Early Christian Outlook and its Jewish Matrix: Narratives of Gospels and Acts
What exactly do we mean by saying that Christianity was born out of Judaism? Looking closer, you discover that various scholars disagree on the issue. This course, presented by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, offers you a Jerusalem perspective.
About this courseSkip About this course
When the earliest followers of Jesus suggested that their teacher was the anointed one, the Messiah, promised by ancient prophets who would bring redemption to Israel, they applied a broader Jewish messianic belief to Jesus.
- What different kinds of messianic ideas were people nurturing?
- Was a messianic expectation a mainstream or a marginal viewpoint?
- To which Jewish groups first Jesus followers felt close and from whom they were estranged?
The movement that had started in the Land of Israel would reach out at an early stage to the broader Greco-Roman world, to both Jews and non-Jews there.
- How much were the earliest Christian texts, coming from that Greek-speaking phase, influenced by their new cultural environment?
- Do they still reflect faithfully the initial beliefs of Jesus' followers? Do they reinterpret them dramatically? Or do they even turn their back on them?
These are all complicated questions, which are also crucial for understanding the birth of Christianity from within the Jewish matrix, as well as various modern religious movements. And these are only part of the questions to be asked if we truly want to reach such an understanding. Our inquiry may lead us to some unexpected answers.
If you are ready to be part of the ongoing discussion and are willing to discover what may be called a Jerusalem perspective on the topic, you are invited to join our course.
At a glance
What you'll learnSkip What you'll learn
Students will learn:
- To recognize the importance of contextualizing nascent Christianity within late Second Temple Judaism.
- To name the main genres of the surviving early Christian sources and describe the process that eventually led to the canonization of the New Testament.
- To describe the historical circumstances of the birth of Christianity and variegated settings of the first decades of its existence.
- To comprehend the transition of the earliest Jesus-centered tradition on the way from its oral Semitic stage to written Greek compositions.
- To discern various strategies employed by the Synoptic tradition (Matthew, Mark and Luke) to define Jesus' messiahship vis-a-vis the variety of Second Temple Jewish messianic beliefs.
- To recognize the multifaceted character of references to "the Jews" in the Fourth Gospel and acknowledge the variegated explanations of the Gospel's harsh polemical stance raised in the research.
- To discern the roots of the notion of Messiah's pre-existence in Second Temple Jewish literature and its metamorphosis in rabbinic sources.
- To discern John's reworking of the Synoptic tradition of Jesus' miracles into the narrative of signs and wonders, using the story of Exodus as its focal point of reference.
- To recognize the conflict within the Jesus movement about inclusion of the Gentiles and their obligations to the Torah observance as reflection of differences of opinion in broaderSecond Temple Judaism.
Week 1. Introduction to the course. Second Temple Judaism as setting of nascent Christianity. From the Land of Israel to broader Greco-Roman context. Gospels and Acts as part of the early Jesus movement literary output. Formation of Gospel tradition and evolution in perception of Jesus' mission.
Week 2. Early Christian message and Jewish messianic beliefs (A) Variety of messianic outlooks in late Second Temple Judaism. The Synoptic Gospels as a reflection of that variety. (B) Problematic side of Jesus' kingly messiahship. A switch to another Second Temple idea, that of a heavenly savior.
Week 3. Hebrew Bible as the Gospels' point of reference (A) The claim for Jesus' messiahship in the light of other Jewish exegetical trends. Messianic interpretation of Scripture at Qumran. (B) Jesus as Interpreter of the Torah vis-a-vis the Torah exegesis in the Dead Sea Scrolls and among proto-rabbinic sages.
Week 4. The Kingdom of God idea: its Jewish setting The kingdom and the End of Days. Eschatology in the Gospels and at Qumran.
Week 5. Struggle for self-identity (A) Strategies of identity building in the Synoptics. Jesus as a Torah sage/Pharisee? The polemic against Pharisees in the Gospels, Qumran and rabbinic sources. (B) Gospel of John's sectarian tendency compared to that of the Scrolls. Polemical function of "the Jews" in John's narrative.
Week 6. Gospel of John's special stance (A) Messiah as revealer of God's Word. Messiah's preexistence: the question of Jewish setting. (B) Jesus as second Moses.
Week 7. Jesus' death and resurrection as the focal point of the Gospel narrative Various meanings of Messiah's death: Synoptic narrative vs. John's version. A suffering Messiah: precedents in Jewish thought.
Week 8. Early Christian outlook reflected in Acts (A) Preaching to the Jews in preparation for the Kingdom of Israel. Expectation of Jesus' return and the meaning of the interim period. (B) Preaching to the Gentiles as fulfillment of biblical prophecies and metamorphoses in the movement's outlook. Paul's mission and trends in Hellenistic Jewry. The issue of Torah observance.
Week 9. Delay in redemption and the response of Acts.
Renewal of prophecy/gift of the Spirit and the mission to the Gentiles as the signs of the interim period. Temple in Acts' eschatological scenario. Between quasi-Qumranian beliefs and broader universalistic ideas. Concluding remarks.