The Bible has been one of the most influential collections of literature on religion, other literature, society, and culture. The stories of Abraham and Moses and the words of Jeremiah and Isaiah have had a profound impact on Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures from popular films to politics. Despite this apparent familiarity, the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a., the Old Testament) can often be very strange and disorienting for modern readers. In this class we will recover Hebrew Bible’s strangeness by reading it anew in its ancient Near Eastern context. To do this we will critically examine the biblical books’ transmission, development, historical contexts, and literary aspects.
Jesus and the Gospels
“He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’” (Mark 8:29).
In addition to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, more than 50 gospels were written by early Christians in antiquity, such as the gospels of Thomas, Peter, Mary, and even Judas. Each gospel has its own distinctive view of Jesus. Why do these gospels portray Jesus in the way they did? What do these portrayals tell us about Jesus, and what do they tell us about the gospel writers themselves? In this class we will learn how various scholarly methods can illuminate the gospels, using the different views of Jesus as a vital lens to study and understand the variety of emergent Christian groups.
The books of the Bible are only the tip of an iceberg of a vast collection of ancient literature produced by ancient Jews and Christians, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Book of Enoch, and the Gospel of Thomas. Why were these books excluded from the Bible? Why have they been lost, forgotten, or even banned? In this class, we will examine several ancient Jewish and Christian writings that were omitted from the Bible, placing them in their historical contexts and in dialogue with canonical texts in order to gain a more complete understanding of ancient Jewish and Christian cultures.