Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Historical Jesus - Tom Sheehan, Stanford

Stanford University offered in the fall of 2006 a course with the compelling title The Historical Jesus; it can be downloaded from iTunes U. Theology Professor Thomas Sheehan takes us in ten 90 minute lectures through the intricacies of text analysis and the historical reception and development of the stories about Jesus in order to dissect what has been added and what presumably is authentic fact. Even though the pretense is a course in history, the implied theology imposes itself. Nevertheless a very exciting history podcast.

Even though I am an ardent secular wound up in the land of the Jews, I received a very thorough Protestant Christian education. As a result of that, many of the basic facts that Sheehan uses to reconstruct the Historical Jesus were already known to me. I knew the chronological order in which the stories were written. I knew the gospels arose from different communities and so on. This course was the first to put all of these known points together and draw conclusions about what must have been added and what, consequently can be assumed to be the man and his message on which the elaborations were built.

Though not identical, much of what is discussed in the course and what conclusions are drawn parallel Sheehan's book The First Coming. The synopsis reads:
Thomas Sheehan analyses the historical background of Jesus and his teachings, and finds, amidst variously-conceived messianic expectations among Jews of the time, the probable content of what Jesus taught: a message of God's definitive presence among humankind, with radical implications for social justice and personal ethics. Sheehan argues that Jesus thought of himself not as God or Christ but as God's eschatological prophet proclaiming the arrival of God's kingdom, that the resurrection had nothing to do with Jesus coming back to life, and that the affirmation that Jesus was divine first arose among his followers long after his death.

This bold and well-argued theory rescues the message and person of Jesus from the literalist absurdities of contemporary fundamentalism and recovers the social and ethical significance of what Jesus called the "kingdom of God." In making its case, the book leads the reader through the basics of modern Scripture scholarship, as well as the the development of christology within first-century Christianity. An excellent bibliography and an abundance of end-notes provide resources for further research on these and related topics.
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