I 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!