For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785

Inaugural meeting of the Jesus Project to take place in Amherst, New York

November 17, 2008

Scholars will investigate the Sources of the Gospel

Amherst, New York (November 17, 2008)—Following in the footsteps of the famed Jesus Seminar, scholars representing the cream of the crop in the field of Biblical studies are set to gather December 5-7 at the Center for Inquiry campus in Amherst, New York for a conference devoted to exploring the historical Jesus. The sessions will mark the inaugural meeting of the new "Jesus Project," first announced to the world at the University of California at Davis in January of 2007. "The Jesus Project" is an initiative of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER), housed at Center for Inquiry/Transnational, a secularist think tank.

"The conference in Amherst will answer the challenge laid down by CSER Fellow and Jesus Seminar cofounder John Dominic Crossan, namely, how one goes about deciding what counts for evidence of the Jesus tradition," said R. Joseph Hoffmann, chair of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion. “I suspect we will witness a lively discussion on the question of sources and methods. How can we know what constituted the earliest phase of the Jesus-tradition?  Is it possible to reconstruct the earliest form of the gospel, using the advanced techniques of biblical and historical criticism?"

“The Jesus Project” is devoted to examining the case for the historical existence of Jesus based on a rigorous application of historical critical methods to the gospels and related literature. Unlike the “Jesus Seminar,” founded in 1985 by the late Professor Robert Funk of the University of Montana, the new Seminar regards the claim that Jesus of Nazareth was an historical figure as a “testable hypothesis.” Hoffmann said that the project has been called for by a number of scholars who felt that the first Jesus Seminar may have been—for political reasons—too reluctant to follow where the evidence led.

Topics up for discussion and debate over the two-day weekend event include, "excavating" the earliest gospel, the legitimate use of non-canonical sources in reconstructing the Jesus story, the Christ-myth theories, historical, theological and value-driven approaches to the gospels, and rules of exclusion and evidence, or what counts as "data." Even the question of assessing the evidence from a legal perspective will be explored.  According to Hoffmann, the goal is not to “disprove” Jesus or to sensationalize the question of his existence, but to acknowledge the question and examine it impartially—without theological or apologetic constraints.

Some of the biggest and brightest names in biblical studies today will be on hand for the event, including:

  • JAMES TABOR, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; author of “The Jesus Dynasty: A New Historical Investigation of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity."
  • GERD LÜDEMANN, Jesus Project co-chair; professor of New Testament, Georg-August-University, Göttingen; author of "The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry" and "Primitive Christianity: A Survey of Recent Studies and Some New Proposals."
  • BRUCE CHILTON, Bernard Iddings Bell Professor of Religion at Bard College; director of the Institute for Advanced Theology; author of "Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography" and the first critical commentary on the Targum of Isaiah, "The Isaiah Targum: Introduction, Translation, Apparatus, and Notes."
  • DENNIS R. MACDONALD, professor at Claremont School of Theology and CGU School of Religion; director of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at Claremont; author of "Does the New Testament Imitate Homer?"
  • DAVID TROBISCH, professor emeritus of New Testament at Bangor Theological Seminary; author of "The First Edition of the New Testament, Paul’s Letter Collection."
  • JUSTIN MEGGITT, senior lecturer in the Study of Religion and the Origins of Christianity, Institute of Continuing Education; fellow and director of Studies in Theology and Religious Studies, Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge; member of the Reykjavik Academy; CSER fellow.
  • ROBERT EISENMAN, emeritus professor, California State University Long Beach; visiting senior member of Linacre College, Oxford University; former senior fellow at the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies; author of  "The New Testament Code," "The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered," and "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians."
  • ROBERT M. PRICE, Jesus Project co-chair; author of "The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man"; Center for Inquiry senior research fellow.
  • HECTOR AVALOS, professor of religious studies, Iowa State University; author of "This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies," co-edited with Sarah Melcher and Jeremy Schipper; "The End of Biblical Studies."

The proceedings of the meeting will be recorded. In keeping with the stated objectives of the project, its work will be the subject of an annual report consisting of essays and articles to be published by Prometheus Books and the CSER bi-annual journal, CAESAR: A Journal for the Critical Study of Religion.

All sessions of the Jesus Project meeting are open to the public by registration. For more detailed information, visit the  conference Web site .

CSER was founded in 1983 and is now a research committee of the Religion and Science division of the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. It encourages the use of the historical and applied sciences in the study of religion and provides educational programs for the public as part of its religious-literacy initiatives. The Center for Inquiry/Transnational, a nonprofit, educational, advocacy, and scientific-research think tank based in Amherst, New York, is also home to the Council for Secular Humanism, founded in 1980, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), founded in 1976, and the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health. Their research and educational projects focus on three broad areas: religion, ethics, and society; paranormal and fringe-science claims; and medicine and health. The Center’s Web site is .