Religion 210B

Jesus and the Gospels

Course Syllabus


Spring Semester 2005



Instructor:  Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus                        Office Hours:  MWF 10:30-12:30

Office: 102 Knapton                                                    Th 9:30-11:30 and by appointment

Phone: x3694                                                             

E-mail: jkraus




This course intends to study selected versions of the life of Jesus across many genres (scholarly, fictional, cinematic, and devotional) and across many centuries (from canonical gospels to apocryphal gospels to medieval allegories to modern novels and films) in order to explore the interpretative procedures by which generations of Christians in different cultural settings have fitted the story to their own needs and situations. Our goals are to examine how variations on a theme are accomplished, why such variations are essential for maintaining the Christian tradition as a living, evolving story through the ages, and when those variations require careful, critical theological scrutiny.


Format: The class will meet three times per week for 50 minute  sessions. Seven evening sessions during the semester will be devoted to viewing films (see class schedule).


The weekly class sessions will generally be organized more or less as follows:



General class discussion and/or lecture


Small group discussion and/or lecture


Small group reports/general class discussion


Each student will be assigned to one of four small "character" discussion groups:

1. Jesus

2. Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the women

3. Judas, Peter, and the male disciples

4. Scribes, Pharisees, Chief Priests, and other Jewish authorities


While every student will be responsible for analyzing the settings, inter-relations, contextualizations, and plots of the various stories and films, the character groups will look with special care and attention at the portrayal of their character or group, noting their descriptions, inter-relations with other characters, centrality to the plot, etc., and speculating on why this particular depiction was chosen for their character in each work and what effect it might have had on the probable audience of that work. The results of each small group's discussions will then be shared with the class as a whole.  GROUP MEMBERS ARE ENCOURAGED TO USE THE ON-LINE DISCUSSION VIA BLACKBOARD TO SUPPLEMENT THEIR IN-CLASS PRESENTATIONS (preferably beforehand).  (See requirement 3 below).




All or selected portions of the following books will be required reading for the course: J.D. Crossan The Historical Jesus (1993),;  R. Cameron, The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel Texts (1982); P.M. Matarasso, trans., Quest of the Holy Grail (1969); A. Schweitzer, Quest of the Historical Jesus (Reprint edition, 1998);  R.S. Sugirtharajah, Asian Faces of Jesus (1993);  N. Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ (Reprint edition, 1998); S. Prothero, American Jesus (2004)



Bryan F. Le Beau, Leonard J. Greenspoon, Dennis Hamm, The Historical Jesus Through Catholic and Jewish Eyes (2000)

On Reserve:

    Werner Kelber, The Oral and Written Gospel (1979) pp.1-43, 44-89





1. A mid-term take-home essay test will be due on Wednesday, March 30.  The test, consisting of three essay questions covering the lectures, discussions, and readings to date, will be given out to students on Monday, March 21. Students may take as much time as they wish preparing to take the test, BUT ARE ON THEIR HONOR ACTUALLY TO WRITE THE TEST IN NO LONGER THAN ONE AND ONE-HALF HOURS. The test will count 40% of the course grade.


2. A 10 to 12 page (typed, doubled-spaced) critical paper analyzing a life of Jesus NOT studied in detail in class will be due on Friday, May 6 by 4:00pm. Students may choose any one of the following books to analyze or may propose another one to the instructor for approval:


            N.T. Wright, Who Was Jesus?          

            A.N. Wilson, Jesus: A Life                 

            D. Senior, Jesus: A Gospel Portrait               

            M. Borg, Jesus. A New Vision            

            G. Sloyan, Jesus in Focus

            J. Meier, A Marginal Jew                   

            E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism                   

            J.M. Bonino, Faces of Jesus              

            S. Endo, A Life of Jesus                                  

            G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew

            M. Smith, Jesus the Magician                        

            S. Reimarus, Fragments

E. Renan, The Life of Jesus

            D. Strauss, Life of Jesus Critically Examined

            A. Greeley, The Jesus Myth

J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth

R. Horsley,  Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder

P. Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews

E. Schussler Fiorenza,  Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Wisdom’s Prophet: Critical Issues in Feminist Christology

L.T. Johnson, The Real Jesus and the Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels

Bruce Chilton, Rabbi Jesus


The paper will count 50% of the course grade.


