Help me plan a course about Jesus

Next semester I’ll be teaching a module on ‘The Many Faces of Jesus’ that I’ve inherited from a predecessor. This is the module description and indicative course outline I’m working with: I’ve got some freedom to work within these constraints but what I teach has to broadly fit this framework, which has been officially approved by the department (in case any pedagogy nerds are interested in the different constraints at play in UK teaching):

This module engages critically with some of the key ways in which the Christian tradition has understood Jesus and his saving significance. The module begins with a study of key New Testament texts concerning Jesus. Then crucial debates in the patristic era will be looked at in detail, including the critical decisions reached at the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. Contemporary discussions surrounding the historical Jesus and Christ of faith will also be evaluated, as well as contemporary theological understandings of Jesus. The module will also examine non-Christian understandings of Jesus, especially in Judaism and Islam.

Indicative Outline Content
a.i.1. Who did Paul think Jesus was?
a.i.2. Who did John think Jesus was?
a.i.3. Who did Jesus think Jesus was?
a.i.4. How on earth did Jesus become a God? The Arian Crisis
a.i.5. Was Jesus truly human? The Nestorian controversy
a.i.6. The Chalcedonian Definition… and its Aftermath
a.i.7. The Birth of Jesus in Contemporary Theology
a.i.8. The Death of Jesus in Contemporary Theology
a.i.9. The Resurrection of Jesus in Contemporary Theology
a.i.10. The Quests for the Historical Jesus
a.i.11. Jewish and Islamic perspectives on Jesus
a.i.12. Can a male saviour save women?

It’s obviously going to be a bit of a whistlestop tour of Christology through the centuries, and I’m struggling to work out how best to manage things – I’d like to give a bit more space to non-Western Christologies in the second half of the model, and I’d really appreciate any recommendations for good primary and secondary readings to assign my students. Is there anything important missing from this outline? Are there any books I really have to read as I get planning? I’m definitely going to go back to Virginia Burrus’ Begotten Not Made, Boyarin’s Border Lines, and I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way to squeeze in Du Bois’ Jesus Christ in Texas.

5 thoughts on “Help me plan a course about Jesus

  1. I think you could use some of Talal Asad’s remarks on Christology, death, and horror in _On Suicide Bombing_ (76-89 might be a nice subsection, which would let you include other pieces for the “Death of Christ” section). It might be interesting to use Wonhee Anne Joh’s _Heart of the Cross_, ch. 5, “A Christology of Jeong” as a kind of postcolonial feminist reframing of horror/abjection/cross.

  2. (Thoughts at least on the Jewish perspective.) Alongside Boyarin’s Border Lines, you could assign a few of the unflattering Talmudic passages supposedly about Jesus. And while Border Lines is foundational, you might also consider some part of Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels. On a more literary note, Sholem Asch’s The Nazarene (1939) is to my knowledge the most careful and sustained take on Jesus in the Jewish literary imagination. It’s a lovely narrative and easygoing, but still far too long for any class. Uri Zvi Greenberg’s poetry offers shorter and angrier takes. And finally there are Chagall’s White and Yellow Crucifixions which can simply be nicely illustrative of the Jewish attempt to re-Judaize Jesus.

  3. Theology books are expensive, typically. However, a very well-written, albeit specific discourse on one aspect of Christology is Christ and Adam: Man and Humanity in Romans 5 by Karl Barth. A less-scholarly work that I found compelling was Marcus Borg’s take on a historical-metaphorical reading of the New Testament Jesus. His book is Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith.
    Lastly, in regards to Muslim perspectives of Jesus, I am only familiar with one, in a poem by Rumi called “A Necessary Autumn Inside Each.” And I am of the opinion that poetry is better suited to speak about Jesus Christ, as well as just about every other theological topic out there. Enjoy. :-)
    You and I have spoken all these words,
    but as for the way we have to go,
    words are no preparation.
    There is no getting ready, other than grace….
    Inside each of us, there’s continual autumn.
    Our leaves fall and are blown out over the water.
    A crow sits in the blackened limbs
    and talks about what’s gone….
    There’s a necessary dying,
    and then Jesus is breathing again.
    Very little grows on jagged rock.
    Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers
    will come up where you are.
    You’ve been stony for too many years.
    Try something different.

  4. Timothy and Gabriel – thanks for those suggestions, I’ll definitely take a look! And Adam – yeah, apparently the course was one of my predecessor’s pet projects but it seems suprisingly un-thought-out.

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