Friday, August 3, 2007

Flyer on The Jesus Project

I just received in the mail this morning a mass mailing from CSER about The Jesus Project. So here is more information about it. I quote from the mailing:
This past January, CSER announced its most ambitious and significant venture to date: The Jesus Project. In response to the seasonal hype and scholarly escapades designed to contribute to national Jesus-mania, CSER has gathered together a group of the best biblical experts, linguists, classicists, social historians, archaeologists, and other scholars in order to provide an alternative and more reasoned view. Our ambitious aim is to submit to scrutiny every scrap of evidence bearing on the question of the historical Jesus - we regard the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth existed as testable, and The Jesus Project is determined to test it to the fullest extent possible...If you would like more information on how to get involved with The Jesus Project, please contact an administrator at
So that's as much as I know beyond what I have already said in previous posts.


Jared Calaway said...

The language of "testable" suggests to me, once again, of some attempt to sound "scientific" about the venture.

April DeConick said...


I think that IS what CSER plans. Honestly I don't know what that means or how they think such a thing can be accomplished. Methodology is my biggest worry.

Leon said...

I seriously doubt that this group will provide "an alternative and more reasoned view". Here are three golden rules of science which are practiced in every legitimate scientific field but which are consistently violated in historical Jesus studies:

1) Never confuse theories and facts (or data). They must always be distinguished and theories must never be promoted as (false) facts.

2) If a theory is contradicted by plenty of facts, or alternatively if it fails to account for much of the data, TRY ANOTHER THEORY! In any good science, various possibilities must be tried out. Relentlessly promoting only one that fails to explain the evidence is the worst kind of science and would not be tolerated in any other field.

3) Theories serve the facts, not the other way around. The goal in science is not to come up with good theories. If a theory is really good, its purpose is to serve as a window onto the facts. The facts are always the goal. Seeing is the goal. A theory is merely a lens.

One example of how this fails in historical Jesus studies: All scholars, including Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels in their recent works on the Gospel of Judas, treat Judas' betrayal in the canonical Gospels as a fact or bit of data. This is false. The betrayal (like the so-called Jewish trial of Jesus) is a theory, an interpretation, of the Gospels, not a stated fact. By causing this confusion, scholars prevent any other theories from being considered. This is not science.

The relevance to the question of the existence of Jesus is this: It can easily be demonstrated, for example, that Judas could not possibly be a fictional story. It contradicts fiction in too many places. He could only have been a real person (and if all the elemnents in Jesus' story are real, it would be odd if he himself were the only fiction).

I will leave you with an observation made by Wolfgang Stegemann in a 1998 article in the German journal "Kirche und Israel". He noted that for every verse and item in the Gospels, you can find scholars who have doubts about it. Except one. There is one thing that scholars never have any doubts about and that is that there was some Jewish complicity in Jesus' death. How is it possible that everything in the Gospels gets doubted at some point except Jewish complicity? What is going on here?

The answer to that last question is very ugly, but it cannot be helped. Avoiding this question condemns historical Jesus studies to be an anti-scientific discipline for many generations to come. When Raymond Brown tells us that any Gospel evidence favorable to Jewish leaders should be ruled out of the discussion, you know we are not in a rational discipline. In 200 years of academic scholarship, it has not occurred to one scholar that maybe another approach should be tried. What an astounding record this is. And everyone is very quiet about this.

Here is a scientific challenge: I defy anyone to present a rational case that the betrayal and the Jewish "trial" are sensible ways to read the Gospels.
Meeting this challenge would be science, but it's not going to happen.
Leon Zitzer

Pastor Bob said...


Re: you comment about the trial of Jesus. Actually there are some Jewish sources that argue that the Sanhedrin didn't work the way that is described in the gospels. And there is evidence that Pilot was cruel and was removed from Judea for his cruelty.

Dr. Deconick:

Has there ever been an objective study about Jesus? Beginning with the stories that were written down and put into gospel accounts through the various historical Jesus movements there has always been bias. And I think leon is right, antisemitism played a big part in the historical Jesus movements. said...


They (the priests) killed the prophets. What do you think the massacre at Ein Gedi was all about?
(War 4.7.2).

The hermenuetic for the story of the prophet should in a context of theological conflict between priests and prophets. said...

It seems that the Jesus Project has quite a number of high-minded folk jumping up and down. They seem to be saying: "Not me, I didn't put my name down for the Jesus Project", or "these 'fellows' are not qualified to say whether or not Jesus ever existed, I wouldn't touch the Jesus Project with a barge pole.", e.g. this topic: