The first step in the work of the Jesus Seminar was to inventory and classify all the words attributed to Jesus in the first three centuries of the Common Era. The goal was to review each of 1500 items collected and determine which of them could be ascribed with a high degree of probability to Jesus.
The Seminar collected more than 1500 versions of about 500 items sorted into four categories:
The inventory covers all the surviving gospels and reports from the period, not just the canonical gospels. The Fellows adopted this rule: Canonical boundaries are irrelevant in critical assessments of the various sources of information about Jesus.
In other words, the Fellows refused to privilege the gospels that came to be regarded as canonical by the church, which is consistent with the canons of historical inquiry.
After debate on each agenda item, Fellows voted using colored beads to indicate the degree of authenticity of Jesus’ words. Each color was assigned a number rating, so that votes could be quantified with a weighted average.
The Fellows adopted four categories:
The sayings the Fellows voted as most likely to be authentic were:
Jesus Seminar Fellows also came to consensus on the following:
This first report of the Jesus Seminar reviews the authenticity of all gospel versions of the 33 parables attributed to Jesus. Individual versions of each parable are grouped together and arranged for easy reference and comparison. In this red-letter edition, each parable is color-coded to indicate its authenticity. Read more »
The complete results of the Jesus Seminar deliberations on the sayings of Jesus were published in 1993 as The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus.
This critical red-letter edition of the gospels is a completely new translation from Greek and Coptic texts. Each saying attributed to Jesus is color-coded to indicate its authenticity. The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar designed it to be understood at a glance by the casual reader not familiar with the history of critical scholarship over the past two centuries.
Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him, according to the Jesus Seminar. How do scholars account for this pronounced discrepancy?
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