THE JESUS PROJECT seems to be stalled and perhaps dead. Co-chair R. Joseph Hoffmann has a rambling essay on it at Bible and Intepretation
: Threnody: Rethinking the Thinking behind The Jesus Project
Excerpt (on Jesus):
With due regard to the complexity of evidence surrounding Christian origins—a subject that has been complicated, in a good way, rather than solved by the discoveries of modern scholarship—I no longer believe it is possible to answer the “historicity question. “ No quantum of material discovered since the1940’s, in the absence of canonical material would support the existence of an historical founder. 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.
Obviously I do not deny the existence of mythic materials entwined with a more or less historical memory of a real individual. But as I have written elsewhere, we cannot point to a stratum of ancient biography where such intertwining does not exist: it is a matter of degree, not genre, and a matter of guesswork, not reconstructive surgery. The fate of the Jesus Seminar and the potential fate of the Jesus Project had it continued—or rather, had it been advisable for it to continue—reveals more about the history of guesswork than about the “reality” of Jesus. The NT documents, especially the Gospels, are precisely the sort of literature we would expect to emerge from a time when the dividing line between the natural and “supernatural,” indeed, the divine and human, was not clearly drawn: the true miracle would have been for the NT to stand completely outside the limits of Hellenistic storytelling and the rudimentary historiographical interests of a religious community.
what he's saying is that our sources about Jesus are not such that they are useful for answering the questions we wish to ask about him as a historical person. If so, I quite agree. (The same problem, incidentally, holds true for the Hebrew Bible and the history of ancient Israel.) That makes the effort to recover a clear picture of who Jesus was and what he said and did very difficult and perhaps futile. But are there actually New Testament scholars (i.e., who publish in peer-review journals etc.) who are "mythers" who think the historical person Jesus never existed? Who are they? That seems to me to be an extreme and highly implausible position.
Excerpt (on good collaborations):
In general, collaboration is suited to constructive and technical rather than interpretative or highly theoretical work. Because of the close traditional alliance between biblical studies and theology, as well as the nature of the biblical literature itself, it is notoriously hard to keep theology at bay in the realm of interpretation. Constructive work is different. Although far from perfect on a number of levels the Hennecke-Schneemelcher Neutestamenliche Apokryphen in Deutscher Ubersetzung was a pioneer work in the non-parochial study of extracanonical literature when it was first published in German, and in English translation in 1963, making the eccentric one-man collection of ghost-story writer M. R. James virtually useless. The same can be said of James Charlesworth’s editorial management in the translation of Old Testament apocrypha in relation to the 1913 collection edited by R. H. Charles and James Robinson’s production of a serviceable English edition of the Nag Hammadi materials. We owe to that generation of scholarship a way of moving beyond the legendary slings and arrows that were characteristic of the Dead Sea Scrolls “collaboration,” tactics that spawned a whole genre of intrigue and tarnished biblical studies as being theologically interested, religiously mysterious, and academically second class.
I agree with most of this, although the last sentence baffles me a little. It was only when the editing of the Dead Sea Scrolls was broadened out into a large international collaboration involving 40+ people that publication began to make real progress. The original team was just too small, but it took time to come to terms with this and remedy it. It took the original team (yes, they did all the work) ten years just to piece together the heaps of many thousands of fragments into separate scrolls. (Incidentally, two other major comparable archives, the Oxyrhynchus Papyri and the Cairo Geniza are still very far indeed from being fully published, despite being discovered long before the Dead Sea Scrolls.) And I think that unfortunate genre of Dead Sea Scrolls studies would have spawned itself whatever the original team had done or not done.
As for M. R. James, his work on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha is dated but still useful. But perhaps that is less true about his work on the New Testament Apocrypha. I haven't worked with it enough to know.
Excerpt (on the Jesus Project):
Do I regard the Project as worth pursuing, reviving? I think the historicity question, as I have said many times over, is an interesting one. But it is not a question that in the absence of a “real” archeological or textual discovery of indubitable quality can be answered. It cannot be answered directly and perhaps not even through the slow accumulation of new sources. The issue is not merely that such a discovery would not persuade die-hard mythers and would not support believers in the divine Christ. It is that such evidence is really not an academic possibility. Not even the unearthing of an unknown archive of the forced and sworn confession of a skilled forger and tale-teller by the name of Rufus, appearing in front of a magistrate in the year 68 CE, would suffice. We already possess material like that, it is forged.
But the chief reason that it is time to sound the knell for all such projects is that that they cannot function collaboratively, both by virtue of what they want to achieve—that is, the over-speculative nature of the task—and because they are examples of the perils of false collaboration: an incoherent anthology of opinion derived from the private prejudices and objectives of Jesus-makers.
Jesus Project, requiescat in pace
Background to the Jesus project is here
, and here