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Historical Jesus

By Stanford Continuing Studies Program

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Who was the historical Jesus of Nazareth? What did he actually say and do, as contrasted with what early Christians (e.g., Paul and the Gospel writers) believed that he said and did? What did the man Jesus actually think of himself and of his mission, as contrasted with the messianic and even divine claims that the New Testament makes about him? In short, what are the differences—and continuities—between the Jesus who lived and died in history and the Christ who lives on in believers’ faith? Over the last four decades historical scholarship on Jesus and his times—whether conducted by Jews, Christians, or non-believers—has arrived at a strong consensus about what this undeniably historical figure (born ca. 4 BCE, died ca. 30 CE) said and did, and how he presented himself and his message to his Jewish audience. Often that historical evidence about Jesus does not easily dovetail with the traditional doctrines of Christianity. How then might one adjudicate those conflicting claims? This is a course about history, not about faith or theology. It will examine the best available literary and historical evidence about Jesus and his times and will discuss methodologies for interpreting that evidence, in order to help participants make their own judgments and draw their own conclusions. Presented by the Stanford Continuing Studies Program. Released with a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.

Customer Reviews

Good, but not a normal undergrad course

I like this lecture series, but it's important to keep in mind that this particular course is a Continuing Education offering. It is designed as a survey and is definitely not as academically rigorous as an actual undergraduate course would be. It's not as good or thorough as the Yale course by Dale Martin, but that's to be expected in Cont. Studies.

In regards to the course methodology, this is "Historical Jesus" - not "Who Christians Think Jesus Was". From the standpoint of historical science, it is all but impossible to make a credible claim of resurrection or other miracles without imposing some sort of metaphor. This flies in the face of theological interpretations, but that's the point. This course is not about interpreting the bible, it's exploring which parts of it we can determine are genuinely historical. Sources like Q are reconstructed sources, not necessarily literally a text on paper. Reconstructed sources are a necessary tool in examining all sorts of historical and scientific fields. Many would be surprised to learn how many of our well-known ancient languages are barely attested in text and are actually reconstructed and deduced from later languages.

The previous review also contains an anachronistic objection: Paul could not have been writing to people who "read the Gospel" during his lifetime because there was no Gospel until the Nicene Convention in the 4th century. It is also unlikely that any lay person of that era was literate enough to read such a collection, anyway.

I would suggest listening to the Dale Martin course at Yale first, as that introduces much more thoroughly how the critical historical method applies to the New Testament and deals with much more of details concerning who Jesus became to theologians. After listening to that, it's much easier to tell where Dr. Sheehan glosses over details to make a point.


I guess I'm being picky here cdgraves but you quoted joemccarron as saying "read the Gospel" when he actually said "knew the Gospel." Many laymen of that day in and around Palestine would have heard the Gospel orally from people like Paul who first introduced them to it. I don't see anything wrong with cdgraves' point..

Weak man weak...

The basic assumption of the lecture is this: the Jesus in the Gospels cannot be the 'historical Jesus' , so let us tell you who the real 'historical Jesus' is....

Well I can tell you that this assumption is fundementally flawed! the historical Jesus in the Gospels IS the 'historical Jesus'. The Gospels is the most reliable source we have about him!