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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Michael A Williams
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: ENGL 310 or RELIG 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.

Web site accessible to enrolled students:

Student learning goals

Knowledge about nature of early Christian gospels and modern methods of analysis

Knowledge about aspects of the historical and cultural context of Jesus of Nazareth, and the origins of the Christian movement

Essays offer opportunity for improvement of skills in written communication

Application and development of skills in critical thinking to analysis of religious cultural tradition

General method of instruction


Recommended preparation

Recommended but not required: RELIG 220 Introduction to the New Testament

Class assignments and grading

1. A 1000-word essay comparing comparing and analyzing the important narrative elements in the Gospel of Peter and parallel sections in the New Testament (=NT) gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. 2. An essay of 850 words in which you discuss the possible implications of assigned portions of the synoptic gospels for modern theories regarding the "synoptic problem," especially the Griesbach hypothesis and the "two-source" hypothesis.

3. A 1000-word discussing which sayings from a provided list you think most likely represent words of the historical Jesus, and discussing which ones you consider least likely to come from Jesus himself.

4. A final 1000-word essay in which you explain why two chapters that you choose from the textbook edited by Levine, Allison and Crossan, The Historical Jesus in Context, provided you with the most insights about gospels and the historical Jesus.

First essay 20% of grade Second essay 25% of grade Third essay 25% of grade Final essay 30% of grade

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: 12/10/2011