The Life and Times of Jesus (55+)

Who was Jesus? A political revolutionary and liberation theologian? A teacher of morals, a rabbi or a vagabond sage? Was he primarily a magician and healer? Did his followers see him, or did he see himself, as the Son of Man, the Messiah and the Son of God? Why is it so difficult to describe a man whose impact was so far-reaching? What can we say with certainty about his life and mission?

In this course we will look at Jesus in his cultural, social and political settings, as well as examine key literary sources.

Note: Back by popular demand, from fall 2012.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Sources

What sources do we have for the life of Jesus, and how reliable are they? What do we learn from traditional materials (the New Testament), new ones (the Gnostic Gospels and the Dead Sea Scrolls), recent findings from sociology and archaeology, and new perspectives (the Holocaust)?

Week 2: Historical context

What did it mean to be a Jew in the first century BCE? We examine the historical background—the legacies of the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian conquests and the influence of Rome—and the core beliefs of Second Temple Judaism and their interpretation by Jesus’s contemporaries.

Week 3: Society and culture

Into what kind of world was Jesus born? We’ll explore the political situation under the Romans, the socio-economic context (city vs. country, inequality, banditry), and the intellectual climate (Hellenistic philosophies and Jewish responses, such as apocalyptic and messianic literature).

Week 4: Birth, childhood, mission and miracles

A close reading of the Gospel accounts gives us the basis to describe Jesus’ early years and beginnings as a public figure.

Week 5: Jesus interpreted

Here we will consider different possibilities: Was Jesus a social activist, a political revolutionary, a pacifist, a feminist? Or was his primary concern not with this world at all, but the one to come? Can he be more accurately seen as an apocalypticist?

Week 6: The final days

We come to Jesus’ conflicts with the Roman and Jewish authorities, his trial and execution, the meaning of the titles associated with him (Messiah, Son of Man and Son of God), and, finally, the vexing question: how did he see himself?

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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