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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Michael A Williams
JSIS B 322
Seattle Campus

The Gospels and Jesus of Nazareth

Gospel material from early Christianity, including both canonical and noncanonical gospels. Relation of gospels to analogous literature from the Hellenistic-Roman period. Recommended: either ENGL 310 or JSIS B 220. .

Class description

This course studies the earliest traditions about Jesus of Nazareth. Students will become familiar with key elements in the modern analysis of ancient Christian "gospels," discuss various modern approaches to the study of these texts, and explore the modern debate about what can and cannot be learned from such sources about the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth. Virtually all of these earliest traditions about Jesus of Nazareth are found in Christian sources--i.e., sources composed by persons who were in some way or another devotees of Jesus. The majority of the earliest Jesus tradition that has survived is to be found in four writings which constitute roughly half of what is now the Christian New Testament: the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The New Testament (=NT) is a collection of individual writings that were written by early Christians over a period of many years. Christians were writing other things during this period, and in the earliest generations there was no universal agreement on a single collection of NT writings. Various collections with different shapes appeared among Christian communities in different parts of the Mediterranean world, and only gradually, over many generations, did there emerge a standardization of these collections into something closely approximating what is presently called the NT. The NT has become the second part of the Christian Bible, the "scriptures" in which Christians see special testimony to divine revelation. Although the bulk of the earliest Jesus tradition has survived because it came to be included in the NT, there is a significant quantity of other surviving gospel material produced by early Christian communities--writings such as the Gospel of Thomas, for example. This non-NT material is sometimes important for reconstructing Jesus' teaching. But these non-NT gospels are also interesting in their own right, as examples of differing constructions of Jesus' religious significance among ancient Christian communities.

Once you are enrolled in the class, you can visit the web site (see listing, or, if you have trouble finding it, contact professor at maw@uw.edu)

Student learning goals

Understanding of the nature and function of early Christian gospel literature, both those within the Christian New Testament as well as some other important gospels, and their religious and social contexts.

Learn about modern scholarly methods for exploring historical questions about Jesus of Nazareth, his activities and his teachings.

Opportunities for exercising and developing writing skills

General method of instruction

Lecture and discussion

Recommended preparation

There are no formal prerequisites. Having had JSIS B 220 Introduction to the New Testament (formerly RELIG 220), or its equivalent from another university, provides a head start on the material. But experience has shown that students without that background can do well and even excel in JSIS B 322. Good study habits, a willingness to read, think and engage the material are the really important factors.

Class assignments and grading

Participation (10%), and a series of 4 essays (ranging from 850-1200 words) on assigned topics or topic areas.

Primarily based on quality of essays, plus participation.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by Michael A Williams
Date: 09/17/2012