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 to a limited audience of 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 Scholars, joined the group at various phases. As the editors of the Seminar’s 1993 book The Five Gospels explain in their Preface, the Scholars 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.

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, Scholars 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.

Among the findings is that, in the judgment of the Jesus Seminar Scholars, 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: