CORE 257: Who is Jesus?



CORE 257: Who is Jesus?

Course Description

This course explores the many answers to the question Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Christians call Jesus Christ, Son of God, King, and Savior, among many other titles. Jesus is also a figure of enduring fascination in history and culture. To gain a richer understanding of Jesus, we will study Jesus from many angles.  We will start by studying the main sources about Jesus, the historical and religious context of Jesus’ life, such as early Messianic expectations; the different New Testament depictions of Jesus; central theological debates about how to claim Jesus as both human and divine; explanations of how Jesus saves, and modern theological questions and popular depictions of Jesus.  We will analyze Jesus through the lens of history, theology, and culture, as we see to understand, analyze and evaluate different interpretations of Jesus and perhaps even to explain, analyze and construct our own interpretation.  We will also explore how Jesus is viewed in other religious perspectives.

Course Materials:CORE 257: Who is Jesus?

Elizabeth A. Johnson. 

Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in Christology

New York: Crossroad, 1995.

Thomas P. Rausch.

Who is Jesus?  An Introduction to Christology.

Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2003.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) with the Apocrypha.  Edited by Michael D. Coogan.  Strongly recommended, not required*

CORE 257: Who is Jesus?

*The best bibles are study bibles (they include notes from scholars), especially versions that try to stay close to a literal translation of the original language.  I recommend the NRSV.  The NAB or NIV are also good translations.  Consult with me if you have a different translation (there are a few I do not recommend).  You can use an online/electronic version ONLY IF you can access it in class.  I like The website is simple, no advertising, no attempt to convert you.  Another site I recommend, especially if you wish to read the Bible in another language, is  For example, if you wanted to read in Arabic (starting with Mark 1, which is where we will start), you could enter the English search terms, then switch the language to Arabic, resulting in this: .  Bible Hub is not my favorite if you are reading in English because it has so many versions that you can get overwhelmed, (and it is trying to promote a certain kind of faith, which is why I don’t recommend its sermons, commentaries, etc.).  For information from scholars about people, places, and passages in the Bible, I recommend the Bible Odyssey website .

CORE 257: Who is Jesus?

* You will also receive handouts, or access to online texts, indicated on the syllabus with an asterisk (*).  Links will be posted to Moodle (and when electronic files for handouts are available, handouts will be posted to Moodle too).

CORE 257: Who is Jesus?

Course Objectives/Learning Goals:



By the end of the course you should…CORE 257: Who is Jesus?

1.       Be able to explain key theological ideas, such as:
a.       Different gospel presentations of Jesus, and Messianic hope in New Testament times.

b.      Central Christological concepts, especially those used in the declaration by the Council at Chalcedon in 451 C.E., and central Christological heresies and the reasoning for judging them as such.

c.       Some of the prospects and problems with the “Quest for the Historical Jesus.”

d.      Different approaches and concerns in Christology, such as different “theories of atonement.”


2.       Application and Analysis: Be able to apply your learning, such as by analyzing:
a.       The New Testament depictions of Jesus, especially how these differ in relation to the different communities to which they were originally directed.

b.      The dialogue between history and theology concerning the interpretation of Jesus and his significance

c.       The relationship between Christology and other major Christian teachings (like soteriology or the doctrine of God).CORE 257: Who is Jesus?

d.      The cultural forces behind particular interpretations of Jesus.


3.                   Engage in constructive theological practice:
a.       Be able to evaluate, defend, or construct a Christological position.


4.                   Human Dimension:
a.       Be able thoughtfully to connect your own life experience, questions and reflections on faith with those in the Bible, in the work of theologians, and in your community.

b.      Experience the human dimension of theology, so that you gain a sense of the different ways people have experienced the experience, history, and theology about Jesus, and have struggled with difficulties and questions in relation to Jesus. CORE 257: Who is Jesus?

c.       Gain a sense of how people in the past and people today are engaged in the work of theology—thinking and talking about God.


5.                   Caring:
a.       Care about and be interested in the different experiences and theological commitments of others, especially from having encountered the longings and struggles of so many human persons across history and culture,

b.      Converse about theological ideas and questions in a way that helps to overcome divisions and misunderstandings.


6.                   Learning how to Learn:
a.       Be able to ask good questions and to seek good answers through thoughtful conversation, new experiences, and high-quality research.

b.      Be able to trust in your own competence in critical thinking skills, careful reading and writing skills, and excellent discussion skills.CORE 257: Who is Jesus?


