After 12 years of systematically examining the sayings (Phase 1) and deeds (Phase 2) attributed to Jesus, Jesus Seminar Fellows turned their attention to the question of what kind of figure was emerging from the evidence they had found to be most probably historically authentic.
More than 20 Fellows presented papers over the two-year period from 1996-1998 in which they either drew a profile of Jesus based on the evidence or critiqued important books on the historical Jesus by other scholars. The six critiques were published in Westar's academic journal, Forum, in fall of 1998.
Profiles of Jesus comprises 9 of the 15 profiles written for Jesus Seminar sessions, together with three other profiles by Fellows that had previously appeared in Westar's popular magazine, The Fourth R.
The authors, all Jesus Seminar Fellows, agreed on several points:
- Jesus of Nazareth did not refer to himself as the Messiah, nor did he claim to be a divine being who descended to earth from heaven in order to die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
- At the heart of Jesus’ teaching and actions was a vision of a life under the reign of God (or, in the empire of God) in which God’s generosity and goodness is regarded as the model and measure of human life.
- Jesus did not hold an apocalyptic view of the reign (or kingdom) of God—that by direct intervention God was about to bring history to an end and bring a new, perfect order of life into being. Rather, in Jesus’ teaching the reign of God is a vision of what life in this world could be, not a vision of life in a future world that would soon be brought into being by a miraculous act of God.
Some of the profiles are based primarily on Jesus’ words, while others rely on Jesus’ social location and/or religious typology as crucial to drawing his profile.