Topic 1: Search for the Historical Jesus
Up Topic 1: Search for the Historical Jesus Topic 2: Context of Jesus' World TOPIC 3 THE HISTORICAL JESUS TOPIC 4:EARLY CHRISTIANITIES TOPIC 5 PATRISTIC AGE TOPIC 6


Note the highlighted underlined words. They are linked to definitions in the Glossary. Click on them for definitions. 


Study Exercise


Distinction between the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith
Jesus was a Jew who lived in what is today the nation of Israel but was, in his time, the Roman province of Palestine. He was born about 4 BCE, lived most of his life in the Galilee area of Palestine and was executed by Roman authority in Jerusalem in Judea at about 30 CE Part I of the course presents what historians can know about this man, his life, teaching, arrest, and death.
Christ is an English version of the Greek word, christos for Anointed One; the meaning is the same as Messiah, an English version of the Hebrew, meshiah. The people who during his life came to believe he was the promised messiah and who, after his death,  believed he had risen from the dead by the power of God where the first to have faith that Jesus was the Christ. Thus began the Christian Tradition,  sometime after 30 CE. 
Parts II-III of this course deal with the development of the Christian Tradition by examining different images of the Christ of faith in various eras and contexts.
Its beginnings as a Jewish movement in the First Century CE.
Its spread among Gentiles starting in the First Century, when most Jews did not accept Jesus as the Christ; expanding as a sometimes persecuted religious minority in the Roman Empire from the Second to Fourth Centuries, when it was promoted as the official religion of the Empire.  Thereafter it grew throughout the Mediterranean world and Europe, converting the barbarian invaders of the Roman Empire. During the last two thousand years Christianity has become the world's largest religious tradition.


Faith and the Academic Study of Religion
THEOLOGY & HISTORY: two different disciplines and ways of knowing. Theology has been described as faith reflecting on itself; History is the reconstruction of the past on the basis of verifiable data. A historian may be a believer but should not attempt to do the work of the theologian. 

Theologians & Religious Teachers

work on a basis of supernatural beliefs

work as believers interested in knowing about God, about how to behave, about ultimate meaning of life

work within a community tradition of shared faith, experience, and  common assumptions

read religious texts from within a believing community



work on the basis of the natural world, dealing with verifiable events

deal with human actions that anyone can experience

use data that can be evaluated by anyone regardless of personal belief

offer conclusions that are open to rational criticism

have no access to supernatural truths

are limited from answering ultimate questions or adjudicating between different faiths & beliefs

read religious texts from outside the believing community, even if they are believers  themselves 


Note the circles of faith and academic study, each representing  different realms. They may overlap for the historian who is also a believer. But working as a scholar he/she must be limited by the rules and techniques of the discipline of history. How that academic discipline will govern our work in this course is described in the Advisory Note on the Academic Study of Religion.

[Check The Search: Jesus' Many Faces at the PBS site for  statements by scholars involved in the search for the historical Jesus. See particularly Searching for Jesus



The New Testament: Like the Bible as a whole, it is a library of writings rather than one book. 

Material: Letters [Epistles],  Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, the Revelation of John

Based on material in the oral tradition of Jesus' teaching, actions, death and the experiences of his followers.

A variety both of oral traditions and written materials 

The Canon, which established the New Testament as we know it,  was developed from the second to the fourth centuries  through controversies over what  was the authentic teaching of the apostles.  In 367 CE Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria in Egypt established the list of the twenty-seven books in the Canon.

The Gospels [Be sure to to look at the PBS site, Origin of the Gospels to supplement these notes and the reading. Also look at Gospels as Primary Sources, part of the web site of Christian History, a magazine with an evangelical slant.  We'll be discussing these web resources in the Forum. ]

What are the Gospels?

What are their limits as sources on the life of Jesus?

Who wrote them?

When were they written?

What are their similarities and differences?

Sources of the Gospels

Diagram of the Two/Four Source Theory: Sees Mark and Quelle as the two major sources used by Matthew and Luke along with material of their own. Note in the diagram the schematic presentation of the amount of material in each gospel. Compare this theory with either  Fredricksen or Ehrman.

MARK'S GOSPEL [Consider The Gospel of Mark at the PBS site, as you read this gospel]

probably the earliest, written c.66-70 CE by an anonymous Greek-speaking Gentile Christian, perhaps in Syria, although there is a tradition it was written in Rome

presents a very human Jesus as God's Anointed, the Messiah

full of movement, action, conflict and a foreboding that leads to  suffering and death

Major Theme: Jesus as the Suffering Son of God

Related Themes

Jesus' Identity

What does it mean to be his disciple?

The Messianic Secret [See Fredricksen, pp. 44-52.]

Major Divisions of the text (click Mark  for a more detailed outline

I.   chap. 1:1-13 Opening events of J's public life

II.  chap. 1:14 to 9:50  J's preaching, teaching, healing in Galilee

III. chap. 10 Journey to Jerusalem

IV. chaps. 11-15 The last week

V. chap. 16:1-8 Resurrection