Course Policies:

Beyond the Classroom:
Please feel free to stop in during my office hours or make an appointment to see me (email is usually the best way to arrange a time).  My job is not limited to the classroom and I really enjoy meeting and working with students.  You are welcome whatever the reason.  I want you to do your best and to have a great college experience.
Classroom Culture and Community:
My ideal is that we all look forward to coming to class and will enjoy each session together.  To make this possible, I think we need to treat each other and our class texts/authors with patience, empathy, honesty, and respect.  We do not always have to agree, but we need to be able to listen carefully to each other, especially to different viewpoints.  I think it takes both courage and humility to explore new perspectives and ideas and to seek to understand challenging texts and ideas.   The efforts of one teacher don’t go even half as far towards creating a great class as the energy of a whole room full of engaged students do.  I encourage you to ask, listen, wonder, imagine, and explore.  I look forward to another wonderful class.CORE 257: Who is Jesus?
I want to make sure sure we cover not just important content in class but also practice key skills through activities.  Coming to class and participating is important.  There is no penalty for 2 missed classes, but for the third-fourth missed class I will deduct 1 point each and then 3 points each for any further missed classes (from your total points for the class).  If attendance becomes a problem, talk to me about it so that we can address the issue.  I will make exceptions to the policy for serious circumstances, we just have to document them and work together to make a plan to make up missed work.
Lateness & Inattention:
I take attendance at the beginning of class.  If you come in late, you must remember to ask me to correct my records so that you are not recorded as absent.  Patterns of lateness will be noted and treated as partial absences.  Obvious periods of extended inattention, especially repeated cases (such as texting or dozing off in class), may be treated as partial absences.   CORE 257: Who is Jesus?
Learning disabilities or physical disabilities will be accommodated.  Please speak with me about what needs to be done to help make the class the best possible learning environment for you.
Submitting work that is not your own as if it were your own work (and all forms of cheating) is a serious offence.  If you are having trouble completing an assignment on time, please discuss options with me.  The minimum penalty for plagiarism is a 0 on the assignment and a violation of academic integrity report will be filed.  Repeat offences will have steeper penalties.  Consult your student handbook for further information.
Grade Scale:  CORE 257: Who is Jesus?
The following conversion chart will be used to calculate grades:

A=94—100;         A-=90—93;

B+=86—89;         B=82—85;           B-=78—81;

C+=74—77;         C=70—73;           C-=66—69;

D=60—65;           F=below 60

Course Requirements:

Small Assignments 65% (25+20+20):
A series of small assignments will build towards a final research paper and short presentation.  There will be three types of small assignments: (A) Individual Assignments (25%), (B) Group Assignments (20%) and (C) Quizzes/Test (20%).   I will grade assignments out of 10 points and will average them all together.  (Assignments that are particularly challenging or time consuming will count 2x the value of other assignments in the average). CORE 257: Who is Jesus?

A.      The Individual Assignments (25%) are typically low-stakes “write to learn” assignments, which means most of the points will come primarily from putting your best effort into the assignment.  They build your skills towards a more developed and polished assignment, where grading will be based on the quality of your work (but you will have had lots of practice building up your skills).  Some examples already on the schedule are:

Low-Stakes Individual Assignments

ü  First day “Baseline Quiz”

ü  Rausch Chapter Outline

ü  Christological Controversies Preparation,

ü  Comparison Charts: Medieval and Modern Christology,

ü  Propose a paper topic on Modern Christology,

ü  Present briefly in class a short summary (about 2 minutes) of the most interesting discoveries from your research to answer the question “Who is Jesus” from the standpoint of your specific focus.

ü  ** (Some of these assignments might shift, allowing you to complete parts of the final project early, depending on how we are all managing).

B.      Group Assignments (20%): We will often work in small groups to break up our class time.  I will organize groups by topic and many of your individual and group assignments will be tied to your group’s topic (this means each group will have a particular specialty to contribute to the class).  For most assignments, I can arrange for you to do the work on your own if you know you will miss a class.  For a few assignments I can offer opportunities to rewrite to raise a grade, if you are unhappy with your group’s performance, but only within one week after the original date and only when doing so would make a significant difference.  Some examples are:

ü  Gospel Comparisons Race-core 257: Who is Jesus?

ü  Synthesize individual work to present to the class (such as on Rausch Chapter)

ü  Apply Meier’s Criteria for evaluating the historical probability of biblical passages

ü  Jesus on Broadway

ü  Connect primary sources to outline from Consider Jesus

C.      Quizzes/Test (20%): Quizzes will occur mostly in the early weeks of the course, when key content is taught (unless I have difficulty getting good participation and group work, in which case I might run more), mostly multiple choice (possibly online).  A final test, near the end of the semester, will review the work from the quizzes.  You will receive whichever grade is higher, your average quiz grade, or your test grade.