3. Class Participation:

Regular and active class attendance is expected of all students. Participation in the small "character" discussion groups will count for 10% of the course grade


A Discussion forum has been set up on Blackboard for this course to which students are required to contribute.  This on-line discussion group is intended to be a forum for students to continue discussions begun in class, to raise questions prior to in-class discussion,  and for general communications, syllabus updates, etc. between class members and the professor. Students are expected to make at least 10 contributions to the on-line discussion (i.e., on at least 10 of the 14 weeks' texts or movies) in order to receive full credit for class participation.







Week I (1/26 -1/28): Introduction to class; the "problem" of hermeneutics.

                        Reading Assignment: J. D. Crossan, The Historical Jesus (Overture and Prologue)


Week II (1/31-2/4): Modern historical scholarship on Jesus - methods, sources, and criteria.

Reading Assignment: J. D. Crossan, The Historical Jesus (Part 1 by M, Part 2 by W, part 3 by F)



Week III (2/7-2/11): Ancient orality and the story of Jesus

Reading Assignment: Crossan, The Historical Jesus; Werner Kelber, The Oral and Written Gospel,  pp. 44-89, [1-43 optional] (Reserve)


Week IV (2/14-2/18): Greek and Latin apocryphal lives of Jesus and Latin Christian piety.

                        Reading Assignment: R. Cameron, The Other Gospels, pp. 15-52, 67-71, 87-96, 107-182


Week V (2/21-2/25) : 

                        Jesus in medieval European allegory.

                        Reading Assignment: Quest of the Holy Grail


Week VI (2/28-3/4):   

Reading Assignment:Quest of the Holy Grail, continued; begin A. Schweitzer, Quest of the Historical Jesus



Week VII  (3/7- 3/11): Jesus in the European Enlightenment through the 19th century.

                        Reading Assignment: A. Schweitzer, Quest of the Historical Jesus, pp. 1-222.


Spring Break (3/14-18) NO CLASS


Week VIII (3/21-3/25):           Contemporary Asian reflections on Jesus.

                        Reading Assignment: R.S. Sugirtharajah, Asian Faces of Jesus, pp. viii-8,

                        46-61, 75-84, 127- 162, 211-2,64

                        [Take-Home Mid-Term Test Distributed]


Week IX (3/28-4/1)     Cinema and the life of Jesus- DeMille's "King of Kings "  (Monday night 3/28 7:00 PM)


                        [3/30 -Take-Home Test DUE in class]


Week X (4/4-4/8) Pasolini's "The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Monday night 4/4 7:00 PM)


Week XI (4/11-4/15): Jesus in 20th century fiction and Scorsese’s “Last Temptation of Christ” (Thursday night 4/14 7:00 PM)

                        Reading Assignment: N. Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ


Week XII (4/18-4/22): Rice's "Jesus Christ Superstar," (Monday night 4/18 7:00 PM)

Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (Wednesday night 4/20 7:00 PM)


                        Reading Assignment: American Jesus


Week XIII (4/25-4/29):  Arcand’s “Jesus of Montreal” (Monday night 4/25 7:00 PM)


Reading Assignment: Reinhartz (Jewish), “Jesus of Hollywood: A Jewish Perspective;” Harrington (Catholic), “Retrieving the Jewishness of Jesus: Recent Developments;” and Michael Cook (Jewish), “Jewish Reflections on Jesus: Some Abiding Trends,” in Jesus Through Catholic and Jewish Eyes


Week XIV (5/2-5/6): “The Life of Brian” (Monday night 5/2 7:00 PM)

Closing reflections: Will the "REAL" Jesus please stand up? [FINAL PAPER DUE FRIDAY 5/6]


No final exam