The Jesus Project, announced in December 2007, was intended as a five-year investigation to examine whether Jesus existed as an historical figure. The idea was that a group of 32 scholars from a variety of disciplines would meet regularly with no preconceived ideas, funded by the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, part of the Center for Inquiry.
Initiated by historian of religion R. Joseph Hoffmann, chair of the Committee, the project sought to improve upon what Hoffmann saw as the failure of the Jesus Seminar to determine what, if anything, can be recovered about Jesus, using the highest standards of scientific and scholarly enquiry. The Committee suspended the project's funding in June 2009 after Hoffmann expressed concern about its purpose and direction, and it has not been active since then.
Its fellows included Richard Carrier, Bruce Chilton, Robert Eisenman, Dorothy King, Paul Kurtz, Stephen Law, Niels Peter Lemche, Gerd Lüdemann, Dennis MacDonald, Robert M. Price, James M. Robinson, Richard E. Rubenstein, James D. Tabor, Frank Zindler and Thomas L. Thompson. The first meeting took place in New York in December 2008.
The project was halted in June 2009 when Hoffmann announced that in his view the project was not productive, and its funding was suspended. He wrote that there were problems with adherents to the Christ myth theory, the idea that Jesus did not exist, asking to set up a separate section of the project for those committed to the theory, which Hoffmann felt signalled a lack of necessary skepticism. He was also concerned that the media was sensationalizing the project, with the only newsworthy conclusion being that Jesus had not existed, a conclusion he said most participants would not have reached.
He also argued that New Testament documents, particularly the gospels, were written at a time when the line between natural and supernatural was not clearly drawn, and concluded that further historical research was not realistic. "No quantum of material discovered since the 1940’s, in the absence of canonical material, would support the existence of an historical founder," he wrote. "No material regarded as canonical and no church doctrine built upon it in the history of the church would cause us to deny it. Whether the New Testament runs from Christ to Jesus or Jesus to Christ is not a question we can answer."
- Csillag, Ron. "For scholars, a combustible question: Was Christ real?", The Toronto Star, December 27, 2008. See the project's website at The Jesus Project, Center for Inquiry, accessed August 6, 2010.
- Hoffmann, R. Joseph. "Threnody: Rethinking the Thinking behind The Jesus Project", bibleinterp.com, October 2009, accessed August 6, 2010.
- "Fellow", The Jesus Project, accessed August 6, 2010.
- Center for Inquiry, The Jesus Project
- Tokasz, Jay. "Scholars to explore existence of Jesus", The Buffalo News, November 30, 2008.
- The Jesus Project, Center for Inquiry, accessed August 6, 2010.