The Jesus Seminar, founded in 1985 by the late Robert Funk of the University of Montana, was famous for all the wrong reasons—its voting method (marbles), the grandstanding of some of its members, the public style of its meetings, even its openly defiant stance against the claims of miracles in the Gospels—including the resurrection of Jesus. Except for the marbles, none of this was new.
So where did the Seminar go wrong? They weren't skeptical enough. According to Hoffman:
So what is new about the Jesus Project?
What the Seminar had tacitly acknowledged without acknowledging the corollary is that over 80 percent of “Jesus” had been fictionalized by the Gospel writers. That is to say that, if we are to judge a man’s life by his sayings, the greater portion of the literary artifacts known as the Gospels is fictional. If we are to judge by actions, then what actions survived historical criticism? Not the virgin birth, or the Transfiguration, or the healing of the sick, or the purely magical feats such as Cana, or the multiplication of loaves and fishes. The Resurrection had quietly been sent to the attic by theologians in the nineteenth century. The deeds—except, perhaps, the attack on the Temple (Mark 11:15–19)—had preceded the words to the dustbin years before, yet scholars insisted the historical figure was untouched. Only faith could explain this invulnerability to harm.
On a pleasant day in January 2007, at the University of California, Davis, the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER) asked the question that had been looking for a serious answer for over a hundred years: Did Jesus exist?...The Jesus Project, as CSER has named the new effort, is the first methodologically agnostic approach to the question of Jesus’ historical existence.
Ok, then what?
The Jesus Project will run for five years, with its first session scheduled for December 2007. It will meet twice a year, and, like its predecessor, the Jesus Seminar, it will hold open meetings. Unlike the Seminar, the Project members will not vote with marbles, and we will not expand membership indefinitely: the Project will be limited to fifty scholars with credentials in biblical studies as well as in the crucial cognate disciplines of ancient history, mythography, archaeology, classical studies, anthropology, and social history.CSER will likely provide updates on their work.
At the end of its lease, the Jesus Project will publish its findings.