In the Fall of 2006 the Jesus Seminar, having spent twenty years in the quest for the historical Jesus, decided to turn its attention to something new: the beginnings of Christianity. The project had been long in coming—contemplated, started, stalled, re-started, stalled again—over several years. It was an idea no less fraught than the quest for historical Jesus itself. Both projects were a search for origins, and thus authorizations, and therefore hardly a field of inquiry free from the pressures of cultural contesting. Still, fraught though it may be, the question of how the followership of Jesus gradually emerged as a thing it its own right is a legitimate and important historical question, and so one to be faced.

To do this work we formed a new seminar (the Jesus Seminar on Christian Origins), and assembled a steering committee to set the ball rolling: Stephen J. Patterson, John S. Kloppenborg, Joanna Dewey, Dennis E. Smith, Arthur J. Dewey, and Bernard Brandon Scott. Together with other members of the original Jesus Seminar, we worked out a plan that we believed would shine a different light on an old question. We decided not to organize the work around texts,  but  around  places. How did nascent Christianity emerge in distinct places around the Mediterranean basin? This would allow us to bring to the discussion the evidence, not just of texts, but of material culture as well.

The first place we chose to focus our efforts was the Galilee.  The papers in this volume derive from three meetings devoted to the Jesus movement in Galilee: October of 2006 (essays by Marianne Sawicki and James M. Robinson), March of 2007 (William Arnal’s piece), and October of 2007 (Joanna Dewey’s essay).  These  represent  a small portion  of the work done in those sessions. Future volumes of Forum will feature more of this material as well as essays devoted to the emergence of nascent Christianity in other places. So far, in addition to the meetings on Galilee, the Seminar has held meetings devoted to Antioch and to Corinth.

[Update: The Christian Origins Seminar concluded in 2009, and a new, related project called the Christianity Seminar was launched in 2013 under the leadership of Nina Livesey and Bernard Brandon Scott.]

—Stephen J. Patterson

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