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Painted by Salvador Dali, this watercolor accompanied the Sermon on the Mount in an illustrated Bible.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), Jesus’ first words from the Sermon on the Mount, drew a mixed vote from the Jesus Seminar. This assembly of Bible scholars is grappling with the hard question, Which words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels did he actually speak? Each passage and phrase attributed to Jesus in the Gospels is first analyzed, and then the seminar members vote with colored balls: Red means “Yes, almost certainly”; pink means “More likely yes than no”; gray means “More likely no than yes”; and black means “almost certainly not.”

The goal of the seminar is publication of a new edition of the Gospels. The New Red-Letter Edition of the Five Gospels will show the seminar’s votes on the historical authenticity of the words of Jesus by printing these words in the four colors of the voting balls.

For example, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” will be printed in pink (more likely yes than no), while the second part of the sentence, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” will appear in gray (more likely no than yes). (For passages voted red and black, see the next two illustrations.)