Week 1: Messiahs, Messiahs Everywhere
Leading up to the first century of the common era, there was a variety of Jewish beliefs about messiahs, angels, and divine humans (usually men). These beliefs help us understand the views of Jesus that come about after his death, including the idea of his resurrection.
Week 2: The Big Reveal: Messiahship in the Gospel of Mark
This gospel marks a significant shift in explanations of the Messiah in order to take into account the unexpected event of the crucifixion. His literary structures shift this surprise into a divine necessity.
Week 3: Messiah for the Jewish Nation and the Savior for the Roman Empire: Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Luke
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke present contrasting views of Jesus as a figure of national (Jewish) and imperial (Roman) significance. In Matthew, Jesus is the embodiment of national and biblical history. In Luke, Jesus shifts from being a prophet for Israel to a prophet for the Empire.
Week 4: The Word Made Flesh: Gospel of John
Jesus here operates on two levels as one: the earthly and the divine, bringing the two together by fulfilling the mission of his death. This meditation—possibly not even a “gospel”—on the significance of Jesus is particularly influential for understanding his divinity.
Week 5: The True Doctrine: Justin vs Celsus
Christian teachings about Jesus both engaged and challenged traditional Greek philosophical understandings of the divine, the human, and the relationship between them. The Christian writer Justin brings the two together to argue for a Christian empire. The Greek philosopher Celsus sees Christian teachings as incompatible with Roman thought and society. This conflict sets the stage for a conflict that plays out into the fourth and fifth centuries.
Week 6: Nicea and its Discontents
With the conversion of emperor Constantine, Christianity needed to unify its various views of Jesus into an orthodoxy that would receive imperial support. The Council of Nicea sought to define Jesus’s divinity yet led to a half century of conflict, if not more, about how to understand the particular Christian teaching of three gods in one and one a divine human being.