Back to the Historical Jesus

The first ever university level class I ever taught was on the historical Jesus: a seminar class based on Sanders’ Jesus and Judaism, taught at Bristol University in 1989–1990. For several years in Manchester I taught a unit called ‘Images of Jesus’, which included aspects of historical Jesus studies but also considered the uses to which the historical figure of Jesus had been put (everything from liberation theology to the Manchester Passion).

I am about to launch into a new course on the Historical Jesus at Pilgrim Theological College. There are two reasons why I felt it important to offer the unit. The first relates to a whole set of problematic appeals to the historical Jesus in many parts of the church. But what really propelled me to work with the issues again was the shift that has taken place in historical Jesus studies in recent years, particularly in the direction of a more nuanced and relevant historiographical method (Schröter and Le Donne) and the challenge to a ‘criteria’ based approach to issues of authenticity (Keith, Rodriguez, Allison). In fact I have joked with colleagues that I should just title the course ‘Why Dale Allison is right a shed load of the time’, but in the end I went with ‘The Historical Jesus’.

The importance of the more recent scholarship can, in my view, hardly be overstated. A few weeks ago I wrote a popular piece for the Uniting Church’s newspaper Crosslight in which I try to spell out some of the issues for a popular audience. You can read it here (and for an example of the kind of viewpoint that I feel is so problematic you might look here, an article that appeared on the same page as mine in the printed issue of the paper). I have just written this morning a further piece for The Conversation which will be published online soon. [Update: this piece is now available here].

The programme for the course I am teaching goes as follows:

  1. Week of 28th July: Introducing the Historical Jesus: The Questions and the Quest
  1. Week of 4th August: Unscrambling the Historical Jesus: The Gospels, History and Historiography
  1. Week of 11th August: Remembering the Historical Jesus: Memory and Methodology
  1. Week of 18th August: Jesus the Jew: Remembering Jesus in Context
  1. Week of 25th August: Jesus the Eschatological Prophet: Remembering Jesus’ Message
  1. Week of 1st September: Jesus and Torah: Remembering Jesus’ Challenge
  1. Week of 8th September: Jesus the Teacher: Remembering Jesus’ Parables
  1. Week of 15th September: Jesus the Healer: Remembering Jesus’ Power
  1. Week of 6th October: Jesus at the Table: Remembering Jesus’ Company
  1. Week of 13th October: Jesus the Messiah: Remembering Jesus’ Self-Understanding I
  1. Week of 20th October: Jesus the Son of Man: Remembering Jesus’ Self-Understanding II
  1. Week of 27th October: Jesus the Crucified: Remembering Jesus’ Death

Two further points. First, the historical Jesus is not my area of expertise, but in the course I will be relying heavily on the research done by those named above, as well as other scholars in the field, some of whom I count as friends. I am amazingly grateful for their work (not least its clarity) and hope I can do justice to it. I believe it to be profoundly important, historically and theologically.

Secondly, there is still time (just) to enrol for the course as a credit or audit student: Tuesday nights, 6–9 pm. Or, of you prefer, you can come along to the Pilgrim Theological College Open Day on October 20th, find out more about the College, and sit in on what will be a fascinating class on the Son of man problem. Contact us here for more information.