Developed and Polished Individual Assignment 25%:
ü  The final project will involve applying the skills you learned and practiced in 4-5 of the short individual and group assignments, to your specific research topic.  In addition to applying these skills (writing about ½ page to 1 page for each skill, you will also write a simplified, short (5) research paper (using at least 3 scholarly sources from the ATLA Religion or ATLA Catholic database) on an issue or passage connected to your group’s theme.  We will take time to complete this work step by step so that it will not be overwhelming.CORE 257: Who is Jesus?
Participation 10%:
This grade assesses your involvement in each class.

ü  Come to class having read the reading assigned for that day.

ü  Bring the day’s readings with you, (mark them up!).

ü  Bring and use an organized method for take/keep your notes and handouts.

ü  Participate in small and large group discussions, by asking or answering questions, by offering to read out-loud and/or interpret a passage in class, by participating in activities, by telling me if I’m being unclear, or too fast, etc. 



Course Schedule*

*Schedule is Tentative, and Subject to Change


  Topics, Readings, and At-Home Assignments Focus Questions, Specific Learning Outcomes,  and In-Class Assignments
Jan. 16



Introduction and Syllabus: 1.       Short quiz to establish what you know before taking the course (for comparison).

2.       “Jesus’ Bible and Languages,” short 2.30 minute video with transcript,

Jan. 18  “Who do you say that I am?”

ü  Gospel of Mark, Ch. 1-5


1.       Earliest Gospel, context, Jesus’ identity, action, secrecy

2.       Categorize responses to Jesus

3.       Introduce Mark’s sandwiching technique

Jan. 23 Jesus in The Gospel of Mark:

ü  Gospel of Mark, Ch. 6-10

1.       Identity theme, secrecy theme, teachings, healings and exorcisms,
Jan. 25 Jesus in The Gospel of Mark:

ü  Gospel of Mark, 11-16

1.       Identity theme, secrecy theme, teachings, healings and exorcisms, two trials, abrupt ending, context.

2.       Analyze Mark’s sandwiching technique (structure contributes to message: women in chapter 5, blindness and identity, fig tree and temple).

Jan. 30


History & Hist. Method

Different Special Beginnings:

ü  Gospel of Matthew Ch. 1-3

ü  Gospel of Luke Ch. 1-3

How do we search for Jesus? 

What assumptions are at work?

ü  Rausch, “Conclusion,” to Ch. 1 (20-22).

ü  Rausch, Ch. 2, (23-35) (stop at “Recovering the Historical Jesus,”)

1.       The synoptic gospels, method/context for biblical analysis, stages of the formation of the gospels.

2.       Compare and contrast the beginnings of Matthew and Luke, recognize how community context shapes the Gospel.


 Feb. 1 Historical and Theological Context

ü  Rausch Ch. 3, “The Jewish Background,”

ü  Rausch Ch. 7, “God Raised Him From the Dead,”

ü  Matthew 5, Matthew 25, Luke 6:20-26, Luke 10:29-42

1.       Messianic Expectations, First-Century Judaism,

2.       Notice how recognize how different community contexts shape each the Gospel.

3.       Quiz 1

Feb. 6

Theo-logical Interpre-tation

Gospel Comparisons Exercise

ü  (bring your bible – book form is best)

Introduction to the Gospel of John

ü  John, Ch. 1-3

1.       Groups: Gospel Comparisons (You will need your bible)
Feb. 8 Gospel of John

ü  John, Ch. 2-12

Feb. 13 Gospel of John

ü  John 13-20

CORE 257: Who is Jesus?
Feb. 15 Central Theological Ideas:

ü  AH- Each group will be assigned a chapter (or part of a chapter) from Rausch, Chapters 4-6, to present to the class (main outline and highlights).  Bring a 1 page outline of your contribution.

1.       Groups: After some time in class to organize as a group, present a short outline of your chapter to the class, highlighting especially interesting or important claims or questions, and connections to the.
Feb. 20 Jesus in Modern Preaching

ü  AH-:  Each group will be assigned a short sermon or essay relating the theological idea to the lives of the reader/audience, to present to the class (as short online posting)

1.       Groups: Groups will meet briefly to organize to share their study with the class.

2.       Quiz 2

Feb. 22 The Historical Jesus: Modern efforts to reconstruct history

ü  Rausch Ch. 2, “Recovering the Historical Jesus,” (35-40 only)


1.       Groups: Use Meier’s criteria to evaluate a series of biblical passages I will give you related to your groups topic.  Rate at least 5 elements in as either highly probable, possible, or not probable, briefly noting the reason for your decisions.
Feb. 27 Early Theological Interpretation

ü  Ch. 8 “New Testament Christologies,” (skim)

ü  Ch. 9 “From the New Testament to Chalcedon,”

Other New Testament Teachings of Jesus, and Jesus in Gnostic Writings.

