5 Minute Post: The Gospels and Jesus

Jesus the JewI am preparing the syllabus for my Spring course, “Jesus the Jew, Jesus the Christ.” The title and course description (which were assigned to me but I like) provide a direction for the course that suggests an exploration of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. The tricky part for me is that I question our ability to say much about Jesus historically. The Gospels are proclamation (John 20:30-31 is clearest about this). Even Luke, with his claims to history (see e.g., Luke 1:1-4), is writing a very different type of history than we write today. In short, I am not sure if we can recover a historical Jesus that is anything more than either a personal projection (Schweitzer’s famous well that all historians look down) or an affirmation of communal claims. I am not satisfied calling either of these historical; both are Christs of faith (or in some cases, unfaith).

Here’s the rub: The Gospels are documents of a faith community and reflect well the interests and needs of later communities. I can only access Mark’s and Matthew’s and Luke’s and John’s Christ. Since the Gospels are not historically reliable for me, how then shall I teach the “Jesus the Jew” portion of the course? What suggestions do you, wise reader, have to offer? I look forward to the conversation!



Filed under bible, early Christianity, methods

15 responses to “5 Minute Post: The Gospels and Jesus

  1. Tom

    What level is the course and do they have any previous BS/Theol/Relig experience?

    • All have at least one religion course under their belt, not necessarily a lot of practice with textual study, though. Most will be juniors and seniors.

      • Tom

        Although you don’t personally go with the historical Jesus stuff you’d still need to talk about it. If the students are used to reading the gospels as straight-up biographies of a real guy called Jesus it will be a shock to have that challenged.

        You could also critique the title a bit during the course. “Jesus as a Jew” and how that is read shapes the way that his “Christ-ness” is read. The two are mutually dependent.

      • Great ideas. Thanks for the thoughtful insight!

  2. Would it be enough to teach “Any Male Jew of that period” – a historically accurate exploration of the culture, religious life, education, etc. that would have been experienced at that time… And then explore your theory that we don’t have source texts that allow us to get close enough to be able to describe Jesus the Jew?

  3. Somewhere I have a book about Jesus through the centuries/ages/history. I haven’t spent a lot of time with it, but I wonder if you could do a historical survey of the understanding of Jesus the Jew. Walk through how new scholarship has informed/misinformed/changed.

  4. It would have been fun if you had mentioned this when you were here. You probably didn’t know that I had taught a course on “An Archaeological Search for Jesus” in our Northfield Elder Collegium, a group of retired professors from St. Olaf and. Carleton and others who want to keep stretching their minds. I have been studying this subject for
    45 years both in Israel and the U of WI.

  5. Pingback: 5 Minute Post: Would a Poor Person Ever Say That? | dyingsparrows

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