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BA Latin and Spanish / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
Jesus: From Jewish Messiah to Hollywood Idol

Unit code RELT20711
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Religions & Theology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit focusses upon the portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth in a selection of early Christian Gospels (both canonical and apocryphal); in modern critical scholarship on Jesus as a historical figure; in a range of theological and philosophical writings from the time of earliest Christianity to the present; and in modern fiction and cinema. In addition to studying a variety of influential conceptualisations of Jesus across the centuries, this course unit raises important questions about the ways in which different presentations of Jesus relate to wider historical processes of intellectual, social, and cultural change. The unit therefore not only enables students to construct a broad historical context for intellectually responsible interpretation of portrayals of Jesus in a range of different contexts but also provides methodological tools for analysing particular presentations of Jesus in their respective contexts of production and reception.


To enable students to:

  • Acquire the knowledge, analytical skills, historical imagination, and aesthetic sensibilities essential for understanding Jesus of Nazareth;
  • Understand how Jesus of Nazareth has been portrayed in discourses ranging from early Christian Gospels and doctrinal statements to modern philosophical reflections, fictional characterisations, and films. 

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course you should normally be able to:


WEEK 1 Introduction
1 From the Gospels to Jesus.
What is a gospel? 
WEEKS 2-3 The Jesus of the Gospels
2a The Literary structure of the Synoptic Gospels
2b The Literary structure of the Gospel of John
3a Jesus and the New Testament Apocrypha
3b The Fourfold Gospel
WEEKS 4-7 The Historical Jesus
4a What do we know about Jesus? Assessing the evidence
4b Jesus the Teacher: Kingdom of God and Parables
5a Jesus the Miracle Worker
5b Jesus and the demonic
6a The Crucifixion of Jesus
6b Jesus Risen and Ascended?
7a The Quest of the Historical Jesus
7b The Many Lives of Jesus (survey of the lives of Jesus from Renan to Crossan)
WEEKS 8-10 The Theological Jesus: From Jesus to Christ
8a The Orthodox Christ (the Nicene and Chalcedonian Jesus)
8b The Jesus of the Philosophers: the Kantian and Hegelian Jesus
9a Jesus in 20th and 21st Century Theology (1): Barth’s dialectical theology, Bonhoeffer’s Jesus as ‘the man for others’, Tillich’s Jesus as New Being, the Postmodernist Jesus.
9b Jesus in 20th Century Theology (2): The Jesus of the Oppressed (the feminist, liberationist, and postcolonial Jesus)
WEEK 10 Jesus as Cultural Icon
10a Literary transformations of the Gospels:
Wallace, Ben Hur; Kazantzakis, Last Temptation; Dan Brown novels; Left Behind novels, etc.
10b The Cinematic Jesus
Greatest Story Ever Told, Life of Brian, Passion of the Christ.
11a Who was Jesus of Nazareth? 
11b Review and Revision


Teaching and learning methods

In addition to a programme of interactive lectures and participation-intensive seminars, a Blackboard presence for the course unit will be used not only to provide standard information such as the main course unit handout and past examination papers but also to give electronic access to readings and video materials essential for informed participation in the seminar meetings, questions for use in preparing for seminars, and copies of PowerPoint presentations used in class.  The course unit will therefore conform to Blackboard minimum requirements.


There will also be one dedicated consultation hour per week for this unit (day and time tbc). 

Knowledge and understanding

  1. Identify some of the particular historical and social situations that conditioned the composition and early transmission of ancient Gospel texts;
  2. Discuss the general continuities and discontinuities in language, culture, and religion between Jesus as a historical figure and subsequent portrayals of him in a range of different media;
  3. Describe several of the main schools of scholarly thought in modern life-of-Jesus research.

Intellectual skills

  1. Appreciate the distinctive features, contributions, and limitations of the various types of historical-critical, social-scientific, literary-critical, and semiotic methods that have been used in modern scholarship on Jesus and portrayals of him in the Gospels, various genres of theological and philosophical discourse, fiction, and film; 
  2. Analyse and critically evaluate a wide range of representations of Jesus in terms of their aesthetic value, ethical consequences, and ideological assumptions.

Practical skills

  1. Communicate effectively in the written mode the results of critical reflection and research on a topic relevant to a given institutional context.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  1. Have sharpened your skills in independent research, critical thinking, and essay writing;
  2. Insight into how ideas can mutate in different historical and cultural contexts.

Assessment methods


Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

Essay on a topic pertaining to the historical Jesus or one of the early Christian Gospels


1500 words


Essay on a topic pertaining to the theological Christ or Christ as cultural icon


2500 words




2 hours




Feedback methods


Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Completed proforma for academic essays


Completed proforma for academic essays


Use of dedicated consultation hour for meeting with student(s), meetings made by arrangement outside the consultation hour, and email exchange.



Recommended reading

Adams, Edward. Parallel Lives of Jesus: A Guide to the Four Gospels. Louisville: Westminster John   Knox Press, 2011.

Burridge, R. A.  What Are the Gospels?  A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Craffert, Pieter F.  The Life of a Galilean Shaman: Jesus of Nazareth in Anthropological-Historical Perspective. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2008.

Crossan, J. D. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant.  San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

Goodacre, Mark. Thomas and the Gospels: The Making of an Apocryphal Text.  London: SPCK, 2012.

McGrath, Alister. Christian Theology: An Introduction. 3rd edn. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2001.

Sanders, E. P., and Margaret Davies.  Studying the Synoptic Gospels.  London: SCM, 1989. 

Stanton, Graham. The Gospels and Jesus. 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Todd Klutz Unit coordinator

Additional notes


The Blackboard site for this unit will facilitate student engagement with the assessed journal exercises, in addition to enabling students to access easily a wide range of online resources for study of Jesus, the Gospels, and related materials.


Other scheduled teaching and learning activities:

1 dedicated consultation hour per week



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