ü  1 Corinthians (Paul) – handout only

ü  Revelation (Ch. 12-14 and 17-22)

ü  The Gospel of Thomas and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (handouts)

March 1 Jesus through the lens of Broadway

ü  Video selections in class

2.        Groups: What interpretations have been made to the Broadway musical versions of Jesus that reflect the particular concerns of recent U.S. culture?
March 6-8 March Break ü  No Class!
March 13 Early Theological Interpretation (and in contrast with Modern)

ü  Rausch, Ch. 9 “From the New Testament to Chalcedon,”

ü  Elizabeth Johnson, Consider Jesus, Ch. 1: “A Living Tradition,”

1.       Quiz 3CORE 257: Who is Jesus?
March 15 Classical Christologies:

ü  Short Primary Text (you will be assigned a reading from a primary text by Arius, Athanasius, Nestorius, or Cyril of Alexandria)*

ü  AH: Answer (typed) and submit the sheet of questions about your primary text.  Bring a copy of your work to class.

2.       Groups: Christological Debates: After some time to prepare and plan together, participate with your group to defend your theologian against the opposing side.
March 20 How Jesus Saves: Medieval vs. Modern

ü  Selections from Rausch, Ch. 10 “Sin and Salvation,” likely: the introductory paragraphs, “Sin in Paul” (168-169),  “New Testament Images of Salvation” (169-172), “Augustine” (175-176), “Anselm,” (176-178)

ü  Primary Text: St. Anselm of Canterbury, Selection from Why God Became Human

Trends in Modern Christology:

ü  Read intro and conclusions to the two chapters listed below, just skim the rest.

ü  Ch. 2 “The Humanity of Jesus, Elizabeth Johnson, Consider Jesus, (19-34)

ü  Ch. 3 “Jesus’ Self-Knowledge,” Elizabeth Johnson, Consider Jesus, 35-47).

CORE 257: Who is Jesus?
March 22 Jesus and Other Religions, Part 1

ü  Johnson, Consider Jesus, Ch. 9: “Salvation of the Whole World”

“Living Buddha, Living Christ,” Thich Nhat Hahn

March 27 Jesus and Other Religions, Part 2

ü  Jesus in Islam:  Selection from The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature by Tarif Khalidi (Translator), and/or selection from The Islamic Jesus, by Mustafa Akyol

March 29


Easter Break  
April 3 Issues in Modern Christology

ü  Ch. 6 “Liberation Christology,” in Elizabeth Johnson, Consider Jesus 83-96,

ü  Sample liberation theology primary text

Groups: Connect the primary text to the relevant chapter overview from Consider Jesus  (your choice to turn in this one or the next one)
April 5 Issues in Modern Christology

ü  Ch. 7 “Feminist Christology,” Consider Jesus, 97-114,

ü  Sample primary text from Johnson’s She Who Is

Groups: Connect the primary text to the relevant chapter overview from Consider Jesus (your choice to turn in this one or the previous one)
April 10 Issues in Modern Christology

ü  Ch. 8 “God and the Cross,” Consider Jesus 115-127.

ü  Sample primary text from Schillebeeckx

April 12 Examples of Modern Christology:

Primary Texts

ü  AH- Propose a paper topic about modern issues tied to Christology.  Explain the question that interests you and the sources you would expect to need to answer it.

Groups: Compare Anselm’s Christology to an example of modern theology, from one of the 3 perspectives studied.
April 17 Modern Issues in Christology

Jesus in Other Religions: Part 3

Jesus in Judaism (Amy Jill Levine), and/or Jesus in Hinduism

AH: Keyword search related to your topic on Bible Oremus .

April 19 Final Test The average of your three quiz grades, or the results of your test, whichever is higher, will be counted (but test and quizzes cannot be skipped).
April 24 Meet with JT with paper draft  
April 26 Modern Issues in Christology

Topic Chosen by Class

May 1 Presentations: “Who is Jesus?” “Experts” (you!) will present short answers to this question, from different viewpoints and based on different specific focuses.CORE 257: Who is Jesus?
May 3  Presentations: “Who is Jesus?”


“Experts” (you!) will present short answers to this question, from different viewpoints and based on different specific focuses.
  Individual Research Papers Due Monday of Exam Week