Religious Studies 320

RELN 320: Jesus and the Gospels

Prerequisite: RELN 200 or RELN 202

Credit Hours: (3)

This course first examines the three Synoptic Gospels as coherent and independent narratives. It then moves from story to history, by using the tools modern scholars have developed to understand Jesus as a historical figure.


Detailed Description of Content of Course

Students will come to this course having previously taken the 200-level New Testament Survey or Old Testament Survey. They will therefore have an introductory familiarity with the methodology and some of the material. Many students, however, have a long familiarity with the Gospels from a Church context, in which the Gospels are read in small sections. It will be made clear how such an approach ignores the larger literary structure of the particular Gospel, and encourages the importation of elements from either the other Gospels or later Church doctrine. For example, it is a mistake to read the Sermon on the Mount (from Matthew) into Mark, the Incarnation (from John) into Luke, or the parable of the Good Samaritan (from Luke) into Matthew. To be understood, each Gospel must be allowed to stand on its own.

Since the Enlightenment, questions have been raised concerning the veracity, or historicity, of the Gospels. These questions consumed the New Testament scholarship of the nineteenth century, but interest waned following the publication of Albert Schweitzer's magisterial Quest for the Historical Jesus. Interest flared again briefly in the late Fifties and early Sixties. We are now in the midst of an enormous resurgence in interest in these questions, designated by some as the "Third Quest for the Historical Jesus." One group of scholars, the Jesus Seminar, has popularized this quest and presented its own position to popular media such as Time, Newsweek, U.S. News, and NPR. It has also claimed for its own position a scholarly consensus. Consensus, however, does not exist. It will be the task of the second part of this course to sketch the arguments as they are being presented in the modern academy. Students will be asked to form their own informed opinions on the issues, utilizing their knowledge of the primary sources (the Gospels) gained in the first part of the course and their knowledge of historical method gained in the second part of the course.


Detailed Description of the Conduct of Course

The course will be run seminar-style, with a brief presentation by the teacher, where appropriate, followed by discussion of the day's material. Students will be required to hand in two questions every class period, based on the day's reading, a practice which forces the students to come prepared, to read closely, and gradually to learn why scholars approach the texts as they do. A final paper will require the student to take up a recent work in "historical Jesus" scholarship and engage the author critically.


Goals and Objectives of the Course

a. The student will read the four canonical Gospels, and be briefly introduced to some of the extra-canonical Gospels.
b. The student will be able to clearly differentiate the plots/theologies of the different gospels. This implies being able to look at a particular text and tell which Gospel it came from, and how it reflects the particular agenda of that Gospel.
c. The student will learn the history of the "Quest for the Historical Jesus."
d. The student will become aware of the modern discussion concerning the historical figure of Jesus, and take a position within that discussion.
e. The student will enhance his or her critical reading, writing, and thinking skills through the close reading and analysis of the texts.


Assessment Measures

Daily or almost daily written assignments will record both attendance and participation. Tests will contain both objective and essay questions, with a large weight being given to the identification of specific texts and discussion of their significance. A final exam and/or a final term paper will be required.


Other Course Information

This course fulfills a core requirement for Philosophy and Religious Studies majors with a concentration in religious studies. It may also be used to fulfill a department elective for all Philosophy and Religious Studies majors.


Approval and Subsequent Reviews

January 27, 1997 New Course Approved by VPAA
April 17, 1998 Reviewed Kim Kipling
September 25, 2001 Reviewed Kim Kipling