left us with," I hope the participants will be open to the possibility that no more than some 20 of the man's original sayings came through intact, and perhaps not even the ones that the Seminar voted as valid.

Jim Deardorff

Jared said...

I guess my biggest qualm is that I do not necessarily think that the "oldest" part of the tradition, whatever that actually may be and if it is at all recoverable, is the most interesting.

April DeConick said...


I agree.

Geoff Hudson said...

Not even if the original prophet of the "oldest" part of the tradition was Judas, the so-called 'Galilean'?

Geoff Hudson said...

These folk are hardly likely to come to the party with a blank sheet of paper. Open minds are generally not to be found in the so-called academy. Most have already published their fixed views in books and it means swallowing pride to say "I was wrong". Many are naive literalists who are inflexible in the formation of their conclusions. Robinson already has a typical scholarly vague form of words for the aim of the Jesus Project. It looks like a recipe for a dogs dinner - some party!

DeanWest said...


Deane said...

The make-up of the 50 fellows of The Jesus Project is clearly dominated by functionally agnostic scholars. There's also the odd fellow who doesn't have any doctoral qualification at all, and whose only claim to fame seems to be writing in second-rate skeptical publications or the internet. In addition, the whole show is run by the Center for Inquiry--a group based in the US, but with world-wide members, comprising atheists, humanists, skeptics and agnostics.

Is a fundamentalist atheist agenda for biblical studies an advance on the (more prevalent) fundamentalist Christian agenda? Are their findings going to be respected more than the Jesus Seminar? I see no reason to believe that will be the case.

It's the Jesus Circus all over again, without the little colored balls.