Advancing religious literacy

The Jesus Seminar

The Jesus Seminar was organized in 1985 to renew the quest of the historical Jesus and to report the results of its research to the general public, rather than just to a handful of gospel specialists. Initially, the goal of the Seminar was to review each of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels and determine which of them could be considered authentic.

Thirty scholars took up the challenge at the initial meeting in Berkeley, California. Eventually more than 200 professionally trained specialists, called Fellows, joined the group at various phases. As the editors of the Seminar’s 1993 book The Five Gospels explain in their Preface, the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar represent a wide array of Western religious traditions and academic institutions. They have been trained in the best universities in North America and Europe. » More about Westar Fellows

The Seminar met twice a year to debate technical papers that were prepared and circulated in advance. At the close of debate on each agenda item, Fellows voted using colored beads to indicate the degree of authenticity of the words and deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels. Dropping colored beads into a box soon became a trademark of the Jesus Seminar. » More about voting

Among the findings is that, in the judgment of the Jesus Seminar Fellows, about 18 percent of the sayings and 16 percent of the deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels are authentic.

The Jesus Seminar comprised three phases:

The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (a Jesus Seminar publication)

 

The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus (a Jesus Seminar publication)

 

Profiles of Jesus, edited by Roy W. Hoover (a Jesus Seminar publication)

 

Gospel of Jesus, Second Edition

 
 

In the Beginning

Learn more about Bob FunkExcerpt from opening remarks of Jesus Seminar and Westar Institute founder Robert W. Funk at the launch of the Jesus Seminar in March 1985 in Berkeley, California

“We are about to embark on a momentous enterprise. We are going to inquire simply, rigorously after the voice of Jesus, after what he really said.

In this process, we will be asking a question that borders the sacred, that even abuts blasphemy, for many in our society. As a consequence, the course we shall follow may prove hazardous. We may well provoke hostility. But we will set out, in spite of the dangers, because we are professionals and because the issue of Jesus is there to be faced, much as Mt. Everest confronts the team of climbers.”

» Read complete text of opening remarks (PDF)