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?